Fishtown: Joe Primavera Building Community One Music Lesson At A Time

After graduating from Temple University in 2008 with a degree in music, Joe Primavera taught private guitar and piano lessons throughout Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey.

Shortly thereafter, he founded Philly Music Lessons, working out of a small recording studio in the basement of his Fishtown home. Soon after hiring a few close friends to teach the drums, violin and voice, the business outgrew the confines of that home. Now located at 2111 E. Susquehanna Ave., Philly Music Lessons is thriving – just five  blocks from where it all began.

What instrument did you learn to play first?

Drums were my first instrument because my dad was a professional drummer for more than 10 years when he was in his late teens and 20s. He had a drum set in the basement. I started playing drums and then moved to guitar.

I played my mom’s old Martin guitar that she had in her closet and I just knew that was what I wanted to play, but I had to wait until that Christmas to get one because she wouldn’t let me play the Martin without adult supervision.

Now it’s mine. She gave it to me after I graduated college.

Do you have a wide range of taste in music? 

I’m mostly a rock guy. I majored in jazz guitar performance at Temple because you had to pick jazz or classical. I like the idea of doing something more traditional. The theory I learned in jazz, I still use every day because that translates to pop and rock. So, I guess you can call it like indie or psychedelic rock.

The band that I’m in is referred to as psychpop. There’s so many subgenres, but I like a lot of soul and hip-hop stuff too. After four years of jazz school I realized that I didn’t love jazz enough to pursue it as a career.

You don’t get a lot back from playing jazz a lot of the time. If you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re certainly not doing it for the money.

How do you feel Philly Music Lessons benefits the Fishtown community?

Philly Music Babies is a really good community building program that we have. My wife started it. It’s more of a sing along, mommy and me class. There was definitely a community that started to build around that.

This fall we’re going to implement a community open music class for the first time. We’re going to have stations where kids can experiment with different instruments. We’re also thinking about having an old tape machine station where they can record themselves.

I’m really interested in recording, so I’d love to get kids started out at a young age thinking in terms of tracking.

In terms of seasonal classes, we have something called music exploration. That’s kind of a mixture of the mommy and me class and art projects where they make their own instruments. We have a lot of group stuff for kids and then, around five, the private lessons on piano and ukulele start.

Going forward, to do more community outreach with lower income families, I would really like to start a nonprofit wing of the company. It’s silly for private lessons to be something that’s only for wealthier people. So, after our South Philly location opens, that’s going to be our next project.

How have you seen the Fishtown area change?

When we moved in 2009, there was Johnny Brenda’s on Girard and Rocket Cat Café, which isn’t even here anymore. That’s a perfect example. The quintessential coffee shop of Fishtown that was an older building, they just dozed it and are building a new, four-story high rise there.

It is changing the neighborhood, some for the better and some for the worse. The uniqueness gets lost but I’m not someone who’s out fighting that change. I opened a business here because this was my community and I felt I had something to offer business-wise.

Were you aware of the impact that the business had on the community?

I was definitely aware of the community building that I’d be doing. At our recitals, you see that community come together from the parents’ perspective because they see their kids get better at their instrument.

The surprise community that developed was with the teachers. A lot of our teachers will contact each other about gigs. There is this networking element within the music community.

I want to try to keep a positive culture, where musicians are coming together and can exchange ideas with each other. True art is not competitive at all.

–Text and images by Mark Ramos and Josh Zimmerman.

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