- Andrew taught me not only how to play guitar, but how to persevere. He teaches proper practice, and makes it interesting and fun at the same time. I learned a combination of theory and technique that I can use to play anything I want, and write my own music. Andrew is also a great person, and I always look forward to my lessons every week. -T.S.
- Andrew has taught me so much in such a short period of time, I am truly grateful, the time I spend playing at home is so peaceful, so zen and you helped give me that gift! - A.C
- Andrew makes learning the guitar fun and interesting. He walks me through the subject matter until I understand. He encourages me to keep trying when I struggle with something. Without him I would have never learned as much as I have. I look forward to every lesson. -S.M.
- Andrew is a great coach, he goes above and beyond what he needs to do. He is a positive influence on my son both in music and in life. -M.B.
- Thank you so much for teaching me new songs every day and helping me when I need help. Thank you very much. -H.N. (7 years old)
- Andrew is a great teacher! His lessons are simply awesome. I am now able to create original music using the information and techniques he has shown me. He has really open the doors to my creativity and I am a stronger player because of him. -T.W.
- After taking lessons with another teacher for the past year, and seeing little progress, I gave Andrew a call. Now, in one month of lessons with Andrew, I can perform songs I thought were impossible and improvise solos over them with ease! -R.H.
- Andrew opened up doors for me that I never knew existed. I learned so much from him. He is an incredible teacher. Thank you! -A.G.
- I've learned so much from Andrew in just a few months. Chord inversions, modes, secondary dominance, and scale spellings. The best lessons EVER. -C.S.
- The world needs more people like Andrew. From sitting down with him for the first lesson I could tell that he was tapped into exactly what he should be doing. Not only an insanely creative guitarist, Andrew is equally an amazingly creative teacher. He has developed a system for understanding guitar that opens your mind to possibilities you didn't even know existed and then places those possibilities within your reach. -J.H.
- Andrew is a technical master, he constantly looks for new angles to improve your playing, and he makes playing fun. He encourages goal setting and wants each student to individualize their own path depending on music taste. -K.W.
- Andrew is not just a teacher to my son but also a mentor and friend. Andrew provides him with support and encouragement allowing him to grow as an individual and a guitarist. Playing guitar has helped my son through some rough times during these tough teen years and my family appreciates the role Andrew has played. -L.B.
A Bond of Common Experience by Sam Smith (2011)
Furey’s Café, 51 Fletcher Street, Lowell MA. I glanced at the slip of paper in my hand once again and looked up at the neon sign. Yup, this is Furey’s. With my dad following close behind, I stepped through the ominous black door into a small bar. I was instantly aware of how different I looked compared to the other patrons. Being one of three women in the entire joint, I looked young and far too feminine and wealthy to fit in at this bar. Patrons looked from their stools at me and then settled back into watching the dog show on the television above the bar. My dad politely asked when Andy would arrive and we took a seat on a couch that was awkwardly placed at the far end of the room. I busily took out my notebook and waited for my guitar teacher.
Andy Ells-O’Brien, a jovial man with dark hair and a goatee, has been my guitar teacher for the past few years. He’s been playing guitar since he was fourteen and teaching, informally and later formally, for almost as long. “It wasn’t long after [my first performance] that friends of friends said, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good can you show me a couple of chords?’” Andy’s words rushed out to meet me in his excitement to share; each letter seemed to bump into the next and vault over all semblance of punctuation. Now-a-days Andy’s lessons have progressed far beyond “a couple of chords.” Only days previously, I witnessed a lesson.
Stepping out of Andy’s gold compact car, I walked carefully around the patches of ice on the driveway as Andy purposefully strode up the steps. Without knocking, he confidently pushed open the door and called out a greeting into the house. I heard a voice bellow back, “Come on in!” Surprised by the informality of it all, I hesitantly followed behind Andy’s bulky frame. Turning a corner, we came into the living room. There on a couch was a large woman, probably in her late forties, with jet-black hair, an oversized black t-shirt and jeans sitting hunched over her guitar in concentration. It was as though she were trying to prove herself the dedicated student by tensing her body and scrutinizing the neck of her Fender Stratocaster. She looked up with feigned surprise and a hint of embarrassment to greet us. Adults often do not practice, Andy had told me previously, and they get frustrated when they cannot play something right. He also explained to me the difficulties of teaching adults: “Adults tend to come to me with very specific requests and they’re very hesitant to accept sometimes the way you want to give it to them. I set out a whole pattern for them and they kinda go ‘I dunno I want to do it this way.’ You know, ‘cause they know better, I’m the teacher.” His exuberant laugh erupted with the completion of this last ironic sentence. I saw what he meant. Whenever the woman made a mistake, her face would flush, she would swear and stammer to make excuses. I watched as Andy taught the woman, slowly, through soft guiding and positive reinforcement, how to play Enter Sandman by Metallica. Andy chose this because she is a metal-head, the song is easy to play, and she would more easily be able to see her improvement if she could learn to play it. It seemed that Andy knew how exactly to cater music to each student’s specific needs. In comparison to my own lessons, I saw few similarities. He was the same joke-filled, enthusiastic teacher, but he joked about different things with us. Andy was able to make fun of my scales because he knew that I would not be offended, but would never tease this woman as her pudgy fingers shakily felt for each note.
Two days later and I was in a small bar in Lowell, MA, smelling warm beer and cigarette smoke. Hearing the creak of a door, I looked up to see Andy familiarly greet the bartender with a “Hey, man” and a wave. I could sense the difference immediately between his entrance and my own. Despite his slightly formal dress, a button-down shirt, dark jeans, and his staple beret, Andy seemed to fit into this environment. He exuded a confidence that I lacked when entering the bar. Some patrons glanced at him and then went back to their drinks; others shouted a greeting from their perch at the bar. Maybe his obvious musicianship allowed him to enter any place and automatically belong. I scrutinized his appearance as he made a beeline for the alcove that would be his stage tonight, but I found no answers in his face. I followed him to his post and watched as he put down his fender suitcase and settled into the space. An old man, from his seat nearby, loudly asked Andy in a cracked voice something I could not discern. Andy however, understood the jumbled sentence with ease and smiled widely while answering. The old man’s face seemed stuck in a permanent frown from years of hard work and stress. He had a lazy eye and his skin folded and drooped as though the substance he once contained within his face was no longer there. He pulled out a worn piece of paper from his coat and flattened the crinkles lovingly. It was a poem. Andy good-humoredly chatted with the man about his poem and subtly rebuffed his offer of lyrics for Andy’s next song. Not too long after, this same man came up to me and in a halting and slurred voice asked, “Are you a poet too?” Caught off guard by his inquiry, I felt blood rush into my cheeks as I took a moment to comprehend his question. “No, I’m only taking notes” I answered, unintentionally as though I were speaking to a child. “Could I have a piece?” he replied, his face lighting up in hopefulness. I smiled and ripped out some paper for the man. “Thank you, I’ll leave you alone now.” The sentence poured out of his mouth too fast; his tongue could barely form the words before they pooled into the air before him. I gave a genuine smile as he limped to his chair. I had attempted to channel Andy’s cool and sympathetic demeanor, but I only achieved compassion for this man. I would never be comfortable here.
Finally, the show began. Andy spoke into the mic, his persona flipping automatically to a cool, suave, musician (“If you don’t like it, you can go home!”). I was shocked. As I glanced around the room, I noticed that no one was facing Andy, invariably the most interesting occurrence in the entire room. Instead they were glued to the TV behind the bar. Somehow I was comforted. In this sea of unknown, I had found a beacon: the music. I knew how to enjoy music so, for the first time in the entire night, I relaxed.
Blues has been around since the 19th century and originated in African-American communities primarily in the deep south of the United States. Specific chord progressions and notes that are often flattened or gradually bent characterize blues music. According to Andy, “At the end of the day, blues is about losing love. Period…There’s nothing else to be sad about in the world.” Of course as a modern musician, that theme can be twisted to fit many topics. Recently, Andy wrote a song for the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a cancer benefit organization, from the point of view of a person who found out they have cancer, but cannot get treatment for it because of a lack of cancer centers in their area. How does this have to do with love? “Well the name of the benefit organization is Love Hope and Strength. So I put that in there and there’s your love connection” Andy replied with a mischievous laugh and a wink.
Full-bodied chords erupted from Andy’s guitar, but not abruptly. It was as though they were always there, buzzing in the background, waiting to be brought up once again. The beat reverberated within me and I forgot where I was as I fell into the music. Suddenly, the bar became more accessible, as though the music was telling the story of each patron, sharing the secrets of the downtrodden. The music was upbeat yet sad, the complexities swirling around my brain as the words that Andy grumbled painted a vivid tale in my mind. His words did not only tell of his own personal story, but rather the story of many: the bartender, serious and hard at work; the old man with the lazy eye, lost among his own alcohol-fueled thoughts; the Latino man at the bar with a tattoo of the devil on his calf, studiously watching the dog show. Around me feet tapped slightly, heads bobbed, fingers drummed; the music was heard, whether or not it was being watched.
“I wanna entertain people.” Andy stared into my eyes as he said this, emphasizing his point. I could imagine why. Sitting in Furey’s Café, there was something important, a message among the notes that was palpable. It was prevalent in every song, the same, but with each story it became more intricate. It surrounded me; it kept me engaged in every moment. “[People] want to hear some music…and forget their life for a little while…Cause that’s what entertainment is all about you know, putting someone in a different space.” At the time I wasn’t sure how much I believed Andy, no matter how earnestly he told me, but that is exactly what he achieved at Furey’s. We couldn’t be more different: a young, white girl from the suburbs of Lexington and the people of this bar in the tough part of Lowell, still wearing their well-used work clothes and drinking away their night. The music brought us closer; it allowed us to coexist and understand better the lives of both. Where I had passed judgment initially, I left feeling a sense of camaraderie, as though we had been taken somewhere no one else has gone; it was a bond of common experience.
Copyright © 2018 - Andrew Ells-O’Brien