Your Kinda Music felt like walking into a Disney Exec’s imagination of what a music school should look like. High School Musical, the Studio. The front lobby felt contrivedly decorated in sleek lines, with crayola-bright colours accentuating metal and glass, and sanitized knockoffs of rock posters that featured clean-cut kids in rock-and-roll costumes. The lobby itself was like a fishbowl, surrounded on three sides by sound-proofed glass partitions, behind which students seemed to pantomime playing instruments in complete silence. A few tween-aged kids were scattered around looking at their phones. Tim came bustling from a glassed-in office behind the reception desk as we entered, and started fiddling with a laptop on the counter.
“I’ve brought your package, safe and sound. Do I know musicians or what?” bragged Freida.
“Mouse! Glad you made it out!” called Tim, piling some papers and pushing buttons, not looking up. Mouse? So that stupid nickname had reached all the way to Tim and Your Kinda Music? I felt both confused and irritated by that.
“I’m off,” said Freida, walking over to peck Tim on the lips efficiently, but with affection.
“Thanks for coming to get me and everything, you really are a lifesaver,” I put in.
“I do my best.” Freida leaned in for the double cheek-kiss again, and this time I thought I bluffed my way through okay.
As Freida exited, Tim beckoned me over to the reception desk, indicating the laptop he was still fussing over.
“Perfect timing! I’m just finishing your splash page for the website. You’re easy – those guys at Timeless don’t miss a beat, do they? I just stole a couple of their pics, linked to their feed, and it’s off to the races! You couldn’t have picked a better way to fill your client roster, by the way. Mouse! I love it!”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, a little overwhelmed.
“You’re the star of the show! Take a look.”
I leaned over him to look at the computer monitor. Tim pulled up the Timeless site, where a headline beamed the addition of Mouse Purnell, daughter of the legend, with a dark picture of me on stage, ripping it up, my face a mask of concentration. They must have lifted the shot from someone’s retro Facebook album. Tim clicked through, scrolling over page after page of pictures, headlines from old newspapers, a video of our band at the Status Quo, even poems from my highschool yearbook. Yuck! They had really outed me.
“Oh. Oh my god. How did they…?”
“It’s really very cool,” enthused Tim. “This guy they got from the Applied Research program, I think they’re calling him Static? Anyway, he uses internet scrapers to find everything and spit them into these web pages. The kids just clean it up, retweet it and stuff. Between that and the racket he’s got going with those boys building hype online, there’s some serious data to be mined from that place. But me, I’m mostly just glad they did all my work for me. Look, here’s your YKM Bio, let me know if it’s okay.”
“I met Static yesterday, he was a total jerk to me. I really don’t like this.”
“You haven’t even read it!”
“Not the bio. This whole…all this stuff I didn’t even know was out there online, stuff about me! And now, all findable in one convenient place. I feel like I’m being stalked, or something.”
Tim looked directly at me for the first time in our conversation.
“Do you know how many people would kill for this kind of free promotion? It’s your fifteen minutes in this town, and we’re going to milk it into a full client roster at premium rates so you can buy pretty things. I don’t know what god you pray to, but consider yourself blessed. Don’t fret about fame like a diva, Mouse. Come on, you’ve got a boring corporate video to watch.”
Tim picked up the laptop and gestured for me to follow him into one of the glassed-in spaces. We caught the attention of two teenaged girls as we walked by, possibly because of the word “fame.” They looked up from their phones curiously.
“Wait, you’re Mouse?” asked the older of what looked like two sisters. “Like, with Trix n’ Traces?”
“Christine,” I corrected.
“No, you are Mouse. You can’t fool me. I see you right here.” She held up her cell phone, which exposed my fourteen-year-old self at the beach in an unflattering one-piece bathing suit with an unfortunate ruffle. I shuddered with revulsion. I noticed her sister holding up her own phone, likely videoing this interaction.
“I’m Delanie. You’re a teacher?”
“Yeah, looks like I’m teaching guitar.”
“Cool! When do we start?”
“You take piano, Duh-lane-eee!” bugged her little sister.
“I take guitar now. I want her.”
Tim stepped in smoothly.
“Of course we can arrange that. Mouse’s schedule is currently wide open, but it won’t be for long. When works for you”
Delanie consulted her phone, looking irritated and making small, negative noises like an executive business-woman with a crammed-tight agenda.
“Thursday morning at nine. But, she has to come to the house.”
“You know we charge for travel,” Tim warned.
“Whatever. See you Thursday, Mouse!” She turned to her sister. “Come on, Pridey, car’s here.”
“I want guitar, too,” Pridey whined. Delanie was already passing the uniformed driver who held the door.
“Stick with clarinet, all that tonguing, it’s good practice for…you know,” she teased.
“OMFG, shut UP!” squealed Pridey. “I’m telling Papa…”
The girls voices faded out as the door closed behind them. I saw them climb into a very nice town car. Thinking about my upcoming bus trip, I felt a burn of envy for those spoiled little things.
“See what fame does?” exclaimed Tim excitedly, right by my ear. “Delanie Brendshaw – quite the catch on your first day! Money and influence. Impress her, all her friends will be calling in no time.”
“Money and influence?” I asked, a little put out. “She can’t even be sixteen!”
“Family matters,” shrugged Tim.
“I don’t know how committed she is to learning guitar,” I mused.
“What does it matter, as long as they pay? Just keep her happy, you’ll be fine. She’s probably a good tipper if she enjoys the lesson enough.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, suspicious. Tips? What kind of music school was this, exactly?
“Whatever you want it to mean, as long as it’s legal. Listen, there’s curriculum, and then there’s improvisation. Use your judgment. We live and die by the weekly evaluations. Know what you’re getting measured on, and make sure she feels like she’s getting that. Here’s a paper copy, but most of them get done online. We had a 40% return rate last week. I’m pretty proud of that. Getting students to fill in the evaluations is part of your job goals, by the way.”
Tim handed me a slip showing a list of evaluation criteria. Unlike evaluations I’d been given along the way as I learned, this was not about practice, skill achievement or levels. It dawned on me suddenly that I was not completing the evaluation about my students – my students would be completing this evaluation about me.
“She’s rating me, on my teaching, instead of me rating her on her playing? I’ve got that right?”
“Yup!” he crowed, like I was a prize student with the answer. “That’s the client-centric model. We rolled it out at all locations across the country last year. It’s doubled our client retention.”
“I’m responsible to make sure she feels an increase in her self-esteem? Has fun? Feels proud?”
“You’ve got it.”
“I thought I was teaching music.”
Tim shook his head.
“Wrong. Stop thinking that. You are inspiring youth, musically. That’s the company motto.”
Tim pointed to the slick sign behind the reception counter, which read Your Kinda Music: Inspiring Youth Musically. He went on.
“It took the Leadership Team all weekend at the company retreat to come up with that. It was intense. So that’s what we’re here to do. Your job is to make sure these kids love their music lessons, and their parents see enough progress to keep paying. That’s it. Take that into your heart as your sole mission and purpose, and you’ll be great.”
While I took that in, Tim’s phone dinged a jaunty alarm.
“Hey, look!” He held up his phone. “You’ve already got your second pupil! Delisle Abner-Fitch, nice! Delanie’s best friend, not to be outdone. She wants you tomorrow, so she can be first.”
“Delanie and Delisle? Cute.”
Tim looked me up and down.
“Cute yourself! Don’t tell them that, they are sure they’re sophisticated. At this rate your week’ll be full before you leave the building. I knew you were a good catch.”
Tim leaned over my shoulder to indicate the computer screen on the laptop he’d placed in front of me.
“But right now, Miss Superstar, we’ve got onboarding to do. First, watch this video, then fill in the forms on the second tab here, and then use this program and the webcam to record your intro. Don’t worry, the instructions are clear. Make sure you get your phone synched to the YKM calendar – there’s the helpdesk number if you have trouble. Okay, you should be all set. See you soon!”
He clicked “play” on the screen and he was gone, leaving me to sort out the onboarding process. On the screen, a peppy young commentator greeted me with a fakey-fake smile.
“Welcome to Your Kinda Music! Inspiring youth, musically! As a YKM learning facilitator, you are the face of YKM, and we value you. Today you will learn the tips and techniques that you are expected to use in inspiring inspiration for the next generation of music lovers…”
I zoned out and waited for the video to end.