How long has Piper Music been a part of Bellingham?
The previous owner, Mary Jackson, opened it in 1991, so twenty-five years.
And when did you buy it?
What inspires someone to buy a twenty five year-old music store?
I used to do real estate development, and I got really tired of doing projects that took such a huge investment upfront without regular cash flow. It’s a great business, but all your spending comes before any revenue which makes it risky.
So I wanted a business that had regular, reliable revenue that could pay for a space while I work toward the larger goal—a recital hall and music conservatory.
But it’s fun! It’s been a learning experience, but there is a lot that can be done with this store that hasn’t yet been explored. For example, we’re building a big website now so that folks can shop our library online.
For years Piper Music has been up on Meridian, and now here you are in Downtown. Why that decision?
Downtown appealed to us because of the foot traffic, especially on Saturdays with the farmer’s market, As we think about a recital hall, it just makes more sense to be downtown. This is where folks would expect to come when they want a meal or a drink and a nice evening of classical music. This is a perfect place to do that.
Excuse the term, but there’s a great energy down here. You feel like you’re a part of something going on instead of being isolated in your own little corner.
Do you have a relationship with any of the other music establishments on this block?
Allegro Strings, yes! They used to rent the upstairs portion of the Piper building on Meridian. They moved here before we did, but it’s ironic now that we’re back together in such close proximity.
So the focus here is sheet music?
We have 2 focuses.
Primarily: sheet music for all genres, and instruments. We have a lot of piano, but my background is in Opera, so I hope to beef up the voice section. We also have a lot of sheet music for strings and woodwinds. In our last location, we didn’t have very many folks coming in for fretted instruments—guitar, ukulele, mandolin—because there are other stores in town that do that pretty well. But being downtown means more foot traffic, more people walking in and looking for that kind of thing. So we’ll be adding some more of that, especially contemporary guitar music.
Second, we’re known for doing special orders. We help a lot of schools and community choirs get their music. We offer discounts and a smile, so hopefully that wins them over.
As I look around the store, I see two distinct halves. Here in the front half I see all sheet music. And then in the back, is that where performance space is planned?
That’s correct. Also, notice the empty space up by the window? We are the only place in town that sells pianos. Historically we’ve only kept one or two pianos in here at a time, all of the same type. But we’re going to expand the selection quite a bit—eight to ten different pianos of different styles, types, and price points.[/question]
Those are going to look great in that big window.That’s the hope.
We get calls all the time from folks looking for pianos.
And then in the back half, we’re building a recital hall which will be parlor style with a max capacity of fifty people. It will be nice. We want to cultivate classical music ensembles. I want it to be a place that is approachable for performers to come and use.
For example, some teachers rarely get a chance to perform. And as a teacher you should be. If you’re teaching, you should be performing. And I want to make it a place that is approachable—both the price point and the ambiance. That will make it possible for us to cultivate more classical music in smaller groups. There are some large group performance spaces, but this space, I hope, will attract more smaller ensemble performances.
And we’re going to have a killer piano in here too.
We’ll also have four teaching studios back there too, each with a grand piano. From there we will offer both private lessons and the recital hall will then be used for group lessons that are open to the public in music theory, music history, and vocal instruction. We’re hoping to offer an AP course in Music Theory.
To really be a good musician, you need to understand all the other components of music beyond just the mastery of your instrument. That idea has been received really well by music teachers here in town because they either don’t want to take time away from the instrument instruction or don’t enjoy teaching those subjects. And there’s nothing like it here in town.
You live in downtown and work in downtown, so what’s your favorite spot in downtown?
I am anxious for the day when I have some time to go explore. Having bought this and my other involvements in the music community, I just haven’t had the time to explore Bellingham the way I’d like.
Although, I do get down to the waterfront. I love Zuanich Park. By next summer I will have a sailboat, even if I have to give up my apartment.[/answer]
Where’d you come from?
I’ve been in Utah for the last little bit, but I got my Doctorate in Seattle—at the University of Washington. But before that I lived all over—Charlotte, Germany, Nashville, Arizona—all over the place.
And what drew you to Bellingham?
In the summer, all the major opera companies close down, and the singers all go to various summer festivals. And musicians choose their summer festivals based on two criteria: prestige and location.
When I lived in Seattle, I kept eyeing Bellingham as a perfect place to run a summer opera festival. It’s sandwiched between two huge markets—Seattle and Vancouver, and the summers are heavenly.
Summer opera festivals are typically organized differently than normal opera seasons. Usually you offer four or five shows and schedule them in such a way that folks can come and in two days they can take in all of the shows you offer, so it’s a nice short trip and activity.
So that’s why I came to Bellingham and tried to get so quickly involved in the music scene. I think Bellingham would be a perfect location for a summer opera festival. This is where I’d want to come perform.
One of the first things I want to do with the conservatory here is to start a choir that just sings opera choruses. Then we can bring in some soloists to do arias or ensemble work with the choir to see if we can cultivate some serious opera in Bellingham.
What’s the thing that surprised you most about owning a music store?
We have close to 8,000 items in stock. Managing inventory with that many different items is very challenging. It’s requires a instinctual knowledge of which items move quickly and which don’t, and that’s been hard.
At the same time we’re trying hard to create a new identity for this store. I think it needs to be revitalized. I think people need to know that we offer more than piano instruction books.
We want Piper Music to be a musical center—a place where classical music is supported and developed.