The Academy of Fretted Instruments (AoFI) is in Northwoods Mall, is tucked away in the corner by Sears’. The front and side of the long space are more window than wall, allowing any passerby a leisurely look at piles of instrument cases and sheet music, couches and chairs. A record spins lazily on the player.
The AoFI has existed in some form since 2005, when longtime musician David McDonald first founded it in the Riverfront Arts Center. McDonald moved to Morton in 2012. After performing a few times at Northwoods Mall, managers approached him this January about moving the AoFI into the current space.
“The only two places left where everyone is welcome [are] the mall and the grocery store,” McDonald said. “Churches, schools, restaurants, bars, all have their built-in clique.”
McDonald was born and raised in Morton. His father was a baseball coach, gym teacher and health teacher at Morton High School. While he participated in athletics as a child, McDonald said he picked music over sports when the time came to cut his hair for the baseball team regulations.
“When I was in high school, to be a musician and to be taken seriously, [you] had to have long hair,” McDonald said. “Just like there’s a uniform for sports, there’s a uniform for rock and roll.”
McDonald began attending Bradley in 1993. He left voluntarily in 1996 to focus on music, but returned in 1997 and graduated in 1999 with a degree in music and classical guitar, with a minor in theater.
McDonald is the founder of a local art group, Peace of Heart Artists Collective. Paintings by other artists in the collective adorn the walls of the AoFI, and in one corner, the floor, McDonald is aiming to have ten artists in the collective, and they currently have five.
“Artists are those people that are willing to put themselves out there … you’re never good enough as an artist, because you can always get better, said McDonald. “This place just begged to be a gallery. The idea is, you see something you like, [and you] visit our Facebook page.”
Although McDonald can play guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, bass, piano, harmonica and the Irish whistles, he only teaches the fretted instruments. He is currently looking for a piano and organ instructor.
“Here’s how I look at teaching private lessons,” he said. “When I taught K-4 music [in] district 150 … I taught 400 kids a week. But when you teach 400 kids a week, you have a hard time getting to develop your talent … The only ones that stand out are the ones that have the God-given gift or the ones that are causing trouble.”
Peoria resident Allison Marlowe said her son Josh takes lessons at the AoFI.
“Dave is so natural. He’s really good with kids, he’s really patient. He just knows how to adapt to the student.”
McDonald teaches students of all ages, and spends roughly 20 hours a week giving 45-minute lessons. The store can be reached at 309-676-3738.