There is no sign to indicate you’ve arrived at a music school. It would be easy to think you’re at the wrong place as you pull into the rounded driveway at The Old Barn Music School.
Annbeth Lattimer welcomes visitors into her home with a smile and a handshake, guiding them into the room where she holds piano lessons. The space feels comfortable and intimate, with leather couches, wood walls, and a black grand piano in the corner. That is by design.
Ms. Lattimer is marking the 20th anniversary of The Old Barn Music School, which she founded in this house she calls “New Englandy.” Raised in New Jersey and educated at Rutgers and New York University, she graduated with a master’s degree in music education.
She first tried teaching music in public school before moving to California where she tried her hand at marketing research and sales. Knowing she wanted to open a music school of her own, Ms. Lattimer and her husband moved to Wilton in 1990, where The Old Barn came to life.
“It was a perfect location in a town where people care about the arts,” she said. “I got pregnant with twins and opened my school, all in one fell swoop.”
Initially, the school was for preschool and kindergarten children. It has since grown to children of all ages.
“I do a lot of music appreciation, but in a very real sense,” she said. “No made-up names for instruments. I did not dumb it down. You’ve got to give real information. My goal is to educate and make it fun. They’re not going to continue if it’s not fun.”
Ms. Lattimer enjoys teaching in a group setting, and holds private lessons within a class. In that one-on-one time, students play for her while other children study music theory. She said students need to learn how to read music, and not just how to play various musical selections. Ms. Lattimer is capable of making the distinction.
“It’s not quiet here,” she said. “I might be helping with theory, and another somebody is playing the piano. I’m listening to what they’re playing. I can hear if their hands are in the wrong place, or if they’re trying to do something that doesn’t make sense.”
Music history is also introduced every year at the school. A different theme is used each time, such as silent movie music, which gives Ms. Lattimer the opportunity to look around for these musical pieces.
At the same time, this broadens the scope of the music the children play. The current theme is big-band music, which ties in nicely to Ms. Lattimer’s past, as her father was a dance band musician.
“He played the sousaphone,” she said. “Which is really funny, because there is no sousaphone in a dance band.” While he eventually gave it up to become a doctor in World War II, the family was still very musical, with 12 children.
The students are separated by gender, a practice that Ms. Lattimer follows simply because she prefers it. To keep things light, the kids play games, often making things up, such as playing chess where the next move can only be made if a musically related flash card is answered correctly.
“It is supposed to be fun. It is supposed to be joyous,” she said. “I expect it to be a part of their lives, but not dominate it. Having raised my kids here, I’m OK with that. I’m OK that you have exams this week. Have them come if they can come. It’s all right.”
With 20 years of students having come through her front door, Ms. Lattimer said she still keeps tabs on some of them.
Parents will give her updates on what they’re doing, and where they are doing it. She feels no shame if a student has moved on from the piano to playing something else. If anything, she considers that a victory.
The Old Barn Music School gets its clientele in a variety of ways. Ms. Lattimer said she recently started a website, and also uses word of mouth, especially now that both of her children have graduated from high school.
The school holds two concerts a year: one in December and one closer to the end of the school year. The concerts are open to the students only, and take place in the living room.
Ms. Lattimer not only teaches but remains active in the community musically, as a singer with the Wilton Voices. As for personal preference, she isn’t partial to any particular genre of music, though she tends to lean toward classical pieces.