John Coffey and Jeff Hartman have a lot in common — both are extremely talented artists and are known and recognized “far and wide,” as the saying goes. They’ve known each other for 16 years but the ease of being around them together speaks volumes more than 16 years. It’s only natural for Coffey and Hartman to team up together in business. But to these artists, it’s more than business, and they don’t like to think of what they do as business....
They met at The Green Room Community Theatre’s 1996 production of Broadway’s longest running musical, “The Fantasticks.”
“I also met my wife, Carol Anne, then,” Hartman said. “We both were in the production and later married at Hickory Community Theatre — on the stage.”
In 2007, Coffey reprised his original musical “Streets of Hickory,” and cast Hartman as a lead.
In May, Hartman will be musical director for “The Full Monty.” Coffey was musical director for five years of “The Full Monty” on its national tour.
“I followed everything Jeff ever did,” Coffey said.
Hartman said “vice versa” to that.
“We emailed each other,” Hartman said. “I asked John, ‘how do you do this, how do you do that?’”
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.
“I worked at other studios, and I have been teaching privately since I was in college,” Hartman said. “The problem becomes when teachers have to have a ridiculous amount of students just to make what they need.”
Hartman said the need is tremendous for a place where lesson fees are reasonable, and where a variety of art teachers are — all under one roof.
“You and Carol Anne approached me,” Coffey said,”And, I said,’Sure, I’d love to be involved.’”
Coffey moved back to the area from New York City, so Hartman’s offer was timely.
The Hartmans’ studio on Highland Avenue didn’t work out. The tenant on one floor went to Internet sales, and the Hartmans didn’t 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 accountant’s office.
“It was perfect,” Hartman said. “The office rooms looked like session [lesson and recording] rooms.”
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.
“The key to this business is personal relationships,” Hartman and Coffey echoed.
“It’s the Jerry Maguire mantra and unfortunately it escapes most public schools and teaching studios. “ Hartman said. “This is something we’re fortunately in a position to offer.” In the movie, Jerry Maguire had a long list of clients, was fired, and asked his coworkers who was coming with him. Only Maguire’s secretary went with him, and he ended up with one client. But, he made more of a difference in that client’s life than in all his other clients.
“I would rather have a small roster of students and give them dedication — there’s a lot more to it than the number of students,” Hartman said.
Coffey said it’s the 30/30/30 rule that works.
“$30/30 minutes/30 students per teacher,” he said. “We’re 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, it’s all about staying small and simple. It’s reflected in their mission statement.
“Quality 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.”
“It’s not a factory,” Hartman said.
“As a teacher, I’m not comfortable teaching voice,” Coffey said. “I teach piano and vocal coaching.
“That 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,” Coffey added.
Coffey said he doesn’t teach students to play the piano.
“I teach them to read and play, that way they can be fluent in music,” he said. “When they sit down at the piano, or anywhere for that matter, they look at the notes and hear them.”
Hartman is a vocal coach as well, but he also teaches vocal technique, which is the fundamentals of how your voice works.
“How to breathe, marking words when singing, diction, enunciating,” he said. “I also teach vocal health — how the vocal chords work.”
Hartman and Coffey give an analogy.
“We’re a specialized studio,” Coffey said. “Compare it this way: going to a general practitioner versus a medical specialist.”
In addition, Hartman teaches singer/songwriter development, piano, guitar and private acting coaching. Hartman’s wife, Carol Anne, teaches photography.
“We want to be all-encompassing — we want everything under the creative umbrella, not just music and theater,” Hartman said.
Also, it’s not an immediate signup for lessons.
“If someone is interested in studying here, we meet and find out what they want, their level, their expectations,” Hartman said.
Hickory Arts wants to reach out to the homeschool students in the area, as well.
“A lot of them don’t get art education,” Coffey said. “They can bring them here.”
Coffey said so much of what they do and want to do is involvement in the community.
“It’s exciting to have this many opportunities to work with the art community,” he added.
Not only is there a need in the community for a place where art teachers won’t 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 aren’t 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.
“It’s perfect for cabaret performances, or to rent out for business meetings,” Hartman said. “And, we also offer group lessons as necessary. We hope to teach improv and acting.”
They’re 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.
“They called and said they’d like me to judge the music score in five films,” Hartman said. “Then they asked if I had a colleague to judge, as well.”
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.
“It’s something I want to offer,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know where to find tracks and edit.”
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 — 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. They’re located at 720 Second Ave. S.W. in Hickory.
“We’re open whenever we need to be,” Coffey said.