ANNAPOLIS — Never again.
When Ashley Kaczorowski sold her school of the performing arts in the Atlanta area, she vowed to make a clean break. She loved what she was doing, but needed a rest after many 60-hour weeks and few days off.
So, she didn’t have any immediate plans after she and her husband settled in Cape St. Claire after his job transfer. But Kaczorowski got bored and started taking private students at home. That soon grew into The Annapolis School of Performing Arts, which opened this week.
“I guess I dream big,” said Kaczorowski, 29. “It’s hard to have children dancing in your living room.”
She teaches voice and piano at the school, while two others handle dance. There’s a second piano teacher, as well.
Kaczorowski started performing professionally at age 5, sang a solo at Carnegie Hall and has a musical theater degree from Auburn University. She also has degrees in psychology from Auburn and Emory University.
“I’ve seen more progress in my daughter in the time she’s been with Ashley than I have in the five years she’s been playing,” said Richard Jones of Arnold.
His daughter, Hannah, 12, began piano lessons this past winter. His son, Nathaniel, 7, started taking piano with Kaczorowski this summer.
“She’s awesome,” Jones said. “She’s just fabulous. She has great enthusiasm and a definite passion for what she’s doing.”
Kaczorowski ran her Atlanta school for four years. She opened in 2007 after tiring of touring with various shows and artists.
“I love performing,” she said. “It’s my first love. But you grow out of it. You want to give back.”
To that end, she plans on applying for status as a nonprofit, so students can attend her Annapolis school for nominal fees.
This semester, which runs until Dec. 21, private half-hour lessons are $110 a month. Classes, which have a maximum of 10 students, range from $250 to $350 for the semester. Both are held once a week.
Offerings include preschool dance, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, drama and two show choirs (which Kaczorowski leads). She described the choirs as a more PG version of the television show “Glee.”
Fifty children have signed up for lessons or classes already, something she attributes mainly to word of mouth. The school is located in West Annapolis just up the street from where another arts school used to operate.
“I like teaching better (than performing),” Kaczorowski said. “You have a connection with an individual instead of an audience.”
Her 1,600-square-foot space is decorated in bright colors and divided into two rooms — a main studio with a concert grand piano and a smaller studio with an upright piano.
Kaczorowski said she was a bit naive when she opened her first school. This time around, she’s well aware of what’s required and the sacrifices she’ll have to make.
“When you do something a second time, it’s not nearly as stressful,” she said. “You know the ropes.
“Without proper training, even the best voices go down the tubes.”
Kaczorowski was talking to her first official student at the school, Hannah Rice, 17, of Annapolis. Her mother, Lori, signed her up because she thought her daughter’s voice showed promise.
After a few minutes, Kaczorowski agreed.
She had Hannah do some breathing exercises, then apply the techniques to the first few lines of songs from “Oklahoma!” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”
“It’s just like going to the gym and working out,” Kaczorowski said. “Did you ever think singing was so hard?”
She gave Hannah plenty of homework. The Annapolis High School junior had to familiarize herself with the two pieces of music and practice her breathing in front of a mirror. “The only person you’re going to look silly to is you,” Kaczorowski said.
“It was great, awesome, fun,” proclaimed the teen after her lesson. She’s also enrolled in one of Kaczorowski’s show choirs.
The next lesson started immediately, a piano session with 5-year-old Libby Clifton of Arnold. It was Libby’s second lesson. The first was at Kaczorowski’s home.
“She made Libby feel relaxed right away,” said her mother, Emily.
Libby earned her first sparkly sticker early in the lesson for mastering the exercises Kaczorowski gave her for homework. More stickers and praise followed.
As Libby worked on “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Kaczorowski reminded her to look at the music instead of down at her hands. It’s a common problem, even when adults are learning piano, the instructor said.
“Remember, your hands are magical,” Kaczorowski quietly told Libby, “they’ll know what to do.”