106 West provides musical outlet for Winder community

WINDER - Becky and Thom Tollerson believe in the canonical doctrine of harmony, melody and rhythm. For eight years, their music tabernacle, 106 West, has taught students the fine art of musicianship, from history to theory to performance.

The Tollersons founded 106 West in October 2001 with the intention of opening a music supply store. They succeeded in that mission and more. Today, 106 West serves four functions: music school, supply store, performance space and recording studio.

106 West exudes a sense of historic religiosity. The structure the Tollersons bought was, in fact, a 100-year-old church, with many of the previous adornments still intact. The Tollersons kept the pews in the sanctuary, enough to seat 200, but added lights and stereo sound. In its contemporary set-up, 106 West in Winder functions as a stage-in-the-round.

The venue is family-friendly. Smoking is prohibited and no alcohol is permitted. During the school year, 106 West hosts one to two events per month, including band and theatrical performances.

"Our emphasis is on performance and training," said Thom Tollerson. "We want people to learn the ins and outs of music."

Guitar and bass student Chad Clark, of Winder, attributes his musical success to the teaching staff at 106 West.

"(Thom)'s real great with people, with explaining things to people," Clark said. "They have a real friendly environment."

Clark first discovered 106 West after attending concerts at the venue. As a student, he has gained the technical precision required to become apt at both the guitar and the bass guitar. Thom continues to challenge Clark with difficult pieces by Jaco Pastorius, the renowned electric bass guitarist and jazz composer.

106 West proclaims it is "a place built on dreams and prayers," a phrase attributed to daughter Jenna, 26, an Athens-based Web designer. The dreams, Thom said, were to one day open the music school. The prayers were already in the building.

"The prayers were in here. It's always been a place of worship, and, when I walked into this place, I felt that. I wanted to preserve that and, at the same time, repurpose this both as a sacred and secular place where people can come, be themselves, have free speech, free ideas and free association with each other," he said.

106 West also boasts a stereo sound system. This is unique and required significant haggling on Thom's part, and to his credit, the effort was worth it.

"When a band plays on this stage," Thom said, "the audience hears every instrument. It's not the wall of sound concept (which) has ruled supreme for about 30 years in live music."

Becky concedes that the most difficult part of maintaining 106 West is getting the word out.

"We feel like it's a place that a lot of people would enjoy if they knew about it," she said. "Some people say they learn to play here, and then they learn to perform here. It's getting to be at that point."

Thom shares his wife's sentiments.

"We just keep trying to get a large group of people to come here because it's probably the best listening room anywhere," he said. "From every seat, you can see the expression on the faces of the artists when they're up there."

Thom has worked a lifetime in the music business, performing with acts such as Handle, The Stragglers and The Kindred Spirit. The Tollerson's younger daughter, Sarah, is an Athens songstress. She recently received recognition from Upromise for her Tuition Tales video entry, following her experience as a Subway singer in Boston. As winner of the contest, she received $10,000 toward student loans from the Berklee College of Music.

Thom and Becky preach creativity and collaboration in their brand of teaching. They stress creativity and knowledge of the tools and facilities necessary to write, compose and improvise original music.

"We want people to have a sense of music history," Thom said. "We want them to understand that melody, rhythm - it's formed, it exists on its own. Good harmony, the kind you like to hear, is already built in. We try to stress that when we teach music."

Thom advises each of his students to honor the five P's: persistence, patience, practice, practice and practice.

"That's how people succeed in music, especially if they want to have fun with it," Thom said. "Hard work is always at the beginning."

106 West sells DVD copies of every performance held under its roof. It serves refreshments, and parking is available. The supply store sells guitars, accessories, tuners, sheet music, reeds, valve oil, lyres and gift items. Instruction through the music school is offered in guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, voice, piano and keyboard, theory, harmony, songwriting and performance.

106 West is at 106 W. Athens St. in Winder. The school and supply store is open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. For more information, visit www.106west.com or call 770-868-1977.