Music for all

What comes to mind when you think of sheet music? Unless you’re a musician, probably not much. Yet it turns out that printed musical notation can sometimes evoke a range of emotions — from nostalgia to feelings of acceptance.

“I’ve had a number of customers who lost all of their music during [Hurricane] Katrina,” says Karen Sams, owner of SoliClassica, a store in South Asheville that carries an array of sheet music. “It’s very critical and tender and sensitive to them to buy music because it’s tied to something very emotional.”

Sams also believes that certain musicians feel overlooked because of the type of instrument they play.

“Multiple people have walked in the door and literally cried because they saw the harp section,” says Sams. She explains that musicians who play popular instruments, like piano and flute, enjoy browsing through a large variety of sheet music at any music store. But players of less ubiquitous instruments — oboe, harp, trombone or tuba — are often limited to buying online.

What’s the difference?

“Ordering music online is a frustrating experience because you can’t see how the piece is laid out,” she says. Details like the locations of page turns can affect the piece’s playability. And, of course, there’s the sheer pleasure of paging through paper copies. “It’s like going to a bookstore,” says Sams. “Shopping online is not the same as browsing.”

An Asheville native, Sams studied piano performance at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Conservatory. She went on to teach at Peabody Preparatory in Baltimore for 12 years.

When she returned to Asheville in 2006, she noticed a lack of music stores that offered sheet music for all ages, levels and instruments. “It was something I missed, having lived in larger cities,” she says.

Getting her business off the ground required significant capital. But she shied away from bank financing, preferring the combined training and lending that Mountain BizWorks offers.

“The idea of getting a bank loan scared the heck out of me, because I don’t have a business background,” she recalls. “I wanted someone to know what I was doing, so I really cared that Mountain BizWorks looked at my business plan as opposed to just giving me money.”

She received a startup loan from Mountain BizWorks, and also took advantage of the organization’s classes and coaching to build her business skills.

Today, Sams’ clientele includes a cross section of Asheville musicians, from students to professionals. A large percentage of her customers are adults who are returning to the piano or dedicated hobbyists who perform in local community bands, nursing homes and churches.

Sams' passion is providing duet or chamber pieces that young people can share. "We look for pieces that a brother and sister or boyfriend and girlfriend can play together.”

While some might question the place of classical music in modern culture, Sams is quick to defend the benefits of music education — and not just as a connection to the past. She recalls something that a colleague once said: “Classical music is the music of cartoons and movies.”

“It speaks to us all the time,” says Sams. “Once you have the trained and sophisticated language to understand it, it allows you to go places that you didn’t before.”

To help facilitate musical education, Sams founded the SoliClassica Music Academy ( in 2011. The nonprofit provides music theory instruction, a chamber music program and performance opportunities to youths and adults.

While the joy of performance is a driving force for Sams, she argues that music can ultimately be a tool for greater understanding. “Les Misérables is one person’s portrayal of what happened in the French Revolution. It’s not a documentary; it’s art. If we don’t study the classics, we lose the perspective that art is a perspective,” says Sams.

Visit SoliClassica at 1550 Hendersonville Road or learn more at

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