Guitar teacher Josh Siegel vividly remembers the first private lesson with one of his first students.
The pair met in the Wilmette home of Siegel’s parents (Larry and Connie) about 14 years ago.
“No bigger than a loaf of bread,” Siegel says of his 7-year-old charge on that day. “Super little. He sat in a chair, and his feet weren’t anywhere near the ground. Taught him to play “Rocky Raccoon”.
It didn’t matter that the youngster thought The Beatles were insects, not a band formed in Liverpool.
“You know what teaching is?” Siegel says. “It’s the art of getting information from one brain to another. I had a knack for it in my early- to mid-20s.
“I love what I do; I’m lucky.”
Siegel, a 1999 New Trier graduate, was a part-time instructor then. He is 36 today and lives in a Chicago apartment in the Ravenswood neighborhood with his wife Ashleigh. His job: full-time guitar (acoustic and electric) teacher, with an emphasis on FULL.
“I’ll be teaching from 2 to 9 [p.m.] today, in homes all around the North Shore,” he says, adding the ages of his students range from 10 to 82. Most of his private lessons last 45 minutes, and he prefers to cap his number of regular clients at 20.
No wonder he orders a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage links and a side of pancakes at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette.
“I was into guitar in high school … obsessed with it, really,” says Siegel, who attended the University of Colorado (Boulder) for two years, when he played in a band named The Continentals, and will be forever grateful his parents forced him to take guitar lessons at Hogeye Music in Evanston. “I’d yearned to play in a band in my New Trier years. I was close with four or five friends; all of us loved music. The problem: We all liked different music. I liked the blues, another liked reggae, and another liked heavy metal.
“One of my favorite things to do was to run home after school and play the guitar. I’d play my favorite songs there, over and over. I considered that warm-up time. I always tell my students, ‘You should always be looking to warm up, because the majority of your growth as a musician occurs as you practice.’ ”
Siegel returned to Wilmette after his final semester in Boulder and served as a waiter for about a year.
“Music,” he recalls, “then tapped me on the shoulder.”
Siegel enrolled in Berklee College of Music in Boston shortly thereafter, in 2004. His stint there lasted a year.
“I learned a lot, writing songs, coming up with ideas,” Siegel says. “I thought I’d get to experience a communal setting at Berklee, with everybody jamming throughout a day. I was at a point in my life where I wanted to perform as a full-time member of a band.”
Siegel moved back to Wilmette one more time. The music teacher in him got the word out that he was available to give private lessons at students’ homes. He called friends. He handed out fliers.
Friends returned his calls; handlers of fliers called him.
Siegel taught, taught and taught some more, inspiring and motivating music enthusiasts of all ages, and he later found the time to entertain as a singer and lead guitarist for a local band, Bailiff.
The student in Siegel, meanwhile, sought to learn how to play classical guitar. He took lessons for five years from a woman named Wanda. The native of Ukraine welcomed the acoustic/electric guitar teacher into her apartment in Chicago for the sessions.
“Nice, sweet and quiet, with a great sense of humor,” Siegel says of Wanda, who invited him to attend her 80th birthday celebration and insisted that he show up at the bash with his guitar. “She’s like another grandma to me. I still consider her a mentor. I love her personality and her professionalism — teaching to her is a noble profession — and when she taught me, all 4-feet-6 of her and wearing one of her nice dresses, she’d sit in her chair with a classical guitarist’s proper posture. She was the picture of a proud sparrow.
“She’d grin if she liked what she heard,” he adds. “If I hadn’t practiced as often as I should have, she’d show her disappointment with a wince.”
Siegel then does his best Disappointed Wanda impression for me, pursing his lips slowly and squinting his eyes.
One of the songs he played for Wanda’s guests on that festive day was The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”.
“I felt some pressure to come up with a song everybody would enjoy,” says Siegel, who has twice conducted a songwriting workshop at New Trier’s annual Lit Fest in the fall. “You can’t go wrong with ‘Hey Jude’. Nothing unites a room full of people like singing ‘Na na na na na na na na’ together does.”
Josh Siegel’s contact information: [email protected]; (847) 606-8108.