What started out as an informal way to showcase what they’ve learned has since turned into a much-loved student jam for Marc Viola’s guitar students at Lot More Guitar Studio.
More than 50 family members and friends of 17 student performers of a variety of ages gathered last Saturday to show their support at this year’s Student Jam, which took place at the Warehouse in Amityville.
“It’s a really fun event for everybody — my business isn’t just for kids, and that’s what I really like about it,” said Viola, who has been teaching guitar lessons in his East Meadow home for over 10 years. “It’s really grown into an event where everybody’s families come, and there’s a stage and lights — it’s not Madison Square Garden or anything, but it’s a great event.”
Viola got into teaching after he had some success as a musician. He started out as a singer in high school, and went on to sing in a cappella groups in college. He also took up the guitar in college, and once he started studying with Peter Rogine — who at the time was the head guitar professor at Five Towns College in Dix Hills — he felt encouraged enough to pursue music professionally.
“I was really lucky to meet him,” Viola said. “It also kind of gives me a unique perspective to my students because I came to the instrument relatively late, especially compared to a lot of my young students, so I feel like I have a unique perspective on what it’s like to start later or to be a beginner.”
After college Viola formed a band called Ready in 10. Made up of six people, the band plays at weddings, parties, and private events. He has an original song, “One More Chance,” that won a top prize at the International Acoustic Music Awards in 2008. Some of his other original work has also appeared on MTV and satellite radio.
“It was nothing major successful, but it was enough that it was kind of cool,” Viola joked. “But I also started getting interested in teaching and I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.”
He went from teaching in local music stores to starting his own business out of his house. Now, he has roughly 40 students.
“I’ve been really fortunate,” he said. “I know it’s cliche to say, but I’ve been able to make a livelihood from my passion.”
Viola offers lessons for beginners or advanced students, and it doesn’t matter what age they’re starting.
Neal Campbell, from North Merrick, started his lessons with Viola about four and a half years ago. The 66-year-old said that he had always known a few chords on the guitar, but once his kids had grown up and moved out, he knew what he wanted to do with his extra free time and money.
After trying to teach himself through YouTube videos, he felt like he wanted a personal instructor.
This year’s jam was Campbell’s fourth performance, for which he played Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” on the acoustic guitar.
“I remember getting up for the first time at one of the jams with Marc’s band, and it was truly an ear-opening experience,” Campbell said. “There’s a real family atmosphere at the jams, especially for my family.”
Anthony Waldron of West Islip went down the same YouTube trip that Campbell did before he found his way to Viola’s.
“What I loved about Marc when I first reached out to him was he asked a whole bunch of questions and he wasn’t taking a bog-standard approach of ‘I have this method of teaching,’” Waldron, 41, said. “It wasn’t one-size-fits-all; however he was going to teach me it was going to be tailored to my interests and what I wanted to do.”
Waldron said that he also loved how dedicated Viola is to his students and how, during the pandemic, he kept them all involved with Zoom lessons and even more.
“On Friday nights he would set up all of his stuff and would livestream his own mini concert for everybody who wanted to tune it,” Waldron said. “He would take requests and we would all be in the chat asking questions and chatting between ourselves. It was a really nice community thing to do, especially during Covid when everyone was so isolated.”
Angelica Abreu, 15, of East Meadow — who started with Viola two years ago after she got her first guitar as a birthday present — likes that her lessons are flexible and that Viola helps her learn the songs that she wants to learn.
“He’s a really good teacher, and he’s very patient,” Abreu, who played “Fly Love” from the movie “Rio” at the jam, said. “I’ve been learning that song for a few weeks and it’s my first time singing, so it’s exciting.”
Viola said that he prides himself on being flexible, because he knows that people are busy and he wants it to be a great experience for them.
“My students are an extension of my own family, but I’ve also become part of their family as well,” Viola said. “I’ve played a couple of my students’ weddings, bar mitzvahs, cocktail hours, christenings and I go to my students’ gigs, and it’s actually been really great.”