Commercial music program boasts notable past, offers lessons

By Daniela Villa & Rylee “Rose” Garrett/COMM 2311 

Imagine a place where guitar music drifts softly out of a closed doorway.   Just a few feet away, outside another door, the sound of scales flow up and down a keyboard.   

     That’s often what you hear when you walk down the halls inside South Plains College’s commercial music wing of the Creative Arts Building on the Levelland campus. 

     The 20-foot hallway that leads to the Tom T. Hall auditorium, where concerts regularly take place, is lined with framed photos.  Each one features name after name of noteworthy musicians.  All of them got at least part of their start at SPC.

Pictured is the 20-foot hallway leading to Tom T. Hall Studio inside the Commercial Music building on the Levelland campus of SPC.
Photo by Jarell Vivas

     “One of my former guitar students played for Josh Turner for a while before he started a family,” says Brent Wheeler, commercial music coordinator and associate professor of commercial music, “and then Josh Turner’s road schedule wasn’t going to be conducive to raising kids.”

     Wheeler explains the two-year commercial music program at SPC is designed to train students to be songwriters, artists, or backup artists.  

     Wheeler says Morgan Reatherford, an SPC commercial music grad, is now touring all over the world with country singer Lorrie Morgan’s band.   SPC grad Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Grammy-award winning band “Dixie Chicks”, is featured outside Tom T. Hall.  So is bluegrass artist and SPC grad Ron Block, a two-decade veteran of “Alison Krauss & Union Station”.  

     All of these musical performers had to start somewhere.  And chances are, they started with music lessons here in the commercial music program.   There is a wide variety of lessons available for instruments and voice.

     Wheeler says sometimes group music classes can be a little intimidating for some students.  “So, you can really push a student so much more when it’s just one-on-one,” he says. 

     Commercial Music Professor John Reid has been teaching at SPC for more than 30 years.  He also offers private bass guitar lessons in his academic office.  One wall of the office is lined with about a dozen guitars. 

Pictured are guitars lining the side of John Reid’s office

     “Commercial music includes all the instruments that are used in popular music,” says John Reid, the professor who offers bass guitar lessons.  “And bass guitar is one of them.  Drums is another.  And guitar.  And vocals, of course.  But also keyboards.”

     Reid says private lessons can last either half an hour or an hour.  On this day, he is teaching  back-to-back private lessons, something, he says, that is not unusual. 

   “We do have a lot of students that are already working,” Reid says.  “And a lot of students go straight to Nashville from here and work.  So, they’re doing what they want to do and what they came here to learn how to do.”

     Brent Wheeler books private guitar lessons in his academic office too.   Guitar players work on technique, he says, like how to hold their guitar, how to understand scales and chords,  and how to perform.  

     Voice majors, he says, work on building their technique and making sure they’re singing properly.  “Because out of all the instruments,” Wheeler says, “and all the things you can do musically, if you’re singing incorrectly, you can hurt yourself.  You can get basically calloused vocal cords called nodes.”

     SPC student Jeremiah Thomas is just finishing a vocals and keyboard private lesson with Commercial Music Instructor Jerry Serrano.  In a deep voice, Thomas says, “I really am benefitting a lot from these lessons here.”  He says he saw progress almost immediately.

     Serrano, who came to SPC in August, teaches voice, piano, and song writing.  He also gives one-on-one lessons in all of those areas.  “If you want to develop your craft,” Serrano says, “spending the time to build on the fundamentals of musicianship are important.”

     Music majors are not the only ones who book music lessons here.  Serrano says he also has students who take lessons just for the enjoyment of it.  He says he works at the students’ pace helping them learn the things they want to learn. 

     Serrano performs in musical gigs outside SPC along with professor John Reid.  Wheeler says all of the commercial music instructors at SPC perform music at venues outside the classroom.

     Reid says he’s been playing music in outside venues since he was 12 or 13.   He still plays  two or three times a week.  This weekend he and Serrano  have a gig in Lubbock and another in Amarillo.  

     Brent Wheeler performs too.  In fact, he says he and his wife, Emily Wheeler, have a new album that’s up and out, but it won’t be released until after Christmas.  

     Emily Wheeler, who comes from a musical family, is also an instructor in commercial music at SPC.  She mentors in how to combine a passion for music with discipline and determination to create successful careers.

    “I believe in the power of music,” Emily Wheeler says.  “Society needs it.  There’s a benefit of people working in it professionally so this critical part of human nature is supported and sustained.”

     Brent Wheeler is currently teaching high school student Riley Solberg voice lessons as dual credit.  

     Solberg says she is grateful for the experience and the chance to take lessons before entering college.  “Music is the only thing I want to do in my life,” Solberg says.  “People in Nashville have told me that South Plains College has the best music program in the nation.  With this in mind, I go back knowing I am getting valuable and practical teaching.”

      On a wall near Tom T. Hall, you find a framed tribute to singer and songwriter Lee Ann Womack who went to SPC in the 1980s.   It features one of her autographed guitars, an album, and a headshot.

     In an October, 2000 article in “Texas Monthly”, Womack is quoted as saying:  “When I graduated from Jacksonville High School, in 1984, I went to Levelland to attend South Plains College, which offered an associate of arts degree in bluegrass and country music.  I learned to perform there, and even though I didn’t finish the program, going to that school was probably the best thing I ever did for my career.”

     If you’re interested in taking music lessons, contact Brent Wheeler at 806-716-2023 or 806-716-2281.

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