For the past few weeks, tribute videos for John Prine have flooded the internet. The folk singer-songwriter, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on April 7, was an influential figure for countless artists around the globe. Like many other musicians nationwide and here locally, multi-instrumentalist and music teacher Jeremy Mathews plans to pay tribute to Prine with covers of song such as “All the Best,” “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness” and “Paradise” on his YouTube page in the coming weeks.
“I often would play his music while relaxing and also to help work out some of my own music,” Mathews says. “He wrote about the human condition, soul, love, love lost and really knew how to tap into emotions with his lyrics.”
Music has been a passion for Mathews since childhood. He has spent decades playing as a solo artist and in local rock bands, cover bands, jazz groups, even playing reggae and country music. His original tunes have often been heard at Ted’s Fun on the River (now Live at Ted’s). For the last two years, he’s played with the Yard Doggs trio, blending bluegrass, folk and jazz. “We play originals and covers with vocals, guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, harmonica and trumpet,” he details.
Mathews also has been a music educator in North Carolina for 26 years, teaching choir, elementary music and orchestra. He currently instructs orchestra and guitar at Noble Middle School. Like his fellow New Hanover County School teachers, he’s had to adjust to online learning in these last few weeks.
“Switching to teach online and using technology has gone relatively easy for me,” he says. “I am comfortable with technology and my wife has experience teaching online and is willing to help me as needed.”
Mathews thinks technology has always been a powerful tool (when used properly) for learning. While it’s used now to help fulfill educational goals, perhaps it can serve as a platform to learn new hobbies during these difficult times. So Mathews is taking these days of confinement to offer private music lessons via Skype and Zoom.
“Once you get used to the online format private lessons translate pretty well,” he observes. “As long as the instructor can see and hear the student they are able to teach. . . . It is a little different because you are not really in the same room. [For example,] in my online group lessons I have many participants, and they have to mute their microphones when we play as a group because of latency. I can hear them play one at a time in breakout sessions and help people individually.”
Mathews has offered private music lessons in one form or another for 28 years. Ten years ago, he even started offering a “Guitars in the Classroom” (GITC) workshop for other teachers in New Hanover and Brunswick counties. Designed for any teacher and subject, the workshop includes music and a guitar or ukulele to keep.
“The program has been a highly rewarding experience,” he says. “Two weeks ago I started teaching group lessons online through the help of JamPlay, an online platform for learning guitar.”
While Mathews grew up with music—singing in his school and church choirs, playing in his school’s band, and learning to play guitar, piano and bass as a child—he’s familiar with learning new instruments and skills as an adult. He’s picked up ukulele, banjo and mandolin throughout his tenure. For folks with the time and interest in learning to play an instrument, or just improving, Mathews recommends choosing one new concept, style or simple song a day. “On guitar the easiest song to play would probably be ‘A Horse With No Name,’” he suggests, “or any song with two chords.”
Based in his home studio, a.k.a. Mathews Music Academy, Mathews offers lessons for all skill levels in piano, guitar, bass guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, drums/percussion and voice instruction. He even covers music theory, songwriting, and music recording lessons for folks interested in in-home or professional recording.
“Music theory lessons would help those who are interested in how the building blocks of music work, melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.,” he explains. “Songwriting lessons can help someone who is a songwriter but has been stuck in a rut. I can help them find their muse to look at and discover music in new and different ways through mindful exercises and practices.”
Weekly half-hour ($25) or one-hour ($50) sessions can be scheduled for the morning, afternoon or early evening. Mathews first meets with each student to assess what they know and what they want/need to accomplish.
“Communicating with students and finding their interest is key in a teacher-student relationship,” he notes. “Once you have logged into a Skype or Zoom session once or twice you get used to the format and layout. It gets easier and easier each time!”