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G-Sync: Make Your Own Kind of Music

Dean Wiers-Windemuller

Dean Wiers-Windemuller

Dean Wiers-Windemuller

Sometimes the best people we meet are those right in front of us. Often through the art of conversation, not only is this goodness revealed, but if you’re a connector, an undeniable urge to nurture that good emerges because you understand these are the building blocks of a great community.
For me, a discovery from a few months ago presented itself while on another project. I was seeking a bit more detail on a piece when it was suggested I contact Dean Wiers-Windemuller – a musician in the Madison Square neighborhood.
As I listened to Wiers-Windemuller, owner of Southtown Guitar (1258 Madison Ave SE) – a new music store in Madison Square - share stories of his life leading up to this point, I knew that, while he was not the focus of this other project, he was someone I would want to connect with again at a later date. 
This week, in the same soft-spoken way during our second conversation, Wiers-Wildemuller shared his thoughts on the eve of the grand opening celebration of Southtown Guitar.
He shared the story of how, as a newer resident of this neighborhood, he was seeking something different a few years back, so he began to have discussions with LINC - a community revitalization project of Kent County – about how to take those first steps. The questions that kept returning were the “where” and “what would it look like?”
Though the assistance of the people at LINC, he was able to get his first space two years ago. And then, less than two years later, Wiers-Windemuller’s business growth meant he would need more space.
“Again, my concern was that I not only want to be close to my family and our home,” says Wiers-Windemuller, who can walk to work, “but I wanted a space that would be unlike any other music space I have seen.”
So in January 2013, he began a four-month long build-out on another space within the very same building he’s currently renting for his music classes. This time, instead of a utilitarian small box (which has since been converted into a band rehearsal and recording space), Wiers-Windemuller wanted to create a storefront shop where people could clearly have access to music lessons, instrument repair and the sale of equipment.
“I am really all about this community, so having a storefront becomes more than just having a store to make money. It is about being a positive asset for our neighborhood,” says Wiers-Windemuller, whose neighbors walk in the space inquiring about lessons. “I had one gentleman walk in the other day and, after looking around, finally said, ‘I cannot believe I am seeing this. A music store in my neighborhood.’”
It's just this sort of neighborhood pride, and just these sorts of musical collisions, that Southtown Guitar is meant to foster. And after a few minutes with Wiers-Windemuller, it becomes clear that he is all about building up the community, just as LINC has helped connect him to the resources he would need to make the transition.
Walking into Southtown Guitar it is so silent - that is, until someone picks up an instrument. This silence is purposeful; the only music to be heard is that which is created live. So if you stop by (and are gifted in a musical way), please fill the store with your contribution of song.
Another deliberate aspect is the use of a limited palette of color, with the only one present being a splash of goldenrod in a room devoted to black and white tones. Again, this is on purpose.
“I want you to feel like you are walking into a tranquil environment where all the distractions have been removed,” says Wiers-Windemuller, “Our storefront, which acts as many things, needs to be a space unlike any other a musician has experienced, but also make the person feel right at home … like they want to be here.”
To keep it pure, he has purposefully tried to limit the amount of advertising in the hopes that a genuine experience is created for the patron or student without a corporate influence.
His design theory is backed up when I notice the guitar picks are in a glass jars and not in a plastic and cardboard case on a hanging rack. Guitars, Banjos, and violins, unboxed, hang for sale on the walls.
Within this space are opportunities waiting to be unearthed or discovered via the power of creative exploration. Wiers-Windemuller is offering more than just an opportunity for lessons to happen. He is providing a community service in some ways too, as he will soon be hosting free group lesson sessions for neighbors and a movie night where they will explore in a casual setting the power of some of music’s best documentaries.
“On Saturday we will be officially launching Southtown Guitar, but it is more than just a place to make money,” says Wiers-Windemuller. “From the very beginning when I had this idea, I knew I had to have something in place to help those in need, so we began offering a music scholarship program.”
But as many of us know, there are greater needs sometimes then we can handle on our own. It was in my first conversation with Wiers-Windemuller this summer that we began to discuss this challenge. Southtown was already offering three scholarships, but he knows there are other kids who would need assistance, so that got us to talking. (This is where the connecting to good comes in and why it often presents itself in strange ways.)
Earlier this summer, the Crescendo Foundation hosted a benefit concert at Wealthy Theatre. It was an event that was introduced to me by a woman who would go on to become Rapid Growth’s new managing editor and my boss, Stephanie Doublestein. 
As she had shared in her information, the proceeds of the annual Piano Cottage Rocks! concert would fund the Crescendo Foundation, a local nonprofit which makes tuition-free music lessons available to students. Up until this time, I had no experience with this foundation.
Wiers-Windemuller knew of them very well, but until we began the conversation, it was not clear to me or him how the two would intersect. But in the grand tradition of Seinfeld (yadda, yadda, yadda), Southtown Guitar just this week awarded its first Crescendo Foundation scholarship to a Southtown Guitar student from Wiers-Windemuller’s own neighborhood.
Grand Rapids does best when good things are born out of networks of good people and organizations. Creating space for collaborations or bridges to be built is a big part of who we are in West Michigan. It is one of the most endearing elements of our region.
“I wondered as I started this business if it was even possible to create a business that would continue the work Martin Luther King was involved with in his community,” says Wiers-Windemuller. “I am no MLK scholar but as I understand it he was involved in working with those individuals whose lives were missing something critical." 
At the time it was focused on the African American experience, but as he once said, 'war is the enemy of the poor.' I have to believe that his vision, as witnessed in his other projects, clearly indicates he was committed to a life of expanding beyond the tasks at hand.”
This act of engaging with each other and the unexpected results that can occur within our communities was summed up beautifully in a closing statement by Detroit’s Phil Cooley of Ponyride at the CEOs for Cities event just today. "Solutions are everywhere we look. Here and there," he said.
The point, so Zen-like in Cooley’s delivery, is to understand it is all around us - if we are willing to engage with each other, collaborate, and make music together. Oh, the possibilities. Oh, what a community we would be.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

To experience four unique events of our city, you only need to visit G-Sync Events to build your plans.

Editor's Note: On Saturday at the grand opeing celebration of Southtown Guitar, local company Lumen Guitars will be on site talking about their instruments. Southtown Guitar will also be 20% off all new merchandise and 10% off all used merchandise.  At 7pm stay for an intimate concert with husband and wife folk duo Nos Vemos (also of The Soil and The Sun). A small $5 cover charge will be collected to cover the artists' fee. Visit Southtown Guitar's Facebook page for more info on the event.

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