Paul Thorpe, remembered

Xpress received a letter from Elizabeth Schell, the owner of Purl’s Yarn Emporium on Wall Street, about the recent death of Paul Thorpe, the owner of Asheville Music School on North Lexington Avenue. Thorpe was also a music instructor at AMS, and taught Schell’s son. In the following post, Schell reflects on Thorpe’s personality and role in the community, and invites those who knew him to share their own remembrances in the comments section.

I am writing to share my sadness over the recent death of Asheville business owner, teacher and friend, Paul Thorpe. Paul died completely unexpectedly on Saturday, Dec. 3, while working in his yard in Montford. He was 45 years old.

Paul owned the Asheville Music School, and began teaching my son piano three years ago after we first moved to Asheville. My son can be challenging, full of questions and energy, but Paul was always patient, full of good humor and immensely creative in his teaching. His love of music was contagious. Already my 9-year-old understands music in ways I never did, even after I took lessons for many years.

As an Asheville parent, business-owner and neighbor, I am heartbroken by the loss of Paul. He was just beginning to take his business in new directions, to build new relationships and connections with other downtown businesses. I am especially sad that I didn’t take time to know Paul better. We felt like we had time for that, you know?

I hope that many will come forward and share stories of Paul so we can all get to know him better. And I hope, too, that we are all reminded of how precious each moment is with our family, friends and loved ones. I know I am. — Elizabeth Schell

Anne Coombs, founder and co-director at the Asheville Music School, and owner of its West Asheville location, says that losing Paul is like losing a brother. “He and I shared this passion for the school,” Coombs tells Xpress. “He was a superior teacher: someone who keeps you focused, keeps you reaching for goals … he instilled a pride in all his students to play to the best of their ability and beyond.” Some 40 teachers and 350 students meet for lessons at the school’s two locations each week, she says, adding: “We’re planning to continue in Paul’s spirit.”

Thorpe began studying the piano at the age of six, studied brass instruments at 10, and by high school was a church organist and choir accompanist. After earning two degrees in music education, Thorpe taught guitar, plus high school band, jazz band and History of Rock and Roll for several years. Paul moved to Asheville in early 2000 and taught strings in the Roberson district as well as full orchestra at the KIPP Asheville Youth Academy. Thorpe acquired the Asheville Music School in 2002, where he taught piano to students from ages 5 to 81, according to Coombs. This past June, he began serving on the board of the Asheville Area Piano Forum.

For more about Paul Thorpe, visit here, here and here.

A memorial service for Thorpe is set for Saturday, Dec. 10, at 1 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place, Asheville. Memorial gifts may be made to: Asheville Area Piano Forum, c/o Ronald Gordon, Treasurer, 144 Kalmia Drive, Asheville, NC 28804 or MANNA FoodBank. For more information, visit


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