George McMaster

George McMaster

By Matt Bauer

 Ask George McMaster when he knew music would be his life path and he’ll take you right back to his infancy. “There are cute photos of me as a baby holding a ukulele, so it’s been something that I wanted to do since I was born,” chuckles the sole proprietor of Ingersoll Music Academy, located in Ingersoll, ON.

Having taught music lessons for over 24 years (fun fact—he used to ride his bike to people’s houses to give them lessons), McMaster purchased the Academy five years ago after working there for 17 years. In his role, McMaster runs the store, teaches drums, bass, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, and harmonica, while also repairing instruments.

McMaster says that he always strives for a positive attitude in the store’s day to day operations. Describing a typical day at work, he says that the morning is spent answering emails and questions about scheduling which is handled by his partner Karen Quaegebeur before the academy opens in the afternoon. “We have fun with everybody,” he explains. “We don't really sell music, we sell fun. The scene in a music store—you just have a lot of fellow community members who like to pop in and find someone who's as passionate about music as they are, they like to chat, whether it's about their collection or about a certain artist. So that side is always fun, too.”

With a student age that has ranged from four to 92, the Ingersoll Music Academy offers a wide spectrum of lessons. “In terms of lessons, we really pride ourselves in tailoring each lesson,” McMaster says. “It's really being able to read the student and find what style is going to engage them, really getting to know them and what is it about music that excites them and what's going to keep coming back and what they want to get out of it and  what they enjoy the most.”

McMaster notes that one of the challenges posed is the students’ social anxiety. “For us, we really want to build their confidence and try to get them out of their shells. I really let them express themselves in the way they want to in a situation and environment [where] there is no fear of that social anxiety. We want to make them feel really comfortable— to want to sing, dance, and play the music the way they want to and really bring that competence out.”

The band program, which runs on Friday nights, is McMaster’s favorite part of his role. “It's a 45 minute program which is a drop in so anybody can come and we just  pick a few easy songs and play them and that's been the most rewarding,” he explains. “We've had so many kids come that we have to split into two different groups. Karen takes the younger kids, and then I take the more loud rock and roll kids. That's where the magic happens because it's an opportunity to use their skills and just have that cool jam space with their fellow musicians.”

Another point of pride for McMaster is the academy’s diversity. “[Over half] of our students are female which is really cool. I know when I first started teaching that was not the case in the music store. I really like to try to change that and be a lot more inclusive to everybody and all different styles. We're able to create a space that is very welcoming so everyone feels comfortable. Everyone wants to express themselves in the way they want to.”

Given that music is his life there’s no “outside of work” for McMaster. When he does have free time he enjoys riding his ebike and reading about new musical repair techniques.

“We're really grateful to be able to be able to do what we're doing,” he says. “It's very rewarding and so much fun. So we're just so happy for all the support in our community and all the support of the different people and our fellow music stores in the area.”

Matt Bauer is a free lance writer based in Niagara Falls, ON .

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