Academic veteran creates music academy in Valley |

Academic veteran creates music academy in Valley

by Scott Neuffer

For music instructor Stephen Farnsley, music itself is a spiritual thing.

“It can be in a religious sense, but it doesn’t have to be,” he said. “It just takes me to another level.”

The 60-year-old Minden resident has started a new business, Carson Valley Music Academy, LLC, which offers academically based music instruction for children, youth and adults on a private or group basis. The business specializes in voice, piano, brass and woodwinds, as well as competition coaching, music reading and music theory.

Farnsley jokes that his background is “boringly thorough.” Indeed, his resume reads like one long, drawn-out score to the play of his life: Bachelor’s in music education, 1972, master of music in performance, 1976, doctor of arts in music history and musicology, 1985.

In the last 40 years, Farnsley has taught at four different universities. From 1998 to 2007, he was dean of the School of Music and Arts at Cumberland University in Tennessee, as well as professor of music and director of the university band. He’s also conducted or directed more than half a dozen prestigious ensembles, bands and church groups.

“Conducting is not something I came to naturally,” Farnsley said. “It involves exerting your will on other people, and I think for me, I had to develop that, though I like to think I have a sense of humor that defuses the tension. As a person who was in bands and orchestras for years, I know there’s a natural antipathy between band members and directors.”

Regarding his present reign over the Carson Valley United Methodist choir, Farnsley said he’s kind of a stickler, which the members seem to tolerate.

“They’re all around one of the best groups I’ve worked with, and I think they’re appreciative of all I make them do,” he said with a grin. “At least it’s as rewarding for them as it is for me.”

In December of 2007, Farnsley and wife Doreen left Tennessee and followed their daughter and grandchildren westward to Carson Valley. From 2008 until this spring, Farnsley was executive director of the Tahoe Tallac Association.

“It’s differently beautiful here,” he said. “I can’t believe you can drive three-quarters of an hour and be in some of the most beautiful places in the world.”

But more than mountains have fascinated the family.

“There does seem to be a higher than normal interest in the arts in this community,” Farnsley said. “There is a rich interest in the arts here, and I hope to tap into that, to do my part to strengthen that and make a contribution to the culture of the area.”

Farnsley’s new business currently has 10 clients, including a faith-based, home-school group at LifePoint Church.

“I want to encourage people who are enthusiastic, but sometimes they need to be guided in the right way,” he said.

For example, Farnsley believes different types of music instruction are appropriate for different ages. Fourth-graders shouldn’t start with the tuba, he said, as maladjustment can lead to bad habits later on.

In the same way, small children don’t need private voice lessons, he said. A good choral group is sufficient until their teen years.

Farnsley said business has been picking up.

“It takes quite a while to get the word out,” he said. “I do have room to expand.”

He said he tries to bring his academic experience and eclectic tastes to each lesson.

“When you’re working with a student, you do yourself a favor by making it clear to them that you’re not limited to one type of music,” he said. “You want to keep it in their vocabulary, but you want to expose them to different types of music. Different instruments require different approaches.”

Farnsley described himself as a nerd who listens to everything from jazz and 12-tone avant garde to the “amazingly complex” lyrics and rhythms of rap.

“I’m a closet country music fan,” he added.

Still, his hero is Gunther Schuller, a modern American composer whom Farnsley wrote about in his graduate work.

“I have eclectic tastes,” he said. “I like to think at least I’m evaluating quality rather than style.”

Available by appointment, Farnsley can be reached at 267-4148 or by e-mail at