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John Coffey and Jeff Hartman have a lot in common â both are extremely talented artists and are known and recognized âfar and wide,â as the saying goes. Theyâve known each other for 16 years but the ease of being around them together speaks volumes more than 16 years. Itâs only natural for Coffey and Hartman to team up together in business. But to these artists, itâs more than business, and they donât like to think of what they do as business....
They met at The Green Room Community Theatreâs 1996 production of Broadwayâs longest running musical, âThe Fantasticks.â
âI also met my wife, Carol Anne, then,â Hartman said. âWe both were in the production and later married at Hickory Community Theatre â on the stage.â
In 2007, Coffey reprised his original musical âStreets of Hickory,â and cast Hartman as a lead.
In May, Hartman will be musical director for âThe Full Monty.â Coffey was musical director for five years of âThe Full Montyâ on its national tour.
âI followed everything Jeff ever did,â Coffey said.
Hartman said âvice versaâ to that.
âWe emailed each other,â Hartman said. âI asked John, âhow do you do this, how do you do that?ââ
In August 2011, Hartman and his wife leased a 70-year-old house on Highland Avenue. They created a place for art, theater and music teachers to have the opportunity to earn what they deserve.
Unlike most other establishments, the teachers who used the building were able to set their own price and pay a much lower overhead.
âI worked at other studios, and I have been teaching privately since I was in college,â Hartman said. âThe problem becomes when teachers have to have a ridiculous amount of students just to make what they need.â
Hartman said the need is tremendous for a place where lesson fees are reasonable, and where a variety of art teachers are â all under one roof.
âYou and Carol Anne approached me,â Coffey said,âAnd, I said,âSure, Iâd love to be involved.ââ
Coffey moved back to the area from New York City, so Hartmanâs offer was timely.
The Hartmansâ studio on Highland Avenue didnât work out. The tenant on one floor went to Internet sales, and the Hartmans didnât need or want both floors.
Hartman and Coffey found their present location through a mutual friend. The house was rezoned years ago and served as an accountantâs office.
âIt was perfect,â Hartman said. âThe office rooms looked like session [lesson and recording] rooms.â
Located on Second Ave. S.E. in Hickory, their studio, Hickory Arts, is up and running.
Hartman and Coffey said their aim is not to be in competition with anybody. They just want to do the best they can for their students, no exceptions.
âThe key to this business is personal relationships,â Hartman and Coffey echoed.
âItâs the Jerry Maguire mantra and unfortunately it escapes most public schools and teaching studios. â Hartman said. âThis is something weâre fortunately in a position to offer.â In the movie, Jerry Maguire had a long list of clients, was fired, and asked his coworkers who was coming with him. Only Maguireâs secretary went with him, and he ended up with one client. But, he made more of a difference in that clientâs life than in all his other clients.
âI would rather have a small roster of students and give them dedication â thereâs a lot more to it than the number of students,â Hartman said.
Coffey said itâs the 30/30/30 rule that works.
â$30/30 minutes/30 students per teacher,â he said. âWeâre not trying to run a school here for future stars. just trying to get in touch with students and help them get in touch with their talent.
For Hickory Arts, itâs all about staying small and simple. Itâs reflected in their mission statement.
âQuality over quantity... Ask not what your students can do for you; ask what you can do for your students... Give a man a fish... You get the picture. Hickory Arts is dedicated to responding to the needs of up-and-coming artists of all ages by providing premium private instruction and opportunities for artists and educators alike.â
âItâs not a factory,â Hartman said.
âAs a teacher, Iâm not comfortable teaching voice,â Coffey said. âI teach piano and vocal coaching.
âThat is, if someone wants to audition for a musical, I ask them what song they chose and why. Among other things, I teach them to act what they are doing,â Coffey added.
Coffey said he doesnât teach students to play the piano.
âI teach them to read and play, that way they can be fluent in music,â he said. âWhen they sit down at the piano, or anywhere for that matter, they look at the notes and hear them.â
Hartman is a vocal coach as well, but he also teaches vocal technique, which is the fundamentals of how your voice works.
âHow to breathe, marking words when singing, diction, enunciating,â he said. âI also teach vocal health â how the vocal chords work.â
Hartman and Coffey give an analogy.
âWeâre a specialized studio,â Coffey said. âCompare it this way: going to a general practitioner versus a medical specialist.â
In addition, Hartman teaches singer/songwriter development, piano, guitar and private acting coaching. Hartmanâs wife, Carol Anne, teaches photography.
âWe want to be all-encompassing â we want everything under the creative umbrella, not just music and theater,â Hartman said.
Also, itâs not an immediate signup for lessons.
âIf someone is interested in studying here, we meet and find out what they want, their level, their expectations,â Hartman said.
Hickory Arts wants to reach out to the homeschool students in the area, as well.
âA lot of them donât get art education,â Coffey said. âThey can bring them here.â
Coffey said so much of what they do and want to do is involvement in the community.
âItâs exciting to have this many opportunities to work with the art community,â he added.
Not only is there a need in the community for a place where art teachers wonât be charged immense overhead, but there is also a need for a place where the community can find a variety of art teachers.
Hartman and Coffey arenât stopping at art, music and theater teachers, though. They want to open the doors for cabaret events, local artists to showcase their work, a yoga class, Bible studies and anything the community needs.
The main room in Hickory Arts is approved for occupancy by 40 people, which is just fine with Hartman and Coffey.
âItâs perfect for cabaret performances, or to rent out for business meetings,â Hartman said. âAnd, we also offer group lessons as necessary. We hope to teach improv and acting.â
Theyâre also interested in talking with anyone interested in teaching an art, be it crochet, knit or paint.
And, they go on the road, too.
Charlotte Film Festival asked Hartman and Coffey to judge five films for its 2012 awards.
âThey called and said theyâd like me to judge the music score in five films,â Hartman said. âThen they asked if I had a colleague to judge, as well.â
Hartman and Coffey will present the winners in Charlotte on March 5 at the Epicentre Theatres in uptown Charlotte.
Recently, Carol Anne and Coffey judged 89 Rotarian Idol contestants and pared them down to 20 finalists. Hartman offered free vocal coaching to the finalists.
âItâs something I want to offer,â he said. âA lot of people donât know where to find tracks and edit.â
Hartmans and Coffey want Hickory Arts to be well-connected, a hub of sorts, and work with The Green Room Community Theatre and Hickory Community Theatre.
Hickory Arts provides a number of ways for the public to keep a finger on the pulse of the studio and the arts community â Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and more. Visit their website at www.hickoryarts.com, or give them a call at 828-291-0509.
Stop by and visit Hickory Arts. Theyâre located at 720 Second Ave. S.W. in Hickory.
âWeâre open whenever we need to be,â Coffey said.