Last year after the pandemic hit and people all over the world started working virtually, musicians Jay and Helen Taylor moved their thriving music teaching business based in Alabama online. Soon after, they realized it freed them up in a way they weren’t expecting — virtual was viable and could remain online indefinitely, and they could now live any place they wanted.
They were no strangers to Vermont. Helen had graduated from Bennington College and throughout the Taylors’ music careers Vermont was a frequent stop. They even got married in Brattleboro years before.
“This is my happy place, this is my zone,” Helen said. “And when the pandemic happened, and we were teaching our studio solely online it struck us that we could raise our son where we wanted to.”
“We found Rutland,” she said. “We’d never been here. We did tons of research and one of the huge reasons we felt like we’d be OK was because the Chaffee was here.”
They took the leap and beginning in May their company Green Mountain Music will offer lessons at the Chaffee Art Center as well as online. Recently they talked about how two musicians from Alabama wound up in Rutland, during a phone interview while Helen made cheese grits at home.
“I’m from Alabama, so it’s kind of in our bloodline,” she joked, “and they’re hard to find up here!”
Both graduates of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Helen and Jay picked up instruments at a young age.
“My parents took me to hear the symphony in the park when I was 3, and I pointed at the violin and said, ‘I want to play that,’” Helen said.
Her mother found renowned musician LaDonna Smith, who founded the Birmingham Suzuki Violinists Association, and Helen and her younger sister started lessons with her when they were just 3 years old.
“I was lucky enough to have her as a teacher my entire life, and we’re still close friends,” Helen said.
She noticed a theme emerge — her ability to play music opened door after door. She toured the world before deciding to move back to Alabama when her sister got pregnant, and they played original music together in their band Loubelle. It was during that time she met her future husband.
Jay Taylor started playing classical guitar at a young age and started teaching when he was just 18 years old. He studied classical music at Florida State, played in a jazz band in Miami, and classical guitar in performances throughout the country, touring and recording with various bands.
“I was probably 30 before I played in a traditional band setting,” Jay said, and here’s where he and his wife are opposites. “I’m not as much of a performer. I’ve always just liked to play music, but it’s more of a personal thing for me.”
Their combined strengths and experiences led to a well-rounded teaching business, welcoming all levels, and especially beginners.
“From scratch is my very favorite because theory was really challenging for me to learn,” Helen said. “I could play anything I heard by ear, and I rested on my laurels in the theory department. So I really took it up as a passion project to teach theory from the ground up in a way that isn’t scary or intimidating.”
“And now it’s feeling possible to actually teach at the Chaffee,” she said. “One of the main reasons we wanted to move to Rutland was because there was a thriving art center right in town.”
Admission is open now, and depending on Vermont COVID-19 regulations after the mid-April vaccination schedule, their loose plan is to open to in-person lessons at the beginning of May at the Chaffee, while continuing to teach online.
“It’s the most satisfying work,” Helen said. “It’s like a secret code. It is its own freestanding language. Music is music wherever you go. You walk in with a violin case and set it down anywhere in the world and you’ll meet other people that speak your same language.”
“That was how I found my people,” she added. “Sitting in with their bands would turn into a tour and that would turn into recording and sitting in as a session player. It’s how the spider web was formed my entire life. Knowing that you’re giving a kid that is pretty exciting.”