Joshua Tehee

The Voice Shop rebrands itself as Fresno Music Academy and Arts

The Voice Shop director of operations John Alden, left, and owner Debi Ruud, in the reception area of the recently expanded business on Wishon Avenue in the Tower District in Fresno. The business is also changing its name to the Fresno Music Academy and Arts to reflect all that it offers.
The Voice Shop director of operations John Alden, left, and owner Debi Ruud, in the reception area of the recently expanded business on Wishon Avenue in the Tower District in Fresno. The business is also changing its name to the Fresno Music Academy and Arts to reflect all that it offers. sflores@fresnobee.com

The Voice Shop simply outgrew its name.

It was a good fit 20 years ago when Debi Ruud started the school, giving voice lessons out of her living room. She kept it even when she expanded out of her home and added other instructors.

Two years ago, the words “Music Academy” were added to the name, to better reflect the direction the school was taking.

Now, the Voice Shop has new name entirely. The Fresno Music Academy and Arts will celebrate its grand reopening with an open house at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at its space at 1298 N. Wishon Ave. in Fresno’s Tower District.

“The voice shop doesn’t really say who we are anymore,” says John Alden, the school’s co-owner and managing director.

Earlier this year, the academy took over the building that used to be Hashtag Fresno. It added a reception and check-in area and 10 teaching rooms – each with its own nickname and theme. Ruud teaches in the Michael room, an homage to Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald and Michael Jackson. There are posters of both on the walls. There’s also a Beatles room, a rock-star room and a kids room, for the littlest musicians.

The academy now has space for 600 students, though Alden says they would be happy if they had half of that by year’s end.

It also has a 50-plus seat black-box theater and green room that will be used for student performances and as the home base for ViSTA, or Voice Shop Theater Arts. That’s the “arts” portion of the new name.

On off nights, the theater will be used for other concerts and performances. The Fresno Folklore Society is bringing in the Colorado band Haunted Windchimes, for example, on Thursday, Sept. 15.

Oddly enough, there was a time when Ruud wasn’t sure she wanted to continue with the school. She had growing pains with the business and wondered if this was the direction in which she really wanted to go. Then, she found her original business plan that she wrote with her father 20 years ago. She was surprised at how much of the plan was already in place.

“I had this vision 18 years ago,” she says.

In case it’s not obvious by now, the academy offers much more than singing lessons. You can learn guitar, or piano, fiddle, mandolin, drums or the accordion; pretty much anything other than brass instruments, Alden says. You can still get voice lessons too, from Ruud or one of three other instructors.

In all, the academy has 10 teachers. All have strong ties to the local music scene. Indeed, these are names you’ve read about, many in this very column. The most famous might be Astrid Plane, who had a top 10 single in 1986 with her band Animotion. Abigail Nolte, David Aus, Roger Perry, Gary Newmark and Steve Ono are also on staff.

“All of the teachers are working artists,” Alden says.

So are a few of its students.

Ruud helped local pop singer M The Myth when he was called to audition for the final season of “American Idol.” She also works with blues singer John Clifton. She makes him sing jazz standards.

While the academy can (and does) accommodate young artists, it’s found a niche with adult students.

Alden just started taking piano lessons at 61 years old.

There was the husband who took three months of voice lessons, just so he could sing to his wife. It was an anniversary gift and he sang one song, “Begin the Beguine,” “and the woman completely fell apart,” Ruud says.

Kimberly Shanoian was 39 when she started taking voice lessons from Ruud in 2000.

She considered herself a “shower singer.” She’d never sung in public before. She wasn’t looking to become a star, really, she just wanted to learn enough so she could sing in the church choir and not feel embarrassed. Working with Ruud, she quickly found the confidence to sing solo in front of her congregation.

But Rudd pushed her further. She encouraged Shanoian to take the academy’s “Front a Band” workshop. That led Shanoian to hire her own band and sing jazz standards and a couple of her favorite Christian songs.

“My friends and family loved it,” Shanoian says. “I truly felt like I was a performer. I guess I was.”

She still can’t believe she did it.

And that fits exactly with how Alden and Ruud are looking to brand Fresno Music Academy and Arts.

“This is the place you go to become a musician,” Alden says.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

The Fresno Music Academy and Artsgrand re-opening

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