Evans Academy of Music Sets Fascinating Rhythm
by Jen Van Tieghem (La Mesa Courier, La Mesa, CA)
When then-17-year-old Evans Kontopuls walked into Alan’s Music Center in La Mesa for his first guitar lesson, he had no idea it was the beginning of a journey that would lead him to start his own music school, now entering its 20th year in operation. Back then, nearly 40 years ago, Kontopuls’s instructor, Chuck Prevel, saw in the self-taught guitarist potential befitting a teacher and offered him a position. Over the next five years, Kontopuls both learned and taught at Alan’s, honing his skills on both sides of the guitar.
The guitar, however, wasn’t Evans's first instrument of choice. When Kontopuls was around six years old, he was enamored with the band at his Greek-Orthodox church. He specifically loved the accordion and began playing at this young age. Kontopuls’s passion for music and his dedication to improvement helped him over the years, whether he was learning the keys on the accordion or growing as an artist at Alan’s.
Once he turned 21, he and Prevel began getting performance experience around town. He recalls with a smile the years they played at the La Mesa American Legion and various VFW's in the area.
Although he loved performing, he was also aware of the intense dedication it took to be a working musician. With this in mind, he earned a business degree at San Diego State University. This business acumen and his instrumental background allowed Kontopuls to open Evans Academy of Music in 1994.
The school itself is a bit hidden off Fletcher Parkway, but is suitable for private lessons and small jam sessions. Offset from a neighboring office building, Kontopuls said it’s perfect for rocking out and not disturbing the other businesses. He offers over ten types of lessons at the academy and his current student list ranges in age from 7 to 70. “It’s never too late to start,” he said enthusiastically.
Students come to him with differing skill levels and goals. And whether he’s teaching vocals, piano, bass, guitar, or another instrument, Kontopuls’s first goal is to help the student accomplish something – anything. During that first 30-minute-to-one-hour lesson, he wants his pupil to walk away with a new ability of which they can feel proud. This confidence-building will only help them in their ongoing training and has made Kontopuls’s teaching career a success.
“Encouragement goes a long way,” he said. “And I rarely have a student decide not to return.” Many of his students stay with him for years; the longest span for one currently at Evans Academy is about 12 years. Another important part of his teaching is pushing students beyond their comfort zone; he challenges students to get the performance experience he benefited from as a young artist. He informs students about various open mic nights, like the ones at Cosmos Coffee Cafe every Tuesday evening, and if he’s free he’ll even attend to offer support.
Some of his students over 21 are invited to play with Kontopuls at Chico’s in La Mesa – one such performance will be May 24, starting at 8 p.m. His band, The Flophouse Playboys, often plays at Hooley’s at Grossmont Center and in Rancho San Diego. This musical lifestyle seems to keep the teacher enthusiastic about what he’s doing. Twice a year he brings his love of performance and teaching together in an even bigger way. The spring and fall concerts feature groups of students playing together to showcase what they have learned. The large patio at the Downtown Café in El Cajon is a perfect venue for this he says and he enjoys emceeing the whole event as well as playing with his students. June 1 will be their spring performance this year, beginning at noon and open to the public.
With so much encouragement inside and outside of the school, it’s easy to see why musicians stick with Kontopuls and how he’s succeeded for nearly four decades. He says he teaches based on each individual’s style of learning – visual vs. playing by ear – and he looks to them for guidance in how they like to learn. “A lot of teachers teach the way they were taught,” he said. “I try not to do that. Students can also opt to learn multiple instruments. One promising young man splits his lessons into 15 minutes on drums and 15 minutes on guitar, according to Kontopuls. Another trend he’s seen recently are the aspiring female drummers; when he sees I perk up at this fact, natural teacher Kontopuls generously offers to take me under his wing, and so soon, I will be heading to my first drum lesson. I have no musical training, but hope my love for the craft will make it easier on my very skilled teacher. Who knows – maybe I’ll be giving lessons of my own someday.
Jen Van Tieghem is a staff writer who also covers the San Diego music scene in all its glory on SoundsInSanDiego.com.
To reach Jen, email her at Jen@ScoopSanDiego.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jen_VT
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