Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

August 16, 2013

Live the story: Music in the mind of Gary Rhum

By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune lifestyle editor

Kokomo —


At 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday I received a message from my boyfriend, “Hey, I have a crazy thought.” John Mayer was performing in Cincinnati that night and the show wasn’t sold out – sidenote: Don’t judge if you haven’t listened to him since “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” We finished our work days and were in Cincinnati in time to miss the opening act, but in time for the songs that often whistled in the background of many of our moments. The spontaneity of our decision spurred a second in time that reminded us:  Your life is alive; experience it. But, at the roots of it, music inspired the impromptu road trip.

No one knows that inspiration of music better than Gary Rhum, owner of Rhum Academy of Music. He’s traveled with bands, taught young kids with a song in their little souls (since 1973) and he’s lived the majority of his life with his hands gripping the neck of a guitar.

I met him doing just that. There, in one of his musical classrooms, Rhum relaxed over his guitar as his jean-clad legs crossed for his right foot to rest and gently tap his left. No music was playing.

I asked Rhum as he relaxed in his element: Musically speaking, what does Kokomo sound like?

Then, the answer came; in the form of a melody.

“You ask a specific question,” Rhum said as he spun around to his guitar line up for a different musical companion. “’Catching The Light,’” Rhum said as his strumming fingers created a sound that truly answered the question.

Moments later the breezy melody laced with calm beauty was complete.

“It’s just beautiful; to see everything [in Kokomo] come to life,” Rhum, an advocate for community concerts, parks and the arts, said. “We’re coming together as a community, we’re smiling together, listening to music together [at Kokomo Summer Concert Series]. We’re catching the light.”

I sat in and watched Rhum in a different role: musical instructor.

“Marcus, go ahead and get warmed up. You know I’m going to push you on this,” Rhum said to his student, Marcus Bradley, who will be featured in Saturday’s RhumFest and is also an instructor at Rhum Academy.  

While Bradley taps keys to tune his voice in the background, Rhum gives me a tour of the world that revolves around playing music and learning it. We pass by an autographed piano, signed by The Original Wailers.

 “I’ve never asked anyone for an autograph,” Rhum said as his fingers etched the autographed piano’s sides. “But, these guys were so genuine and so nice, just so happy to be here.”

We stop to visit at a back wall of the room that houses the harmonies of Rhum Academy students and visiting names such as Tim Easton, Brian Vander Ark and the upcoming Caravan Of Thieves. However, the wall is also illustrative of music’s inspiration. A mural painting – created by one of Rhum’s 16-year-old students – of vines holding painted versions of Rhum’s favorite guitar picks is more than décor.

“I wanted the branching of the vines because we’re people who teach other people about music,” Rhum said as his arms move in the unexpected directions of the vines. “Music inspires the expression of the heart and I think this captures that life flow; that life flow of music’s culture. Without that culture, we only have buildings and parking lots.”

No matter what wall you look at in Rhum Academy, music lives in it.

One frame hangs an image of Rhum smiling and strumming alongside an excited student. Another photo captures Rhum playing by a bonfire while his young son beams dressed in a tie-dye t-shirt.

Then, Rhum returns to his musical lesson with Bradley. And the images frozen in frames on the wall are seen in action. Rhum’s smile grows at the same rate his fingers pluck and strum a roots-y sound, cueing Bradley’s boomingly strong voice to inspire in one of the many ways music inspires.

RhumFest is Aug. 10 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Kokomo Performing Arts Pavilion. For more information, visit www.KokomoSummerSeries.com