Kelly Massaro didn’t always realize her daughter, Paolina, was musically gifted.
“When Paolina was a baby, she had colic and screamed all the time,” Massaro said. “Now I know she was trying to sing.”
As a tween, young Paolina Massaro enjoyed choir and competitive chorus. She tried out for “American Idol” at 16 years old and made it through several rounds, but fell short of the one filmed for broadcast.
“The producers of the show said she had a beautiful voice, but that she just wasn’t ready,” said Kelly Massaro.
Paolina, trained in traditional vocal performance, lacked stage presence for the kind music she wanted to perform. Then, they found Connie Cooper and Ballantyne School of Music.
Ballantyne School of Music has helped Paolina Massaro, now 19 years old, hone her craft through years of lessons and coaching. Cooper connected Massaro with other female musicians who formed the all-girl rock band, The Reason You Stayed. Things have happened quickly for the group; they opened for LeAnn Rimes at the 2014 Charlotte Pride Festival and will release a demo this year.
Kelly Massaro believes there is no better place for musicians with special promise. She has watched her daughter blossom at Ballantyne School of Music and hopes Paolina makes it big.
“Connie provided that place where Paolina could feel supported and nurtured,” Kelly Massaro said.
In addition to rock ‘n’ roll preparation and performance, Ballantyne School of Music offers instruction and resources for musicians of all ages, expertise and genre. The foundation of the school has been private lessons in anything from songwriting to voice, guitar, traditional strings and more.
“There is so much to developing a musician,” said Cooper, who personally helps her patrons customize their music learning experience. “Do they need theory? Are they preparing for a college audition?”
Over the past several months, Ballantyne School of Music has become the first school in the Carolinas authorized to teach Yamaha Music Classes. Especially effective for teaching younger children, Yamaha starts with group experiences that motivate children to develop ensemble skills and cooperation in a supportive environment with parental participation. Children sing, move to music and play rhythm to learn the basics. Yamaha Music Classes give children the foundation they need to choose what appeals to them when they mature physically and mentally, rather than focusing on one instrument or style.
The first Yamaha Music Classes will begin the week of Feb. 1. Cooper will offer free trial classes on Jan. 31, a Saturday, but registration is required. Find more information at www.ballantyneschoolofmusic.com.
Though Ballantyne School of Music is an authorized Yamaha instrument dealer, Cooper specializes in offering boutique brands that are hard to find elsewhere as “the music scene of Charlotte.” Musicians can pick up strings, straps, cables and smaller items, in addition to merchandise and CDs from local bands like The Reason You Stayed.
“Supporting local musicians is paying it forward,” Cooper said.
Cooper also organizes “jam sessions” where students have the chance to play in professional venues like Amos’ SouthEnd and the Visualite Theatre in Charlotte. Cooper organizes participating students into bands that perform live in front of an audience with lights, sound and all the professional accoutrements.
“They learn what it’s like to play to a full house … and sometimes not,” Cooper said.
Cooper understands “the business” first hand. She attended the University of Massachusetts for business administration, but met a lot of musicians and joined a band. As a “serious hobbyist,” she performed at weddings and special events. After college she launched a career in credit card banking that ultimately left her unfulfilled.
“I did very well for myself, but that’s not what it’s about anymore,” Cooper said, adding she found purpose in educating musicians and opened her instruction business in early 2011.
Her experience and formal training in finance and customer service has served her well. She developed her business by building a solid reputation on quality instructors. She moved into the Ballantyne Corners shopping center, on the second level within the Ballantyne Arts Center. Though she isn’t affiliated with the YMCA, she offers reciprocal discounts to their members. Ballantyne School of Music recently expanded into adjacent space on the second floor and is more than 250 students strong.
Cooper believes there’s a place for everyone at Ballantyne School of Music.
“Hundreds of people start lessons each year for different reasons,” said Cooper. “My focus is on finding the things that keep those students interested, excited and invested.”