A musical environment

. November 7, 2012.

The next time you want your children to hear some great music, don’t reach for your iPod. Grab a ukulele, guitar, piano or a set of drums. And don’t limit the music-making to the younger set. Everyone can get into the action, from grandma on down. You can create your own “Partridge Family” — or at least that’s the hope of musician Steve Osburn. “One of my missions is to allow people to have meaningful experiences through music,” says Osburn, 52, an Ann Arbor resident and co-owner of Oz’s Music. At his store, you can do more than buy or sell new and used instruments or rent or repair your longed-for guitar or tuba. Osburn offers music lessons and a performance venue next door. “Since 1979, I’ve had what I call a ‘music environment,’” Osburn explains. “One of my goals is to see people bond musically, especially families.”

Creating an environment

The “environment” offers multi-room venues, each devoted to different instruments, from strings to percussion to band and orchestra. There’s a stage in one locale, with seating for 50 music-lovers.“I call them ‘instrument family labs,’” he said. “The idea is after and before lessons I encourage parents to participate in a hands-on music area so families can interact in the rooms without a teacher.” Youngsters can be the stars of their first rock concert, by visiting the open stage at 4pm, on the second Saturday of each month. “Kids and families watch as children are invited up to play or sing. Last month, we had two three-year-olds. They were singing ‘Twinkle,’ and ‘ABCs.’ I accompanied them on guitar,” he said. “We ask them to take a bow. It’s largely to demystify being on stage.”

Know obstacles

Osburn encourages everyone to join the party. “A boy walked into my studio when he was seven about 14 years ago. He was autistic,” said Osburn. The youth inspired Osburn to help start a band for young people with disabilities. Current members have been diagnosed with ailments ranging from cystic fibrosis and autism to Asperger syndrome.

“Gradually other special needs kids came in and we formed the band, Know Obstacles,” he said.
While the five band members may face more than their share of challenges, one of them has extraordinary musical abilities. “She has perfect pitch and tempo,” he says. “A lot of them have skills that are truly exceptional. I try to design tunes that accentuate their strengths.” Problems related to the youths’ diagnoses haven’t ruined their love of music. “My bass player did a lot of performances with his back to the audience,” he said. “Eventually he turned around.”
The band performs at Intentional Communities of Washtenaw and other events. The ICW is a group of people eager to help kids with special needs achieve independence," said Osburn. (The public is invited to attend Know Obstacles rehearsals at 1pm on Saturdays at the music environment.)
His shop and classes offer joyous self-expression for children, allowing them to overcome limitations they may face in other areas of life. “They start out going from instrument to instrument like a candy store until they find one that gives them their groove,” said Osburn.

Oz’s Music is located at 1920 Packard Rd., with music lessons and performances presented at the “music environment” next door at 1922 Packard. For more info visit www.ozmusic.com or call 734-662-8283. photographs by ovation photographics