Music instructor Justin Lawson, of Sedalia, believes in teaching more than music. He promotes his students to give back to the community and provides a remedy for shyness.
Lawson has been teaching music for 16 years — half his life. His students range in age from 3 to 83. He teaches at Wilken Music and also gives private lessons at his studio. Lawson teaches most instruments except violin.
“All band instruments, piano, banjo, mandolin, guitar, drums, bass guitar and I’ve taught harmonica,” he said.
It’s difficult for him to specify a favorite instrument, although he favors strings.
“Really as long as I can have an instrument in my hand I’m happy,” he said. “That’s the one place in life where I feel comfortable is playing music.”
For the last nine years he’s provided a six-month music program, Making the Band, for area youth.
Lawson works with young people for six months, beginning in January, as they form a band, learn to sing in front of others and shed their shyness and fear of public presentations. The reward of their efforts is a 12-and-a half-hour free concert each summer at Dickie Doo Bar-B-Que, where up to 13 area bands perform.
The bands in the program also get to cut a CD of their music in Lawson’s studio located in the former Walz County Café on North U.S. 65 Highway. This year the bands will perform from 11:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, July 23.
“It was something I always enjoyed doing,” he said about his craft. “It’s something I have a big passion for. I don’t know anything else, it’s my life, the fact that I love music so much and that I can help people in different ways.
“To me it’s more than teaching music, it’s therapy in a way,” he added. “Whatever problems someone may have, good or bad, it helps them through things. For the kids it teaches them more than just playing in a band. To me it’s communication skills.”
Lawson said the bands for the event come from Sedalia, Higginsville and Marshall. Five of the bands are in Lawson’s six-month music program. Constellation Rage features fifth to seventh graders, Falling Stars has members ages 11 to 13, Instant Karma features ages 10 to 12, Falling Bass, an all-girl band, has ages 10 to 12, and Revenant features members 12 to 15.
Musical styles for the five bands feature soft acoustic songs to hard rock and punk.
“Whatever they come up with, whatever they like,” Lawson said. “Each one of them pick a cover and each one of them sing and play it. You never know what will come out of that — the girls are doing a Guns and Roses cover and the boys are doing an Adele cover.”
Lawson said the Making the Band concert will feature a variety of other music including Christian rap, acoustic, indie, folk, heavy rock and ’80s rock.
“Just a mixture of everything really,” he added.
The event will have a raffle featuring two guitars and an amplifier. Proceeds from the raffle will go back into the Making the Band program.
Over the years Lawson said several young people he’s taught have pursued music as adults. He also tries to instill a sense of community awareness. His concept is working.
“To use their music to express themselves, but also to do things to give back,” he noted.
Lawson mentioned Timothy Branch, of Sedalia. Branch has started a program “Beyond the Arts” that uses music and art to raise funds for people in need.
“This band, Grim Outlook, they are pretty young themselves, they are 19 or 20,” he said. “They want to do fundraisers to help out. They’ve come to me and asked questions on how to get things going.”
Two years ago Lawson presented a Christmas program where the bands adopted 10 families for the holiday.
“We made sure they had a good Christmas,” he said.”We went down to the Sedalia Community Center and then the guys at Open Door took me through Open Door and taught me how they do things. So I knew how things were distributed, so I knew how to help. I want to try and do that again this year, if I can.
“It was cool for the kids and the other bands to see that they could play music and raise money,” he added.
Lawson said the Making the Band program is something he can’t “go without doing.”
“Just to see how they grow in six months,” he added. “They go from not wanting to sing, and being shy and timid, to three weeks before singing in a microphone. Three months ago they said they’d never sing. To see them grow is pretty cool. It makes it all worth it in the end.”
The best part of teaching music for Lawson is bringing joy to others.
“In a private lesson, to see them walk out with a smile on their face, because they have achieved something,” he noted. “Whether they’re young or whether they have wanted to do it for the last 50 years and never did it. Just the fact that they get to do something they’ve always wanted to do.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.