The name of Charlie Higgs' school-slash-shop in North Plaza is no lie—they really are All About Music.
Higgs and his staff of 34 instructors teach a total of about 560 lessons per week to students eager to learn to play any instrument.
"We teach all brass instruments; you can divide that down into categories: trumpet, trombone, baritone, tuba; we teach woodwinds, that's clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, and alto, tenor, and baritone saxes," Higgs said. "Violin, viola, cello, harmonica, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, electric and acoustic guitar, synth, piano, keyboard in general. Voice, I think that about covers it."
They don't just do music lessons either. All About Music also sells guitars and amplifiers, and Higgs said that they rent instruments of all kinds for school bands.
"We do the majority of instrument repair work for schools in Baltimore County," Higgs said.
Repair work is something that Higgs said his shop specializes in—they do in-house repair of guitars and electronics like amplifiers and keyboards.
"One of our techs, John Ingram, who does our guitar and bass repairs has been working for Paul Reed Smith for 25 years," Higgs said. "We’re fortunate to have him work for us, he does all our heavy duty reapirs. We have people now who send us guitars from Minnessota to be re-fretted."
Higgs said another repair technician, Ron Williams, has over 30 years of experience and the shop's website describes him as "a master of all sorts of unusual and quirky repairs and modifications."
Making the Band
Another aspect of the business, Higgs said, is a week-long summer camp where kids are grouped together into bands for 18 hours of individual and group instruction. At the end of the week, they record the songs they've practiced.
"We put the kids together in ability level as well as stylistically—we’re not gonna put a Jack Johnson guy with somebody who likes Metallica," he said.
Higgs played a CD recorded by a group of "build-a-band" students in 2008, and it sounds professional. He explained that the drummer is 12 years old, and lead vocalist, only 14, does very reasonable impression of heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
"These kids have never played together before the build-a-band project—they're 13, 14—sometimes 11 and 12 years old," Higgs said. "Once they do the camp they realize what it takes to be a good musician and to be in a band."
All About Music runs eight build-a-band camps beginning as soon as school lets out for the summer and once all eight of the newly-formed groups complete the program, they play a show at Towson's Recher Theatre.
Higgs said the store also has a program for young musicians—ages 2-5—called Musicians of Tomorrow.
"It kind of introduces kids to all the instrument to find out what they might want to do later," Higgs said. "Our teachers come in and show them an instrument, drums or keyboard, then we let the kids experiment. Some people say 'hey, don't touch that, or don't touch this,' we enourage them to beat on everything. We want them to do whatever they want to do."
The Musical Life
Higgs started All About Music after years touring the country singing and playing guitar as part of the band Staggerwing.
"I was an engineering draftsman, I left college and went on the road with some bands. Did Vegas, Tahoe, Reno, LA—every state in the US except 3," Higgs said.
"We had a concert sound system, so we were able to negotiate sound work with club owners and wound up opening for a lot of national acts: Great White, Exodus, Bruce Hornsby, the Outlaws, Blackfoot, Crocus, David Crosby, David Lee Roth Band, Huey Lewis and the News, many many different groups."
When the band broke up, Higgs moved back to Baltimore and started teaching lessons at MARS—the now-defunct Music and Recording Superstore formerly located in Perring Plaza.
"At the time I was teaching about 75 students and playing with eleven bands—doing jingles for TV and pit orchestra work," Higgs said.
When it looked like Mars was going to close, Higgs said that he decided to open a place of his own.
"I took a lot of the teachers from there and I designed this building from cinderblock walls," Higgs said.
While the North Plaza space was being completed, he and other teachers from Mars kept their business going by teaching lessons in the rectory at St. Anthony of Padua church in Gardenville.
All About Music will celebrate their ninth anniversary in April and still about half of the instructors there were once employees at nearby Mars.
For his part, Higgs is still rocking and rolling.
"I play in about five or six bands, teach 146 students a week, run my store, am opening a new store in Bel Air and I'm doing a buildout on my own home," Higgs said. "If I can cut my grass on the weekends, I’m a happy man."
"I’ve been teaching for about 20 years now, playing for about 28. I love what I do."