Julie Kinscheck considers herself one of those lucky people with a job that she loves. This year marks her 10th anniversary of teaching voice and guitar lessons to adults and children from her home-based studio in Billerica.
Her students, currently totaling about 35, not only live in Billerica but also in surrounding towns and communities and many she has gained through word of mouth. She even has some that live in New York City, Chicago, and one in Trinidad that she teaches over her computer via Skype.
“To make a living as a musician, you really have to be versatile, but I feel blessed. I get to teach what I love,” said Kinscheck. “I feel so grateful I get to pass it on. It’s so rewarding to see students getting excited about music, to see how they’ve grown and to see them improve. It’s a great partnership.”
Kinscheck started teaching in Billerica in 2004 at BLT Music on Andover Road, which has since closed, and she also taught some guitar lessons and song writing classes through the Billerica Recreation Department before opening her own studio.
Most individual lessons she teaches in her home, where she has both a teaching and a recording studio set up by her husband, but a couple days a week she travels to other towns such as Lexington, where she has several students, and to Carlisle where she teaches guitar to a group of ladies who call themselves “The Rocking Moms.”
She has quite a wide range of students. Some are professional or semi-professional singers looking for coaching tips and extra practice, others are young kids who love singing, teens who dream of becoming rock stars, or adults picking up a new hobby. Often, through the years, Kinscheck said a parent will bring their child to a lesson and then the parent or a sibling will decide to sign up for lessons, too.
Sarah Daniel, 13, an Arlington resident who lived in Billerica until she was 8, takes voice and guitar lessons from Kinscheck. Her older brother started guitar lessons with Kinscheck at age 8, then Sarah started taking voice at age 5. Sarah is in the eighth grade and plans to pursue music as a career, would like to possibly attend Berklee and maybe become a music teacher.
“It started as a hobby then became more of a passion. Music has been with me for a long time. It’s a big part of me,” said Daniel. “Julie is not only a teacher but also a close family friend. With singing and music, there’s always so much to learn.”
Katherine Adams, pastor at the First Congregational Church on Andover Road, has been taking weekly voice lessons from Kinscheck for almost four years and says what she likes about her is “the joy she brings to music.”
“My voice is a tool. I have to keep it healthy and to be healthy I need to sing properly,” said Adams, adding that she sings with a group at church services every weekend.
Along with holding a few recitals throughout the year, Kinscheck will also bring some of her students to area arts festivals, the Billerica farmers market, Billerica Crossings, and the Life Care Center for a chance to perform in front of others and showcase their talents.
Students come and go but some stick around for a long time. Kinscheck said she tries to make it worth their while, focusing on technique and working with them in the style of music they enjoy, whether it’s songs heard on the radio, theater music, jazz, or worship songs.
“Some people think if you can’t carry a tune you can’t sing, but that’s not true. It takes work and dedication if it doesn’t come naturally,” said Kinscheck. “I can’t promise everyone will sing like Barbara Streisand but I can promise I can take you a long way from where you started when you came to me.”
Kinscheck’s passion for music blossomed in childhood and she began playing guitar at age 9. Her father was an opera singer, her mother sang in musical theater, and her two older brothers played in Top 40 dance bands throughout the 1970s, so she was always surrounded by music and song. Her mother also enjoyed writing poetry, and Kinscheck has written hundreds of songs.
“I got the words from my mom and the voice from my dad,” said Kinscheck, adding that many of her early songs contain a lot of imagery.
She grew up in Ithaca, New York and immediately after graduating from high school she traveled abroad as a Rotary Club exchange student, performing folk music in Italy, Germany, France, and England. While living in Munich at age 18, she was asked to teach someone how to play the guitar, and thus a passion for teaching took hold.
She studied classical music at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and then transferred to Berklee College in Boston where she studied guitar and contemporary music and met her husband Ralph, a keyboard player, songwriter, and audio engineer.
Kinscheck joined a gospel choir at Berklee, learned scat singing and vocal improvisation, and began to develop her own style of music – a sort of combination of folk and jazz, with Ella Fitzgerald as one of her many influences. She gathered other musicians and formed a band that played pop music in bars and at weddings. She often traveled to New York City and Nashville and by the late 1980s she had put out several cassette tapes of her music, such as “Love is Wild” and “Indian Summer,” many of which received good reviews.
“It was frustrating. It was really challenging. I got very hardened and tough and jaded,” said Kinscheck. “I had a lot of things in my basket but it’s hard to make a living as a musician.”
Then things went downhill.
From all the strain on her voice she developed nodes on her vocal chords, something that many professional singers often experience.
“It was a turning point in a lot of things. I didn’t know it was so common. I asked myself, “who was I if I didn’t sing?’”
At this point in her life she began studying the Bible and became a Christian, deciding to “give it over to God.” She received vocal therapy at Mass Eye and Ear and in 2001 had surgery.
“I learned so much from that experience. Experience I can share with my students,” said Kinscheck. “I realized how much you sleep, how much water you drink, what kinds of food you eat, and how you breathe – so many things in addition to vocal technique can help prevent injury.”
After she healed, she decided she wanted to go back to music full time and began teaching music classes in Boston public schools, which she did for six years during which time she became a certified music teacher.
“Studies show that music lessons help children develop academically, improving math and language skills, eye/hand coordination and more, but I see studying music as an emotional release, a magnificent form of self-expression that channels creative energy in great directions,” said Kinscheck.
She and Ralph moved to Billerica in 2004 and they had twins, Hannah and Caleb, who are now 11-years-old and have been taking lessons and performing with their mom since they were toddlers.
Today Kinscheck teaches lessons six days a week, several hours a day, but she’s always looking to take on new students. She’s gearing up for her annual student holiday recital on Dec. 13 at the Congregational Church on Andover Road and on Nov. 7 at the Boston Church of Christ in Framingham she will be leading a workshop for Christian singers.
She recently performed at Billerica’s drug abuse forum at the Marshall Middle School. She is often hired to sing at private functions, children’s parties, weddings, and funerals. Currently she has a gig every Friday from noon to 2 pm at the Pot Belly Sandwich Shop at Wayside Commons in Burlington.
She has four current CDs available: Let My Light Shine, Grace with Jazz on Top, Faith in Action, and The Force – one containing music played by her brothers and other local musicians and one she made with her husband that features Christian pop rock for teens and pre-teens.
“I teach all different styles and work with so many young people,” said Kinscheck. “I’m a mentor and a teacher. I want to be a positive influence in their music and in their life.”