Meet Ashley, our uber-accomplished new in-school and after-school music teacher. She’ll be teaching our entire in-school music program at Oakridge Private School and Crescent Elementary, along with our ASP Studio M program at Oakridge. On top of that, she also teaches private voice, piano, ukulele, guitar, percussion, and songwriting lessons for us. We’re so excited to have this music-playing and polynesian dancing extraordinaire on board with us!
MM: What instruments do you play, how did you get started with each one, and how long have you been playing them?
AB: I currently perform voice, guitar, ukulele, piano, and some percussion. Dates and years are always a bit tricky because one instrument always bridged into the next, but I’ve been playing the piano for about 12 years, guitar for 20 years, and singing for 28 years.
At the age of 7, I started learning piano and continued that for about a year. Looking back on it, I wish could’ve stuck with it because I really appreciate the instrument now and I spend a lot of time these days refining my piano technique. I received my very first guitar from my grandmother at age 9, and around the same time I also discovered the Judds. I had never seen a woman playing the guitar before then! I began taking guitar lessons and slowly integrated singing while accompany myself. When I reached the age of 10 my voice started to change and I developed a more soulful sound. I’ve always had a low voice and as a kid I would get teased for it . . . music helped me develop my voice and needless to say, now I get compliments on my unique speaking and singing voice. It was around the same time that I discovered blues, began practicing for hours after school, started teaching myself new chords, new techniques, etc. I eventually reconnected with piano, and along the way I also picked up ukulele, darbuka, and Tahitian to’ere and bass drum.
MM: What are some of your favorite instruments, and why?
AB: But there are so many favorites!!! Okay, if I had to choose a couple, my absolute favorite instrument is the voice. I’ve heard so many different kinds of sounds expressed through the human body, it really does continue to fascinate me. For example; listening to different kinds of world music and how there can be a group of people singing (no instruments) and have it all be so lively, solemn, and everything in between. I think it’s one of the very few instruments where you can glimpse directly into a person’s soul without ever meeting them. I still get choked up when I hear that passion in a singer’s voice that needs to communicate and reach out. My second choice would have to be the guitar. I stopped playing it for a few years when I was younger but then I caught Stevie Ray Vaughn playing on TV one night and wouldn’t peel my eyes off of the screen for the rest of the concert. There was something about his playing that was so gritty and soulful and the same time, I had the inspiration I needed to pick the guitar back up.
MM: What are your current musical projects?
AB: Right now, I’m putting a band together to break into the private event circuit, playing weddings, private parties, etc. This past year I’ve been putting together the media content for that group, including four soul/funk tracks and a music video (up and coming!) and we’re currently in post-production on the project. I’m really excited to see how it all turns out!
MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?
AB: Between teaching and gigging, I don’t have a lot of down time. When I have an evening free to work on a project I tackle things one at a time and I’m pretty methodical and thorough. If you were to catch me at home working on a song, you’d likely see me sitting at the dining room table, headphones on, guitar at the ready, toggling back and forth between lyric sheets, chord sheets, YouTube videos, and my notepad. At the moment, my music goals are very much in line with my life goals, so it’s less about balance and more about trying to get to bed on time!
I try to gear my students’ lessons with practice in mind all throughout. During the lesson we are working on exercises that I want them to repeat at home, so we talk about how and what they are going to practice continually during our time together. I think it’s important that the student understands what they are expected to work on and they feel confident in the exercise, so that they aren’t lost or confused when they get home.
MM: What genres are you most comfortable in, and what would you say your favorite vocal genre is?
AB: Blues, soul and jazz standards are definitely my preferred genres to perform. I take a lot of inspiration from Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Amy Winehouse, Judith Hill and Chaka Khan.
MM: What are your top goals, music, or otherwise?
AB: Like most of the professional musicians I work with, I’m pretty much focused on paying the bills by making music. The details of how that happens – and therefore my immediate goals – are always in flux, but as long as I’m waking up every day doing what I love, performing, creating, teaching, then every day is a dream come true.
MM: If you were stranded on an island and could only have one album with you, what would it be?
AB: Little Girl Blue by Nina Simone.
MM: Tell us about the NAACP recognition you received?
AB: In 2011, as a part of my church’s music ensemble I was awarded a NAACP Women’s Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations who serve as “a positive influence through music and cultural diversity” in the city of Long Beach. Our group performs annually at the National Martin Luther King Interfaith Celebration, which celebrates Dr. King’s vision of a more just and peaceful world through interfaith community service. It was our work at these events that garnered us attention for this prestigious award.
MM: Tell us about your Polynesian dance background!
AB: I began Polynesian dance at the age of three because my mother led a dance troupe. I started performing and earned money at our shows at age 5, so technically, I started my first performance gig when I was in kindergarten! Around the age of 11 or 12, I picked up learning the Tahitian drum known as the to’ere with my right hand and bass drum with my left. After a few months, I composed my first ‘ote’a which is basically a dance number comprised of different rhythms (usually fast paced) and is solely played with drums. Ironically, although there were lots of ukuleles around me at that time I didn’t pick up the tiny instrument until about 8 years ago when I borrowed a friend’s uke and quickly fell in love with it.
MM: You’re our new Oakridge teacher! Congrats, and we are excited to have you! What are you most looking forward to? Anything you are nervous about?
AB: I’m really looking forward to playing singing games and rhythm activities with the kids, getting them ready and excited for performances and seeing if I can inspire more interest in music among my students. I’m nervous about everything! But seriously, I’m looking forward to being at that point a few months in where I have a solid rapport established with my students and a regular routine in the classroom. The beginning is always chaotic and I’m hoping to move through that phase with as much grace as possible.