New music school opens in Abilene -- and brings music therapy dogs with it

Oct. 20—If a person asked Emily Quiles years ago if she wanted to teach music for a living, Quiles would honestly laugh. She can remember the 10 years spent studying piano and hating almost every minute spent on the bench.

"I took 10 year of piano lessons of which I hated every year of it," Quiles said. "I hated piano. I actually hadn't touched a piano for several years before I decided to start teaching."

Quiles, a former helicopter pilot, moved to Kansas from California with her husband who became stationed at Fort Riley. Around the same time, the family of two added a new member, Abrams, a six month old puppy and Quiles decided she wanted to work from home to stay with him.

"I decided to start teaching piano lessons out of my living room and it kind of just took off from there and it blew up," Quiles said. "Over the next couple years, we were in a commercial sport in Manhattan and now it's just kind of taken us to Abilene."

Quiles took those music lessons in her living room with Abrams playing on the ground while the students serenaded him and found a way to create a music school. Her music school uses therapy dogs to help students inside the classroom learn music and find comfort.

"Kids can have a bad day at school, they come to piano lessons and they're kind of down, but everytime they see the dogs, their spirits are lifted," Quiles said. "That relationship is really used during our performances, recitals, concerts, that kind of thing, because stage fright always hits, it's inevitable."

Quiles remembers her favorite story of when a student at her first recital wouldn't get out of the car because of stage fright. So, Quiles got the class's therapy dog and the student got to calm down while petting the pup's fur. Quiles also offered that the therapy dog go on stage with the young student and so Birdie joined the student on stage.

"The little girl was totally excited to go in and she played her song," Quiles said. "At the end, she said that was the best."

Outside the unique addition of dogs in her classroom, Quiles takes another approach to music lessons, which contrasts to her own 10 years.

"Their parents are sticking them (students) in this extracurricular activity that they may not have wanted," Quiles said. "We still try to have fun and we can show students that there's more to life than music lessons...We don't use the P word, we don't say you have to practice, we don't push that. We use our exploration method where we kind of use the kids interest to get them going and that just kind of prompts them to play at home naturally without it being a chore. It's kind of controversial in our industry."

Another controversial stance, Quiles pushes for students to pick the songs and instruments they want to learn, even if it means she has to find a bagpipe teacher. With allowing students to learn at their own choice, Quiles can't wait for the light bulb moment.

"The lightbulb moment when they get it and especially when they're excited to go home and they try to teach their parents or teach another kid," Quiles said. "When they get it right, they can teach it to someone else."

With her new music school in Abilene, Quiles wanted to share a few words to the community about music.

"I think the main thing is just our mission is to change the world's perception of music lessons," Quiles said. "I love my piano teacher, but we were not the closest and it was not a fun experience... The fact that their kids can have fun here and that the piano can be fun."