Johnathan Olson // Piano

Tell Me More about yourself.


I was born in Chicago and moved to California when I was eight years old because my step-dad wanted to pursue film. He wrote a couple screenplays and ended up making his own film. One time when I was eleven, this woman was passing out flyers about piano lessons and leaving them under the windshield wipers of cars in parking lots. My parents found one and asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons. I was like, “sure,” and that’s when I started piano lessons. After a while, we moved to a different teacher who taught choir and music theory at the middle school I attended. She taught me piano lessons until I left for college. I applied to a bunch of different places and ended up at Webster University, studying piano performance with Daniel Schene, who is head of the piano department. I studied classical piano for a long time and I taught myself how to improvise, which is a lot of what I do now. I started branching out of classical music last year, which has been great.


Was there a moment that made you want to pursue music or was it a process?


After middle school I went to Notre Dame High School, which was a prestigious catholic high school. After a while I discovered that I wasn’t really into academics (laughs) or anything. I don’t know, I was just finding myself during that time. I was into writing for a very long time, since I was ten years old. I started writing again and wasn’t getting into it. Music seemed to come more naturally to me than writing did. The results with music were more immediate than with writing. I started to develop a love for music then. In my spare time I would look up different composers on youtube which is how I discovered composers like Lizst, Rachmaninoff, who really blew my mind with their compositions. That’s what I wanted to do. I got my first full range upright piano when I was fifteen years old. Then I went to a charter high school for performing arts. The acronym was CHAMPS. It was a mixed media art school that had a lot of opportunities.

Who is your favorite composer?

I have so many. I like Lizst, Debussy, Shastakovich, Prokofiev. There are a few others, but those are my classical composers.


Have those composers really influenced your music?

Yeah. In high school I was getting really into compositions and was writing in a late Romantic style, heavily influenced by Rachmaninoff. I try to learn as many Rachmaninoff pieces as I can and try to compose in a genre that I love. Rachmaninoff really influenced my compositions. As far as technique and improvisation, I have to give Lizst the credit. I try to push what I can do and make my own exercises. If I can’t do it the first time I try to put it in a musical setting with rhythm, harmony, melody, run an arpeggio and see if I can do it. I’ve found most methods to be exceptionally boring, which is why I’ve pushed myself to improve my technique and improvisation. In high school I made my own variations of Hanon in thirds, sixths, three against two, four against three polyrhythms and try to do those in thirds, etc.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I like opening people’s minds to music. You either get people who think music is a constant emotional pour out of things or if it’s just natural talent and you just do it. If you can’t do it then it’s difficult. Music is difficult. It’s very difficult. All the great musicians you can think of spent a lot of time practicing. And it’s not just the practice but also about the attitude and mindset of the music. Their sensitivity to the sounds and the rhythms, and the characteristics of those sounds combining and really pushing limits of expression. It’s also about how you practice. I love opening up their minds to that. I think a lot of people who don’t have backgrounds in music think about these things and don’t realize all that is happening. It’s fun to join them on the journey and discover music in different ways. It’s really something that can be done every day and can keep going. It’s also about creating goals and reaching goals. One of the most difficult goals to reach is that of technique. Technical goals are really hard to reach. Rhythm can be difficult to explain in words as well. Most of my inexperience is with adult students. Adult students like to have everything described to them and defined for them before they jump into something. Of all things, rhythm is the most difficult to do that with. Rhythm is an experience, it’s a feeling, it’s all these other qualities and traits that we have to explore. They have these effects and sounds, characteristics that are oftentimes very difficult to put into words when there are no words for them. That’s why rhythm is difficult. Technique is difficult because we approach the piano from a finger-centric perspective. Students have this idea that the piano is all fingers and hands (they definitely take on a lot of work at the piano), but students have no idea that the upper arms are involved in the piano playing as well. Getting students to focus and sensitize a part of their body that they never thought of before is new territory. It’s a lot of muscle training and physical training. It’s a different sensation to play when your upper arms are moving. As a student it can be frustrating if you can’t get it right away. Technical goals can be difficult because everyone wants to learn songs right away. You have to build quickly. I try to incorporate improvisation because I think it’s connected to exploring rhythms, harmonies, and techniques. You do it all at once.


What are some of your goals as an instructor?


My number one goal for students is to develop a love for music. It may be a strange thing to say because a lot of that is on the heart of the student. I want to help them fall in love with music and explore music, and to not be afraid. A lot of it is finding your identity as a human being in relation to music.  I’ve had this problem with self-confidence and have realized how all of those things can relate to music. My number one goal is for my students to have an appreciation for music, including the hard work. The second goal is to give my students the ability to practice on their own and be independent. I can provide the tools for them to incorporate into their own music and practice time. They have the ability, background, security, and critical thinking that is required to getting them to play the way they want to play. To reach that goal, you need to love music first. If you don’t love music, it’s not going to be a fun ride.

Alex Van Klompenburg // Instrument Repair Technician

Tell me more about yourself.

I’m from northwest Iowa, more specifically, Orange City, Iowa. It’s a town of five thousand people, where everyone literally knows everyone. I went to public school and have a younger sister and brother. After high school I spent a year and a half at the University of South Dakota, double majoring in music education and music performance for trumpet. I decided that I wasn’t competitive enough for performance and I didn’t really like kids so music education was out. My dad is a diesel mechanic and I worked with him for a few years growing up. I combined both trades, being repair work and music. I decided to google “instrument repair school” one day and a school in Sioux City popped up. Luckily I lived forty-five minutes from Sioux City and so I decided to attend that school for two years. By the end of my schooling I thought, “Hmm…now is a good time to find a job.” That’s how I found City Music. I was told by my mother that I could only stay in Iowa, or go to the neighboring states. Not any further. (laughs) Turns out Missouri is a neighboring state of Iowa, and now I am in St. Louis, Missouri.

What was your degree in?

Band Instrument Repair at Western Iowa Tech Community College.

Who has influenced your journey in becoming an instrument repair technician?

My father is an auto mechanic and I got used to working with him on trucks. I enjoyed the thought of repair but not the massiveness of diesel mechanics. When I went into instrument repair, my father was very supportive of it. Every once in a while we compare diesel and instrument repair. I guess I am following in a family trade. We have a lot of similarities.

What makes a good instrument?

The quality of the materials made for the instrument is important, but another key factor is the endorsement of professional players. One of the most coveted saxophones in the entire world is a Selmer Paris Mark 6 Saxophone. People say, “It’s the greatest. It’s the best” even though the Busher 400s were of similar quality during that time. However, since the professionals were saying that the Selmer Paris Mark 6 is the greatest, everyone believed that it was indeed, the greatest. The most coveted trumpet is the Martin Committee Trumpet because Doc Severstein played it, Maynard Ferguson, etc. all of these big named players played these instruments. If a professional says, “Yeah, it’s a wonderful instrument. The best one I ever played.” That’s what makes an instrument good. Then people will want to sound like the professionals and will be more inclined to seek a good instrument.

What do you think people should be looking for when they rent or buy an instrument?

These days, the most important thing is the brand. If you are looking for a trumpet, go with a Conn-Selmer made Bach Brass or a King. Those names have strong roots. Conn-Selmer keeps up with improving them while also maintaining the original designs of the instrument. If you want a saxophone, I’d recommend a Selmer. If you want a flute, I’d recommend an Armstrong, Artley, or a Selmer. Basically any Conn-Selmer instrument is a good instrument. They own a lot of smaller companies now. Some people classify Conn-Selmer as a “land shark,” a company that grows and buys out smaller companies that could threaten their business. It’s all business. There are still some independent manufacturers out there.

“If a professional says, “Yeah, it’s a wonderful instrument. The best one I ever played.” That’s what makes an instrument good.”

I assume that as a technician you need to be well versed in all band instruments.

Well, a lot of people specialize in certain repairs. Some of my classmates went and got jobs a brass technician or a woodwind technician. Specializing in a specific instrument is decided by your customers. There is a guy I know up in Minnesota who only fixes french horns. That’s what he’s known for. I know a lady in New York who is known for flutes. Some people specialize but there are others that repair all brass and woodwind instruments.

Do you think it’s important to stick with one instrument or learn how to play a lot of different instruments?

There are just some people that are more gifted than everyone else. They can just pick up an instrument and run with it and say, “Ok on to the next one!” I have a friend who started playing violin, then moved to cello, picked up the guitar in two weeks, learned the banjo in one week, is also a percussionist and a vocalist. Everyone in his family is the same way. They can pick up an instrument and play it in two weeks. But there are other people who focus on one instrument and become the best at that instrument. It’s really just a personal preference. If you play the flute and want to play the saxophone, go for it. In school we had a methods class to learn how to play all the instruments, play test and be able to say, “This instrument is good and is ready to go.” I don’t think one is better than the other. It’s all personal preference.

Is it important to be both a player and a technician?

Absolutely. My father, as a diesel mechanic, has customers come up to him and explain what the vehicle sounds like and he is able to say exactly what is wrong with it. Now, as an instrument repair technician, I have customers come up to me and tell me what sounds their instruments are making and I am able to tell them what needs to be fixed with the instrument. Being able to play the instrument is important. Even if I can’t figure it out right away in front of the customers, I can play test the instrument and say, “Here’s the problem. Let me check this area, find it, and fix it.” If I were just a technician and not a player, then I would have to go through every single part of the horn to try and figure it out.

Are many musicians today ignorant to the anatomy of their instruments? Younger players, yes. I think that if you continue to do music after high school, you’re playing on your own, majoring in music, and you actually care about it then yes I think you should know the make up of your instrument. If you are serious about it, you’ll learn. I don’t think it’s really ignorance, I think It’s either you care or you don’t.

What made you want to be a technician?

I enjoy repair, and I enjoy music so I just combined them and now I’m here. I kind of view myself in line with auto mechanics and what not. If something is wrong with your car, you don’t fix it yourself, you take it to someone who knows what they’re doing and can fix it. I like to think it’s the same for a clarinet.

Students Participate in Express the Music 2016

Students in the St. Louis area had the opportunity to participate in the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association’s Express the Music writing contest. This year, students listened to the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and expressed their thoughts and emotions through writing.


City Music and Education Center would like to congratulate all participants and recognize those who were awarded for Express the Music 2016!


Junior Division

1st Prize: Bridget Fitzgerald, St. Mary Magdalen School

2nd Prize: Brendan McLaughlin, St. Peter School

3rd Prize: Indira Kar, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School


Senior Division

1st Prize: Bella Smith, Eureka High School

2nd Prize: Natalie Wimmer, Parkway South High School

3rd Prize: Matt Schnell, Parkway North High School



We are so proud of the students in our St. Louis community who are integrating music and the language arts! Thank you, St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association, for providing this opportunity to the students in our community.

Students Had a Rockin’ Time in Beatles Ensemble!


Gerry Liebmann, one of the piano instructors at City Music, led nine students in a group class during the months of February and March. Students jammed to iconic songs by The Beatles once a week and got the opportunity to record with City Music Studio’s audio engineer, Leo Chang. To recap the experience, we have collected moments from the class and compiled them into a  little video for all to enjoy! Contact us if you would like to get plugged into our next group class here at City Music.

Win Tickets to See

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

at The Fabulous Fox Theatre!


City Music is partnering with The Fabulous Fox Theatre to give away two tickets to see this Grammy-award winning musical. Shop in our store and enter your name into our ballot box to be eligible to win two tickets to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Tuesday, February 23rd at 8:00pm. Drawing will take place on Tuesday, February 16th and the winner will be contacted immediately following.

For the next month, download cards are available to City Music customers that contain three tracks from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Performances run from February 23rd to March 6th at The Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Cooper Minnis // Tuba

Interviewed by Trina Harger

Tell me more about yourself.

I grew up in Clayton and went through the Clayton School District. I was first introduced to music in fifth grade, when I started playing the trumpet at Meramec Elementary School. As I grew into adolescence, I got braces which made playing the trumpet more difficult. They let me try instruments with larger mouthpieces in hopes that it would help a little bit so I ended up with the tuba for that reason. I ended up sticking with it because I thought it was really cool and I was the only one in the band who played it.

So it all started because of braces?

Yes, that was the initial factor. (laughs)

Was there a moment that made you pursue music or was it a process?

If I were to pin it down on a single moment, it would be an evening in seventh grade. I took an interest in composing in seventh grade and I wrote this piece for a chamber wind ensemble with percussion. My teachers were kind enough to program it in one of our concerts. It was very exciting. So they performed my composition and I got to play tuba in it and it got a standing ovation. Obviously in seventh grade, an experience like that – premiering something publicly and then receiving a standing ovation for it felt pretty good. If I were to choose any specific moment, I would say it was that evening that solidified my long-term interest in pursuing music.

“My goal is to become as good a teacher as I can so that my students can become as good as they can be.”

What is your process like when you are composing music?

There’s not really a specific step-by-step process that I take. It’s kind of different for everyone. I often start at the piano, which a lot of people do, the reason being that the piano has such a wide range and so it can easily translate into all sorts of different instruments. As opposed to just playing a few notes on the tuba, that can only inspire so many different sounds for a limited number of instruments. So the piano is an incredible tool that I use. I also use the Finale notation programs to engrave the music, to create the manuscript, the score, and the parts.

What inspires you to compose music?

The vast majority of the time there is something specific that inspires it. And what that usually results in is something called programmatic music. Programmatic music is music that represents something specific, whether it’s story or a character, an object, landscape. It is something specific that is meant to evoke. For my junior recital in college I wrote an orchestral piece, a tone poem based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe entitled “The Black Cat.” The music follows the storyline of that story so that’s programmatic music right there. In that case, I was inspired by the story. Most recently I wrote a choral piece and I was inspired by a specific text. Sometimes when a person passes away I like to memorialize them with music. Nature is inspirational, different situations that evoke an emotion can be inspirational as well. Quite frankly, different composers that I listen to – I hear their music and think, “That is inspiring and I want to use what I hear there to try something different.”

Who are some of your favorite composers?

My favorite composers tend to be old and dead. (laughs) I like a lot of nineteenth-century German stuff: Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Strauss who is a little bit later. In terms of orchestral music, that is what I like.

Do you try to attend classical performances in the St. Louis area?

I try to but don’t often enough. I try to go when I can. I just went to The Messiah the other day at Powell Hall, which was very nice. I saw Back to the Future in concert by the St. Louis Symphony a few months ago which was pretty cool.

What do you think the attitude is towards classical music for people in our generation?

I think that the passion is still there but is hard to come by. The greatest challenge is to keep classical music relevant in the twenty-first century because it is so easy to fall into the trap of saying, “That’s old, dead music by old, dead composers. How does it relate to me? How is it relevant to society?” The unique position that I’m in as a composer is that I get to decide what people listen to. Not just me, but anyone else that composes as well. That’s a very exhilarating and intimidating position to be in. Of course, teaching music is where it all starts.

Do you think there is tension between different genres of music or do you think there is a relation between the different genres of music?

I haven’t noticed any rivalry or personal tension, there are differences and maybe not enough communication between classical and commercial music. What we call classical music today was at one point was popular music so in that sense they are similar. I think the topics that are discussed in Mozart operas are maybe not as relevant today as some of the topics we hear in popular music but at the same time they are. You still have disparity between class systems discussed, which is still on people’s minds today. Love stories and love triangles, I mean I think it’s all still relevant but is also a challenge to make it come through sometimes.

“The unique position that I’m in as a composer is that I get to decide what people listen to. Not just me, but anyone else that composes as well. That’s a very exhilarating and intimidating position to be in. Of course, teaching music is where it all starts.”

What are some of your goals as a teacher?

My goal is to become as good a teacher as I can so that my students can become as good as they can be – whether they end up being a performer, educator, or composer. Inspiring a student is one of my main goals and I think I’m doing that pretty well so far. I’ve seen my tuba student gain more interest in the past couple months. His mom emailed me and said, “He wants a tuba mute for Christmas. Can you point me in the right direction?” (laughs) I can totally remember being that age and wanting one too.

How long have you been teaching at City Music?

About five months or so.

What do you do outside of teaching?

Outside of teaching I compose, I follow sports. I’m a big baseball and hockey fan. I draw pictures occasionally and admire on my own.

Students Perform and Record Songs

in Holiday Jazz Ensemble

Elementary and middle school students learned some holiday jazz tunes arranged by Austin Cebulske through our three-week Holiday Jazz Ensemble course. By the end of the course, students got to record “Winter Wonderland” and perform for City Music’s December recital. We are so proud of these blossoming performers!

Harmonica Workshop a Success!

We were very fortunate to have Sandy Weltman teach a Harmonica Workshop here in our store on December 1st. Participants got to learn a few techniques and some blues songs, Scarborough Fair being one of them. Shannon Keithley had a lot to take away from her experience, “Playing the harmonica was more difficult than I initially thought before taking the workshop. I have a completely new perspective for playing the harmonica than I did before. Now I have more respect for the harmonica as an instrument and have a greater appreciation for harmonica players. I’m so glad I attended the workshop at City Music.”


Sandy Weltman is available on Tuesday evenings here at City Music to teach harmonica lessons. Feel free to contact us with more information!