(Featured photo is of Tara Scheyer in her classroom at Episcopal Day School. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)
Instilling a love of music and learning motivates Tara VanDevender Scheyer.
“I teach from four months to 100 years. I think my oldest student ever was 89. I like to teach beginning level at every age. I like helping lay the foundation,” said Scheyer, who teaches music full time at Episcopal Day School and was named the Georgia Independent School Association’s teacher of the year. She also teaches classes outside school hours.
While she does teach classical musical theory to her more advanced students, when it comes to beginners, what’s most important to her is that they love what they are doing. The rest, she said, can be taught later.
“If you don’t love it, you might quit,” she said.
Scheyer is in her 11th year of teaching at Episcopal Day School.
“I love it here,” she said. “Being part of a private school, you have a lot of freedom to teach.”
‘Professional’ musician from an early age
Scheyer has always been surrounded by music. She laughingly tells people that she has been a professional musician since she was 5.
She grew up in rural Mississippi. She lived with her extended family, and her grandfather was the Justice of the Peace.
“The legal age to marry was quite young, and we would have people come to our home in the middle of the night,” she said.
Everyone had a job at the late-night weddings including the young Scheyer whose task was plucking out the notes to the “Here Comes the Bride” on the piano. Every time she played it, her grandfather paid her a quarter.
From there, she played in church and took lessons. Church was the centerpiece of her life in a “teeny tiny town that didn’t have a red light.”
She looked forward to attending church, she said. It was a placed of social connection as well as a place for music. There, she played for services of all kinds – revivals, funerals, weddings.
Summer program proves to be life changing
Her love for music drove to her learn all she could, and one of the biggest opportunities came when she was in high school. She said she’s not really sure how it happened. Maybe it was her music teacher who recommended her. Regardless of how the information came, she filled out an application to the Berklee College of Music in Boston for the summer.
She was accepted into the program and received a scholarship.
Her parents didn’t believe she’d actually go, but she did. It was a life altering experience.
Soon after arriving in Boston, she ran out of money and got a job in a piano bar.
While in the city, she met Tracy Chapman playing on the steps of a library and chatted with Richard Marks.
“I learned you can play music, and it doesn’t just have to be for church,” she said.
She studied music at the University of Southern Mississippi. She also joined a band. The semester before she was supposed to graduate, her band was invited on a tour to open for some musicians who also had an independent record label.
She changed her major to music industry journalism.
“I could go on tour and document it as a study,” she said. “I got my degree finished and recorded a record. It was really fun.”
That was in the 1990s. After she graduated college, she pulled out an atlas, closed her eyes and found her new home of Augusta.
Working for Reba McIntyre
She’s lived in the area for most of the time since then except for a few years in Nashville, where she worked for Reba McIntyre, writing songs.
Scheyer said the running joke with people she worked with was that they were only three minutes from becoming millionaires.
“She published 200 songs of mine and used them for things like TV background, but she never recorded any. If so, I’d be millionaire many times over,” she said.
Scheyer said she enjoyed working with McIntyre who she described as savvy, kind and generous.
Although McIntyre never recorded one of Scheyer’s songs, Scheyer does have a couple of one-of-a-kind keepsakes from her time with the country music mogul.
“I have two platinum records that I worked on the team with,” she said.
The rise of the Mud Puppy Band and children’s music
After returning to Augusta, she focused on raising her children all while keeping up with her own music. She created the Mud Puppy Band and has done a lot of children’s music over the years – so much so that even when she’s performing for an adult audience, she’s often spotted by a parent with a child in tow who has a special request.
“Even if I’m doing grown-up music, I make sure I have scarves and shakers ready,” she said,
Scheyer has a special New Year’s related event planned for 11 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 30 at the Episcopal Day School gym. There will be a ukulele raffle, noisemakers and a balloon drop. For more information, visit tarascheyer.com.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News, a member of the Georgia Press Association. And you don’t have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!