Fanny’s House of Music opened in Five Points 12 years ago this month, and quickly became a cornerstone of the neighborhood. An alternative to the Guitar Centers of the world, the homey shop owned by Pamela Cole (“P.” to friends) and Leigh Maples sells new and vintage stringed instruments, offers repair service and holds private lessons. There’s a focus on providing an atmosphere that welcomes everyone — critical in a business that’s seldom made space for anyone but men.
The March 3 tornado left Five Points reeling. When they got to Fanny’s from their home in White House, the owners found damage all over the building. Windows, doors, roof and siding were all compromised, and water got in everywhere. But it was still standing.
“It could have been so, so much worse,” says Cole. “We’re lucky there weren’t guitars and banjos hanging from every tree.”
Considering it an omen that the storm spared the store, the Fanny’s crew is proceeding with plans that predate both the tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic. Having secured nonprofit status last year, their goal is to buy the lot from their longtime landlord and build a two-story, multipurpose complex adjacent to the shop. It will be called Fanny’s School of Music.
“There are things and programs we’ve wanted to do since the beginning, but weren’t able because of lack of space,” Cole explains. She notes that demand for music lessons outgrew the three rooms the store currently has available five years ago. The school’s ground floor will ideally solve this problem with 10 lesson rooms, plus a larger area upstairs for workshops, group lessons, recitals and other performances. Check out a rendering above.
Echoing a model championed by Athens, Ga., nonprofit Nuçi’s Space — a community center named for Nuçi Phillips, an indie-rock prodigy who killed himself following a long struggle with depression in 1996 at age 22 — Fanny’s School of Music will also offer affordable, professional mental-health resources for musicians. A partnership with Belmont’s Music Therapy program is a possibility.
Realistically, it will take some time to put the plan into action. When phase two of Metro’s reopening plan went into place in June, the store reopened, with full anti-COVID precautions. Despite some help from online sales, business is down as much as 90 percent. “Welcome to small business,” says Cole flatly. “We’re not having lessons in our store right now, and don’t know when we will [again].”
Fanny’s has launched a capital fundraising campaign around the school. Below, see a video with some info and endorsements by an array of music folk (including Ann Powers, Brittany Howard, Marty Stuart, Lauren “L.G.” Gilbert and Queens of Noise) and visit fannysschoolofmusic.org for more details on the project and information on how to donate.
"We feel it’s important to invest in East Nashville now," Cole says. "It’s going to take more than a tornado and a virus to stop us.”