If you peer into the windows of the KDHX Folk School on Washington Avenue, there’s a good chance you’ll find Leslie Sanazaro’s wide-eyed piano students exploring the inner workings of everything from classical masterworks to pop hits.
It’s not uncommon for the term “piano lessons” to conjure up images of a flustered youngster getting critiqued by a heartless instructor for every missed keystroke. That’s why Sanazaro opted for a different teaching method: group piano lessons – a concept she says can be unfamiliar to St. Louisans.
In a time when teamwork is synonymous with athletics, Sanazaro wants people to know that the same camaraderie is equally relevant in the arts, especially when it comes to learning how to play the piano.
“The students feed off each other,” she says. “Some students do well with one-on-one lessons, but most are exceptionally motivated in a group setting. Not to mention, practicing around other people makes playing in front of a crowd less intimidating.”
Sanazaro’s classes, which are usually comprised of five students, are arranged by age and skill level. She intentionally keeps class sizes small to tailor her lessons to each students’ needs and give them ownership over their creativity. But Sanazaro’s teaching style isn’t just conducive to her students’ learning. It refines her own craft as well.
“I find that teaching, whether I’m with a 5-year-old or a 50-year-old, informs my own playing.”
And play she does.
A native of Cuba, Missouri, Sanazaro attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where she performed and taught for several years before returning to St. Louis in 2003. She has since released three studio albums and toured the United States, Canada, Southeast Asia and South Korea. On Thursday nights, you can catch her at Yaqui’s on Cherokee Street playing jazz and blues along with fellow musician Jeremy Segel-Moss.
Sanazaro’s decision to advance her music career in St. Louis is no coincidence. The Gateway City has a rich music history, and swarms of artists are building upon the legacy.
“I can’t believe how many musicians move here because of the growing music scene,” says Sanazaro. “I know a few blues players from Texas and four piano players who all relocated to St. Louis. People are starting to tap into the potential we have.”
And of course, any true music scene wouldn’t be complete without a fan base.
Tourists and natives alike flock to Broadway daily to absorb St. Louis’ musical appeal. The Beale on Broadway, with its exposed bricks and intimate atmosphere, is packed on any given night, and for good reason. St. Louis has a unique style of music that simply can’t be found elsewhere. Jazz, blues and soul junkies bounce around dozens of other live music venues around town such as BB’s Jazz Blues and Soups, The Dark Room, Broadway Oyster Bar, Venice Cafe and Off-Broadway. And for even more music, St. Louis’ 23rd annual Big Muddy Blues Festival takes place on Labor Day weekend at Laclede’s Landing. This year’s festival is set to feature 69 acts, all of which are local, on 7 stages.
St. Louis music is nothing short of remarkable. It inspired Leslie Sanazaro to become the musician she is today, and feels it’s only right to use her passion to inspire the next generation of musicians. Her mission is to help students understand not only the music they play, but where it came from and the story behind it.
“It’s a powerful experience when a student can watch a professional do a live performance of the music they practiced in class that same day.”