D.c.'s Last Full-Service Music Store Helps Customers Make Beautiful Music (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C.'s Last Full-Service Music Store Helps Customers Make Beautiful Music

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So as Cori Bryant can attest, learning to trust your instincts and dive into the world of entrepreneurship, it can be tricky. But when a neighborhood music store was on the verge of closing its doors, D.C. resident Myrna Sislen decided to go with her gut, and her efforts to save the store changed her life in ways she'd never expected. Heather Taylor brings us the story.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

00:00:26
Can one phone call really change your life? If you're Myrna Sislen, owner of Middle C Music, D.C.'s only full-service music store, the answer might just be yes. Ten years ago, Sislen had already spent decades enjoying two successful careers simultaneously, as both a college professor at George Washington University, heading the classical guitar department, and as a local musician. At George Washington...

MS. MYRNA SISLEN

00:01:00
I had a concert series, I had many, many students. It was a wonderful time.

TAYLOR

00:01:06
And as a working musician...

SISLEN

00:01:07
I had been with the Washington Guitar Quintet, with Charlie Byrd.

TAYLOR

00:01:12
The legendary classical guitarist. And then Sislen learned that Middle C Music Store, tucked in an office building in Tenleytown, would be closing. Suddenly, she felt compelled to save it.

SISLEN

00:01:22
Something came over me and said, you've got to do something to keep this store open. I didn't know exactly what.

TAYLOR

00:01:28
And drawing on the same energy and determination and skill that helped her to become a professional tap dancer and champion wind surfer, Sislen began contacting people. Did anyone want to buy the store? At first, she got no takers. But that's where the phone call came in. The caller had a unique proposal.

SISLEN

00:01:49
The previous owner called me and said, this guy has walked in here. The two of you would be my dream team. Why don't you come and meet him? We met on Saturday, and signed the papers that Friday.

TAYLOR

00:02:02
Unfortunately, the partnership didn't last long. But when it ended, Sislen decided to go solo, and retire from her job at GW, to focus on running Middle C.

SISLEN

00:02:14
I was ready for something new, something different. And that's why when this presented itself, I went through the door.

TAYLOR

00:02:25
And it worked. The store has doubled in size, and this year, Middle C Music celebrates ten years of operation under Sislen's ownership. In March, the D.C. City Council passed a resolution recognizing the store as a community resource. And what does it mean to be a full service music store?

SISLEN

00:02:43
You have retail, you have print music. Bach, Bon Jovi, Brahms, Coltrane, Green Day, Lady Gaga, Stan Getz. You have lessons, we have approximately 400 a week.

TAYLOR

00:03:08
From acoustic, electric and bass guitar, to piano, strings, brass instruments, baritone, ukulele and voice.

SISLEN

00:03:14
And you rent band instruments. We also sell all the instruments.

TAYLOR

00:03:19
Running Middle C is clearly a busy job. Still, after decades as an artist, does Sislen miss the creativity of a musician's life?

SISLEN

00:03:29
I have found that it can be very creative. It has enabled me to pursue music in a different way. I have hopefully created a different kind of music store. Wanting to study music, it comes from a place that's deep inside, my whole purpose is to make a place where people feel safe. Where they feel nurtured.

TAYLOR

00:03:56
And sometimes, that includes discovering music you didn't know you'd love.

MR. BRENDAN LEVY

00:04:00
I wasn't even thinking about playing classical guitar.

TAYLOR

00:04:02
That's Brendan Levy, one of Sislen's former students. She encouraged him to try classical guitar, and...

LEVY

00:04:09
I immediately loved it. But not only did I learn classical guitar, I also learned flamenco guitar, I learned some Brazilian styles of guitar.

TAYLOR

00:04:18
Over the years, Middle C Music has become a family affair in the Levy household.

MS. KEILY LEVY

00:04:22
I had two kids taking lessons. Now I've got both kids out of the house and it's my turn.

TAYLOR

00:04:28
That's Brendan's mother Keily.

LEVY

00:04:30
I decided to take voice lessons for the last couple of years. On my birthday, I decided to start piano lessons. My comfort zone is Middle C.

TAYLOR

00:04:40
And Sislen in turn credits the community for the store's success.

SISLEN

00:04:45
If the neighborhood did not want us to be here, we would be gone in a heartbeat. And that is my greatest accomplishment, to make it a place that the neighbors want. That's really, really important.

TAYLOR

00:04:59
In remembering the path to her newest career, in Sislen's mind's eye...

SISLEN

00:05:04
The train stopped, the doors opened and I got on the train. And I figured, I'll just ride it and see where it goes.

TAYLOR

00:05:12
Spoken like someone who's learned to trust her instincts. I'm Heather Taylor.

SHEIR

00:05:16
Which of your neighborhood establishments would you miss most if it was at risk of closing its doors? And would you take action to save it? Let us know. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org, or tweet us. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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