by Nick Phaneuf

There are lots of different environments in which music students and teachers interact:

  • School band programs are amazing places where many students gain their first access and exposure to music. In a public school, students try out instruments along side their established friends in a space that they’re comfortable. Many blessings upon the world’s band directors, but they themselves know that they can not be experts on every instrument. Nor does time allow for them to give the one on one instruction!
  • Music stores often have dedicated teachers that mentor students one on one. As the spaces are often designed firstly as retail spaces, the infrastructure doesn’t lend itself to a community of growth and camaraderie for either the students or the staff.

For me, the Community Music School is the ideal place to teach and to learn.

I’ve been fortunate to teach at PMAC since 2009.

Just prior, I had been living in Hamburg, Germany; playing, teaching, and going to adult language school. The entire time I was living abroad, my dear friend and colleague, Mike Effenberger, was imploring me to move to the Portsmouth area. As chance would have it, in September 2008 I was home to visit family and had booked some gigs. Russ and Katie Grazier started showing up at these gigs and asked if I would consider relocating. When I realized how many of my close musical friends and colleagues (and heroes such as Matt Langley) were on faculty it became pretty hard to say no. 

PMAC has a slogan:

Building Community Through the Arts

This community extends beyond the relationships that the students build with each other. It extends beyond the relationships our organization has built throughout the region. PMAC has also assembled a group of teaching artists who are a community unto themselves.

To walk through the doors at PMAC is to be inspired as a teacher.

When I arrive early, there are colleagues practicing or rehearsing. During the peak times of day, I hear parents connecting with each other in the lobby and ensemble students happily chatting together in anticipation of their rehearsal. And most often at the end of the day the building is a beautiful cacophony of rehearsal rooms filled with faculty pursuing their own art along with one another. Jazz in one room. Rock music in another. Folk or classical may be found most nights as well (often late into the night.)  Working alongside people whose art inspires me and are themselves inspired allows me to continue to grow as a musician. I find my own continued learning and growth to be vital to my teaching.

PMAC attracts a wide range of ages of students, and that enables me to have a variety of enriching relationships. I have an adult student who has given me a guided tour through the Grateful Dead’s music. This student was able to share their deep knowledge of the band’s career to guide me to the parts of their music that they thought I would most connect with. For my adolescent students I get to be a weekly presence in their lives through a period of immense personal growth and identity forming. They often start on guitar in junior high and stay with me through learning to drive, getting their first job, looking at colleges, and all the other firsts that happen in a young person’s life. Very few adults end up being as much of a constant in a young person’s life as their lesson teacher does.  These mentoring one-on-one relationships mirror how music was taught through most of human history.

Often these relationships are as important to the teaching artist as they are for the student.

I can honestly credit my students with introducing me to much of the new music that I have fallen in love with. And each year, I feel deeply grateful when college break starts in December and my phone starts ringing with former students who want to take the time to keep those connections and relationships going after their time at PMAC.

Portsmouth Music and Art Center isn’t just where I go to work. It’s where I go to live and to learn and to make music with some of the finest people I have known.


Nick Phaneuf performs throughout the East Coast with bands Showmen’s Rest, Dan Blakeslee and the Calabash Club, and fiveighthirteen. He has taught at PMAC since 2008 as a private instructor, music technology teacher and co-director of the PMAC rock band program. Nick lives in Barrington, NH with his wife Michaela, his son Winter, and their dog Zaphod.

Nick teaches Guitar, Electric Bass, Ukulele, Recording Technology, and leads many of the adult and youth student rock bands here at PMAC.

Join Nick’s growing studio of private students: