If a person asked Emily Quiles years ago if she wanted to teach music for a living, Quiles would honestly laugh. She remembers 10 years of studying the piano and hating almost every minute you spend on the bench.
“I took 10 years of piano lessons which I hated every year,” Quiles said. “I hated the piano. In fact, I hadn’t touched a piano for several years before I decided to start teaching.
Quiles, a former helicopter pilot, moved to Kansas from California with her husband who became stationed at Fort Riley. Around the same time, the family of two added a new member, Abrams, a six-month-old puppy, and Quiles decided she wanted to work from home to stay with him.
“I decided to start giving piano lessons in my living room and it kind of took off from there and it blew up,” Quiles said. “For the next two years we were in a commercial sport in Manhattan and now that kind of took us to Abilene.”
Quiles took those music lessons in his living room with Abrams playing on the floor as the students serenaded him and figured out a way to start a music school. Her music school uses therapy dogs to help students in the classroom learn music and find comfort.
“Kids can have a bad day at school, they come to piano lessons and they’re a little depressed, but every time they see the dogs their spirits go up,” Quiles said. “This relationship is really used during our performances, recitals, concerts, that sort of thing, because stage fright always hits, it’s inevitable.
Quiles remembers her favorite story when a student at her first recital didn’t want to get out of the car because of stage fright. So Quiles got the therapy dog from the class and the student was able to calm down while stroking the puppy’s fur. Quiles also proposed that the therapy dog take the stage with the young student, so Birdie joined the student on stage.
“The little girl was totally excited to come in and she played her song,” Quiles said. “At the end, she said it was the best.”
Aside from the unique addition of dogs to his class, Quiles takes a different approach to music lessons, which contrasts with his own 10 years.
“Their parents (the students) are sticking them into this extracurricular activity that they might not have wanted,” Quiles said. “We always try to have fun and we can show students that there is more to life than music lessons… We don’t use the P word, we don’t say practice, we let’s not dwell on it. We use our method of exploration where we kind of use the interest of the kids to move them forward and that just makes them play at home naturally without it being a chore. It’s a bit controversial in our industry.
Another controversial position, Quiles pushes students to choose the songs and instruments they want to learn, even if that means finding a bagpipe teacher. By allowing students to learn at their leisure, Quiles can’t wait for the light bulb moment.
“The bulb moment when they get it and especially when they’re excited to come home and try to teach their parents or another child,” Quiles said. “When they are successful, they can teach it to someone else.”
With his new music school in Abilene, Quiles wanted to share a few words with the community about music.
“I think the main thing is that our mission is to change the perception of the world of music lessons,” Quiles said. “I love my piano teacher, but we weren’t the closest and it wasn’t a fun experience… The fact that their kids can have fun here and the piano can be fun.”