If you visit the Alma Public Library and think you hear ukulele music you’re not mistaken. The sounds you hear could be a ukulele or a guitar. You might even hear a violin playing along to add a melody. Those are the sounds of magic as a child begins a musical journey under the tutelage of Steve House, the River Valley’s Johnny Appleseed of music.
In the popular image of Johnny Appleseed, a ragtag wanderer drops apple seeds indiscriminately wherever he roams. In fact, he was strategic in planting nurseries, then recruiting locals to care for the trees and see to their growth. Steve House’s efforts have much in common with Mr. Appleseed’s goals and in both cases, the resulting fruit is good for a community.
With his gentlemanly demeanor, Steve easily enters a room unnoticed and pulls out his 1977 Martin, a guitar that spent years earning its road warrior patina. When his fingers begin to strum, music fills the room and Steve looks younger than his sixty-seven years. Music can do that to you.
Watch closely and you might get a wink and a smile under the brim of his hat as he sings an old blues tune about a lady cooking a chicken when she thought it was a duck then served it up promptly with its two legs stuck straight up! Some songs, like this one, will make you laugh, while others will pull at your heart. Steve is filled with stories in song.
Steve plays guitar with Aces N Eights, a local rock band. James Morse, the band’s leader, occasionally asks members to suggest songs for the group. If bass player Rob or lead vocalist Dave call out a song, Steve will pause before strumming a chord or two. Then his rich baritone voice starts into the first verse or a chorus. Jim, the drummer and one of Steve’s guitar students said, “Steve’s a walking encyclopedia of music. He must have twenty-thousand songs floating around in his head.”
Those songs were collected over many years of music making that began when he bought a Roy Clark, Big Note Songbook while serving in the military. Steve often remembers where he was when he first learned a song, with new songs easily entering his repertoire. Once they’re filed in his mind, he can pull them out years later and bring them back to life.
In the summer of 2021, Steve approached the Mountainburg Public Library and asked if he could give free guitar and ukulele lessons. His teaching was well received, so he later expanded to Alma and Mulberry. Kara McCubbin, Children and Youth Services Librarian in Alma said, “Steve’s music lessons bring new families into the library and then they learn about all we have to offer the whole family. He’s great with kids and adults.”
Steve works with students of all experience levels. Recently, nine-year-old Sage played her first sounds on a ukulele. She said, “My first lesson, Steve taught me two chords and then I went with my parents and bought a ukulele. I practice ten minutes a day and like it a lot!”
Part of the reward for Steve is seeing students’ smiles as they progress and knowing he’s teaching something that will have a lifelong impact. Bryar, a third grader who has been working with Steve for two years adds, “Music is good for my soul!” Bryar’s mom, Julie Watkins, is the Branch Director of Mountainburg Public Library. She notes, “Mr. Steve has been a wonderful blessing to Bryar and our family.”
For a retiree, Steve keeps a busy schedule. He and Larry Walker perform under the name Winn Mountain Band, and play at the Alma Farmer’s Market and other local venues in the River Valley. Sometimes Steve arrives for a three-hour gig with Aces N Eights having already logged seven hours of playing that day. His wife Cheryl, cautions him about overdoing, but Steve knows the joy of making music, saying, “It’s not really like work at all.”
When asked why he volunteers to give music lessons with his already busy schedule Steve said, “I think music is intended to be shared. When you share it and watch it grow, you get that much more enjoyment from it. Besides, my dad used to say every man should serve his community and he demonstrated that with his life. I share music to honor my father’s memory.”
If you’ve ever wished you could play the guitar or ukulele and want to try it out in a non-threatening, relaxed atmosphere, contact the Crawford County Library and drop by for one of Steve’s sessions. The point is not for everyone to become great guitar players, though some will. The real motivation for Steve is to plant a seed of musical enjoyment that grows in our spirits and makes us better for ourselves and for others.
Crawford County Library
1409 Main Street, Van Buren
Follow Aces N Eights and Winn Mountain Band on Facebook.