- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Janet Johnson spent a portion of her Thursday afternoon teaching a small group of young girls how to find middle C on the piano.

Deliberately, Johnson drew the five lines of the staff on a small blackboard. Her students watched, smiles on their faces, as they sat cross-legged on the carpet.

Among the students was 7-year-old Amelia Sachs, who couldn’t quite say how long she had been taking lessons at Johnson’s Music Clubhouse but was quick to share her favorite piece of music to play, “Old McDonald,” and nodded shyly when asked if she enjoyed Johnson’s music lessons.

“Good answer,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Throughout the lesson Johnson raced between her blackboard and her piano, showing her students which key belonged to which note.

Finding a balance between commanding the attention of her students and maintaining a fun and inviting atmosphere, it’s clear Johnson is at home in her classroom.

After teaching collegiate-level music classes for six years, the Oklahoma native came to the realization that working with older students wasn’t for her. Instead, she preferred to go back to the basics.

“If they didn’t have the training before they got there, then there was very little I could do to make them amazing,” she said. “I just wanted to go back to the beginning and raise good students.”

Now, Johnson is celebrating the 15th year as owner and operator of Lawrence’s Musical Clubhouse. There, she and a small staff teach piano lessons to children from the ground up.

Students at the Music Clubhouse range from infants being introduced to music for the first time to seniors who simply wish to keep their minds active, Johnson said. And classes range from private lessons and Kindermusik to one of Johnson’s inventions, a group class called the Piano Detectives Club.

“The Piano Detectives Club is an age-appropriate group class also with private one-on-one attention,” Johnson said. “It’s to teach them piano from the very beginning and give them an opportunity to learn the basics with other children.”

That group aspect, Sachs said, is her favorite part of the class.

“I like making friends,” she said, giggling.

Comparing music to sports, Johnson said there are countless benefits to teaching and learning music, and her work at the Music Clubhouse has brought her a great deal of satisfaction through the years.

“I did it and I’m in love with it and I never want to go back,” she said. “This is the life I was meant to live.”

Over the past decade and a half, Johnson has touched and influenced the lives of many students. One of them, Christy Miller, is now grown and teaching by her side, the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1wE0Gik ) reports.

“I’ve known Janet since I was a sixth-grader; she was my piano teacher,” Miller said. “I grew up modeling myself on her playing and on her teaching style.”

Miller said Johnson has a natural affinity for teaching and can quickly gauge each student, tailoring her classes to individual needs.

“She helps them to feel that what they can do is valuable and beautiful and that it’s fun,” she said.

Another one of Johnson’s teachers, Olivia Zimmermann, agreed with Miller. Johnson has found that rare middle ground between learning and playing.

“She’s fantastic, so personable. She gets the kids excited like it’s a game. They’re playing, but they don’t realize they’re learning such really great stuff,” she said. “It’s not drilling or work, it’s discovery.”

Because of her fun and intuitive teaching style, Miller said, Johnson has been well received by the families of her students.

“The kids have really grown up with the Music Clubhouse as such an integral part of their life, and I think the parents have really welcomed her,” she said. “It’s such an affirming place that the families have adopted.”

Even beyond the walls of the Music Clubhouse, Zimmermann added, the entirety of Lawrence seems to have taken Johnson in as one of their own.

“I think the people here are just really appreciative of the arts,” she said. “This kind of population really seems to be in line with how she thinks and what she values.”

Johnson said moving to Lawrence was no mistake. In fact, when she and her husband, Jody, were living in Oklahoma and looking for jobs, the couple wouldn’t bother to apply for positions unless they liked the town.

“We loved it (Lawrence) because the cultural experiences and arts are appreciated,” she said. “We wanted to live in a place like that and also a place that takes pride in the way it looks, where people care how it develops. That was super important to me, and it continues to be.”

Johnson estimates the Music Clubhouse has a student body of more than 100, and while she’s fond of their location off West 25th Street, the school is growing.

Currently, Johnson is trying to raise money for a new piano, but after that she envisions the entire Music Clubhouse growing.

But while expansion may be in Johnson’s future, relocating to another town is not, she said.

“I don’t ever want to leave here,” she said. “This is a place where I can take root and feel good about it.”

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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