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Jason Rapp

Freeway Music School celebrates 10-year anniversary

Freeway Music—Columbia’s locally owned, premier music school—is celebrating 10 years of bringing music lessons, programs and events to students across the Midlands region.

[caption id="attachment_47873" align="alignright" width="250"] Provided photo. Click to enlarge.[/caption] Since opening its doors in 2011, Freeway Music has taught nearly 10,000 students through nearly half a million lessons, has donated more than $70,000 to local nonprofits, has given countless volunteer hours to the community and has collaborated with many partners to bring music to the region. From day one, Freeway Music has challenged its music schools and teachers to be innovative and responsive to the needs of their students. As a result of COVID-19, Freeway Music adapted its traditional in-person lessons and now offers the options for virtual lessons, showcases and recitals. Additionally, Freeway Music offers music lessons in participating Midlands area schools and through a long-standing partnership with The Columbia Children’s Theatre. “Freeway Music goes beyond your traditional music school,” Freeway Music co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Dan Russo said. “We are a hub for building deep relationships between teachers, students and the community — while staying focused on being innovative and adapting to the world around us. We use the power of music to develop and grow our students and ourselves.” Now with six locations throughout the greater Columbia metropolitan area and optional virtual lessons, what began as chance encounter by local musicians Russo and Tony Lee has flourished into the fastest growing music instruction school in South Carolina. Freeway Music offers private music lessons for all skill levels, styles and ages on a wide range of instruments, including piano, voice, ukulele, drums, bass, strings, woodwinds, horns, mandolin, banjo and more. “Adapting to virtual lessons and other programming has opened many doors for our students and teachers,” said co-founder Lee. “It’s allowed us to expand our way of teaching, as well as introduce new technology that gives us the capacity to teach anywhere in the world.”

Homegrown talent rooted in the Midlands

Freeway Music has been the catalyst for many of the region’s top music talent — many of which have gone on to pursue their musical careers on a national stage, from Neoni — the modern alternative pop rock and electronic band with over one million monthly listeners on Spotify — to Jonathan Wyndham, a top contender on The Voice in 2014, now turned independent singer, songwriter and producer with a number of singles on Spotify. Additionally, more than a dozen former students have graduated to becoming Freeway Music instructors — sharing their passion and love for music with others. “We could not be more proud to be Freeway Music alumni,” say Sydney Powell and Caitlin Powell of Neoni. “And to think it all began ten years ago in a lesson room, to music becoming our entire career—it’s truly amazing.”

Giving back through music

“Supporting our community is part of who we are — it’s embedded in the fabric of our DNA,” says Russo. “We’ve seen music transcend barriers, transform lives and unify people of all walks of life. An example of this in commitment was shown in 2016 when our instructors rallied together and played to raise money for a former cancer patient, who then recovered and became a Freeway student.” Over the past 10 years, Freeway Music has been making a positive mark on the community in countless way, including:
  • Donating nearly $60,000 to local charities through its co-partnership of the Freeway Music Festival, which unites the music community and celebrates local and regional talent.
  • Providing music scholarships to support youth who may not otherwise be able to afford music lessons.
  • Participating in fundraising and performances for many local nonprofits, including The Conner Foundation, Palmetto Children’s Hospital, Harvest Hope Food Bank, The Women’s Shelter, Pets Inc., Pawmetto Lifeline, Trustus Theatre, Girls Rock Columbia, the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation, and the South Carolina Philharmonic, among others.
  • Supporting local schools with free lesson and performances, including Bethel-Hanberry Elementary, St. John Newman, Heathwood Hall, the University of South Carolina, Columbia College, Blythewood High School, Irmo High School, St. Andrews Middle School and many more.
  • Volunteering and supporting local events, including the Festival of Trees, Rooftop Rhythms, St. Pat's in Five Points Parade, Palmetto Christmas, the MG&C Long Run, the Heart and Sole Run, Get in the Pink Race, Vista Lights, First Thursdays on Main and more.

Showcasing talent on the Big Stage

Each season, Freeway Music presents music showcases that are free and open to the public at various large venues in the region. These showcases are crucial to students’ musical development and allows an opportunity for them to show off their skills in “real life” settings for an experience similar to professional music performances. Support local students and enjoy live music by attending a Freeway Music showcase this fall.
  • Downtown: Sunday, Sept. 26, 2-5 p.m., Tin Roof, 1022 Senate St., Columbia
  • Lexington: Sunday, Oct. 31, 2-4 p.m., Ice House Amphitheater, 107 W. Main St., Lexington
  • Northeast: Sunday, Nov. 21, 1-6 p.m., The Senate, 1022 Senate St, Columbia
  • Irmo: TBD. Check the Freeway Music calendar for updates on this showcase.
For the latest on upcoming event dates and venues, visit https://freewaymusic.net/events/. To learn more about Freeway Music and register for classes with year-round enrollment at https://freewaymusic.net/.
Founded in 2011, Freeway Music is the Columbia region’s premier music school with five locations in downtown Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, the Northeast, and within Sims Music. Freeway Music offers private lessons for all skill levels, styles, and ages on a wide range of instruments, including piano, voice, ukulele, drums, bass, strings, woodwinds, horns, mandolin, banjo, and more. Freeway Music’s mission is to equip students in music and life to make a positive impact in their community. Freeway Music is the exclusive music school partner of Sims Music, a locally owned and nationally recognized music store. For more information visit freewaymusic.net or call 844.537.7661.

Jason Rapp

Midlands music school expands virtual services, offers scholarships

Freeway Music School serves Columbia area


In response to the pandemic, Columbia's Freeway Music launched new virtual and socially distanced technique lessons, showcases, recitals, studio time and music videos, along with new scholarships, positively impacting hundreds of students across the region.

A small business, Freeway Music is rooted in face-to-face interaction and in-person instruction. Once the COVID-19 pandemic limited its ability to open studio doors at its five Columbia locations, the music school brought instruction and opportunities into the homes of its students by incorporating virtual lessons, showcases and recitals in different formats. It has also introduced new technology in order to make lessons even more productive.
“Music is a vehicle for creativity, healing, emotional expression, and so much more,” says Don Russo, founder and chief operating officer of Freeway Music. “It offers hope and is vital during these isolating times. We are committed to showing our music family that they don’t need to physically be together to play together.”
Founded in 2011, Freeway Music offers student-centered music education that also benefits the broader community, making a positive impact through lessons for all skill levels and ages, as well as music therapy, theater, showcases, recitals, and partnerships with various charities, organizations and community events. Freeway Music has locations in downtown Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, Northeast and within Sims Music. In addition to its virtual services, Freeway Music is now offering in-person, socially distanced lessons and free studio time as a new experience for its students, enabling them to take home their own recordings. The school is also using technology like Sound Slice, which allows students to see their music notated online, control tempo, and loop sections with which they may be struggling. This summer, Freeway Music students held outdoor, socially distanced concerts at Steel Hands Brewing and Market on Main in downtown Columbia, giving kids the opportunity to perform safely in public with adult supervision. “Our goal is to create opportunities for our students to continue to learn and showcase their work during this hectic time,” says Tony Lee, co-founder of Freeway Music. “Music and creative expression should be accessible to everyone, which is why we’re creating safe and innovative solutions to meet the needs of every family.”
As the pandemic began to alter lives for businesses and families alike, Freeway Music recognized a need within its own music community–families who no longer can afford lessons and instructors who have lost their jobs. As a result, Freeway Music created “Jam for the Fam,” a virtual concert benefiting those in need. Local musicians volunteered to perform, and the event provided 10 scholarships for students to continue lessons and benefitted four instructors who have recently experienced significant loss. “Freeway Music is so much more than a music school — they are our extended family,” says one scholarship recipient’s mother. “When COVID-19 hit and my family was down to one income, they stepped in to help my daughter continue her lessons with a special scholarship. With their help, my girls could continue doing what they love, making music.” Freeway Music believes that music transcends barriers of all kinds and unites people from all walks of life, and the school uses its resources to uplift and encourage the entire Columbia region and beyond. Its philanthropic support of local organizations and community outreach include the following:
  • Co-partnership of the Freeway Music Festival, which unites the music community and celebrates local and regional talent. The 2019 event raised money to help build a new greenhouse at City Roots Organic Farm.
  • Fundraising and performances for many local causes and charities including The Conner Foundation, Palmetto Children’s Hospital, Harvest Hope Food Bank, The Women’s Shelter, Pets Inc., Pawmetto Lifeline, Trustus Theatre, Girls Rock Columbia, the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation, and the South Carolina Philharmonic, among others.
  • Lesson donations and performances for local schools including Bethel-Hanberry Elementary, St. John Newman, Heathwood Hall, the University of South Carolina, Columbia College, Blythewood  and Irmo high schools, St. Andrews Middle School and many more.
  • Volunteerism and support of local events including the Festival of Trees, Rooftop Rhythms, St. Pat's in Five Points Parade, Palmetto Christmas, the MG&C Long Run, the Heart and Sole Run, Get in the Pink Race, Vista Lights, First Thursdays on Main, and more.
  • Music scholarships including the Friends Grant in partnership with The Christopher Conner Foundation to help students that can’t afford music lessons, and the Davis Cripe Scholarship, which was created in loving memory of Freeway Music Irmo/Ballentine drum student Davis Cripe.

About Freeway Music

Founded in 2011, Freeway Music is the Columbia region’s premier music school with five locations in downtown Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, the Northeast, and within Sims Music. Freeway Music offers private lessons for all skill levels, styles, and ages on a wide range of instruments including piano, voice, ukulele, drums, bass, strings, woodwinds, horns, mandolin, banjo, and more. Freeway Music’s mission is to equip students in music and life to make a positive impact in their community. Freeway Music is the exclusive music school partner of Sims Music, a locally owned and nationally recognized music store. For more information visit www.freewaymusic.net or call 844.537.7661.
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels