Can you carve out a career by ear?


Jake Mirow is one of those students you don't forget. Don't get me wrong, I treasure all my current and former students but Jake was different. In fact, that's how Jake came to my studio, because his mom and dad knew he was different and that he needed something different. What does different mean? Jake has an uncanny ability to play by ear with style and flair. The best way to explain it? He's hard-wired differently than most.

Example? After seeing the movie Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey in 2009, Jake returned to his lesson and played a jaw-dropping medley of the soundtrack. It's like his ears have a photographic memory?!?

Mmm....what does a classically trained pianist trying to get over her own fear of improvising do with a student like Jake?

I jumped in with both feet and had fun.

Side note: because of Jake's creative nature, I started writing Bradley Sowash

Jake, his mom Joyce and dad Jock formed a band. They rock!

for advice. In case you are unaware, Bradley and I co-founded 88 Creative Keys in 2013, where we help pianists play and teach more creatively.

To be honest, my job wasn't to help Jake improvise, it was to keep him ON the page. It also became apparent that I could inspire him with fresh ideas and guide him in the art of composing.

Some time before I began teaching Jake, I met Marshall Luke, my long-standing piano tuner. Marshall gave me "permission" to purchase Bella, my Yamaha C-6 grand piano--the BEST investment I could have ever made as a musician!

Jake tuning pianos before our local Federation festival

Back to Jake. After years of exploration and development with Jake at the keys, it was time to say good-bye when he graduated from high school. His intent was to become a band teacher and lead marching bands to future competition championships as he was completely head-over-heels about marching band during his high school years.

It was a good fit but, I knew he'd have his work cut out for him. Jake's inclination towards school work was limited--to say the least. This was no secret as Jake was always extremely social, told me everything(!) and could have filled our lessons with chatting if I'd let him.

Fast forward. Jake learned the hard way that a university major was "square" and did not match up with his "free form." He enrolled at a local college as a digital music major but again, the school work got in his way of being creative and didn't fit his "free form."

Back to Marshall. A couple of years ago, Marshall let me know of his plans to retire and since his sons were off doing their own thing, he was looking to find an apprentice to take over his tuning AND Steinway refurbishing business. Jake came to my mind immediately and soon after our conversation, I messaged Jake, letting him know of the opportunity.

As life would have it and fast forward a little, Marshall and Jake fit together like two peas in a pod. It could not have been a better fit for both.

Jammin' together after tunin' together

Recently, they were featured in a local paper. Please take the time to read the entire article here. As musicians, it's important to read about success in a world of "dying breeds!"

My favorite quotes:

We call ourselves Geppetto and Pinocchio,” Luke said of himself and his self-described 22-year-old apprentice Jake Mirow, an Arapahoe High School graduate." -Marshall Luke, The Villager

“Jake gets the whole company for free. I don’t want to sell it. I want to give it away. This place is the most wonderful collection of stuff you need to do this job. To see it go away would make me sick.” -Marshall Luke, The Villager

“School was not my thing. I tried my hardest to be a music educator,” he said. “But I have a problem with the way school is. I’m a very tactile person.” - Jake Mirow, The Villager

“When we show up at your house to tune your piano, it’s a very entertaining hour.” -Marshall Luke, The Villager

A really cool bonus that has come from this match made in piano heaven? Marshall Luke was highlighted in a series of stories at 9NEWS, Denver's leading television station. They followed Marshall (and Jake, too) as they refurbished one of only a few Steinway models left in the world.

Read up on this fascinating story here.


To say that I'm pleased to know that I connected both of these innovative pianists and entrepreneurs is an understatement. Although the word "proud" comes to mind, the bigger picture of this story brings me a feeling of satisfaction for two reasons:

#1 There IS a path for someone like Jake who has an amazing ear and passion for the piano who doesn't fit the narrow restrictions of the academic world.

#2 A career can be carved out in the shrinking music business, the more unconventional, the better.

Cheers to two of my favorite piano tuners and refurbishers! Thank you both for inspiring the next generation of pianists.

Take a look at them jamming after tuning a few grands in the video below.

-Leila (with a few tears in her eyes as she writes this)