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Putting theory to practice

fp Music Academy

SOLON– When he was 2-years-old, Carl Richey’s mother took him to a production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.”
His family was living in Florida at the time, and while Carl doesn’t remember it, the story is he sat through the whole thing, turned to his mom and asked, “Is there any more?”
“I think we knew then I would be involved in music,” he said.
Richey, 21, had the benefit of being exposed to theatre at a young age, and when his family moved to Solon in 2014, the relocated freshman took advantage of everything his new high school had to offer musically.
A 2018 graduate of Solon, Richey went on to study music theory at Kirkwood Community College and now he’s passing on what he’s learned.
Richey is teaching music theory, clarinet and voice out of a studio in his parents’ home in Solon, part of a network of instructors offered by fp Music Academy of Fairfax.
Born in Ft. Myers, Fla., Richey spent a good number of his formative years on the East Coast, first in Florida and then in Vermont. He has fond memories of going to local productions of “Cats” and “My Fair Lady.” He took part in plays in elementary school and began playing the clarinet, picking up bass clarinet along the way in middle school.
By the time he arrived in Solon to be closer to his grandparents, he was ready to start high school.
“I was really surprised just how expansive the music world was here,” he said.
He was impressed with the district’s promotion of the arts and the new Center for the Arts, but started out with the marching band.
“I had never seen or heard of what marching bands necessarily were in the context of halftime games or football games,” he explained.
His parents showed him a video of the University of Iowa Marching Band before they moved.
“I was very intrigued by the uniformity of it all, there was so much presence.
“I’d never seen formations,” he continued. “The definition of a marching band up until that point was marching down the street in standard march formation.”
Richey was a member of the Marching Spartans all four years of high school.
As a freshman, he also joined the vocal ensemble Bass Clef Choir (and later Bella Voce) and became a fixture of the jazz band on tenor sax.
He became a singer in the mariachi band and participated in productions of “Annie,” “12 Angry Men,” “Little Mermaid,” “Mary Poppins” and “Little Women.”
“It was quite fun but a lot of work,” he said.
Richey also helped with lighting for “Suessical the Musical” (“Which was great because it was a student-led project,” he noted) and ran on the cross country and track teams.
After graduation, he attended Kirkwood, currently finishing off his last two classes.
“I didn’t really want to jump around another hour or two away to another school because I sort of wanted to stay put for a little bit because of all the moving we used to do,” he explained.
At Kirkwood, he continued to take part in theatrical productions, including a lead role in the operetta “Trial by Jury,” and parts in “Big Fish” and “Sweeney Todd.”
Before the pandemic, he was performing at Theatre Cedar Rapids and had an internship scheduled, but COVID-19 intervened.
Finishing his music theory classes, Richey was scrolling through Facebook, “kind of looking for a job,” when he noticed an ad seeking instructors for a private music academy.
On the other end of the advertisement was Mike Nemeth of Fairfax, owner of fp Music Academy.
“Carl’s fantastic,” Nemeth said. “He’s got some great energy, great initiative, doing some fantastic things. I’m so pleased to have him on staff.”
Nemeth, 59, a native of Indiana, has lived in Fairfax the last 23 years. After a career as an engineer, he launched a solar energy installation business which “kind of ran its course for me.”
A lifelong piano player, he began to teach lessons for a couple of people and the response led him to create Fairfax Piano.
As the business grew, Nemeth said, students would express an interest in a different instrument.
It was his plan to eventually transition the business into something with broader offerings, but COVID-19 convinced him to make the leap to fp Music Academy in August of 2020.
“The pandemic offered me sort of an opportunity to make that change now instead of later,” he said.
It wasn’t as difficult as you might think, he observed. “I saw a student gain through the earlier stages of the pandemic just because people were looking for something to do.”
He placed ads and attracted a handful of instructors covering a variety of instruments.
fp Music Academy now has studios in Hiawatha, the Amanas and Solon, as well as Fairfax, offering piano, violin and clarinet.
Students of all ages are welcome, Nemeth said. His oldest student was 72, and his youngest was 4.
fp Music Academy provides not only education, but supplies.
Nemeth wanted the business to be a one-stop-shop for students, from books to instruments.
He still hopes to add collaborative learning for students in limited groups, but those plans are on hold for now.
Nemeth is still looking for more instructors, but was suitability impressed with Richey’s capability and interest.
“I didn’t expect that I would enjoy looking back at music theory, because it was so hard at the time,” Richey commented. “It’s really nice to revisit what you learn and put it into practice.”
Richey teaches three students, structured so it doesn’t interfere with his Kirkwood classes.
He learned a lot from his first student and hopes she learned a lot from him.
“You have to make sure, like any other sport, your body has to be conditioned well enough to sing,” he explained. “And not just to sing, but to play any instrument for that matter.
“It’s still very physical.”
He used to fence, and noticed how the parallel and contrary motions mirrored music. Finding examples in the real world helped him learn music theory, and he’s applying the same method with his students.
“You can relate it to pretty much anything in life,” he explained.
Chords can be compared to atoms and molecules, whole notes, half notes and quarter notes are likened to the expanding of the universe after its creation.
Wherever he can find patterns and variations in the natural world, Richey finds something in the musical world that students can latch on to for learning.
With music theory, the goal is for a student to look at a piece of music and be able to read the melody.
“My goal for all my students is make it fun,” Richey added.