Inside McAllister Music Studio, The Lower Haight's Hidden Musical Space

Tucked away on Fillmore, just north of Haight, is McAllister Music Studio, a small music school that focuses on piano, voice, and songwriting instruction for both children and adults.

Founder and lead instructor Ciara McAllister moved into the space in 2014, after eight years of teaching private lessons out of her home in the Lower Haight.

McAllister been teaching piano since she was just 11 years old, and played throughout high school and college. She earned a BA in piano performance while living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she started her first music school. There, she taught students of all ages, but she ultimately shifted her focus to adults when she moved out west.

"When I homed in on teaching adult students, that reignited my passion for teaching," she told us.

Ciara McAllister. | Photo: Stephen Jackson/Hoodline

McAllister Music Studio is tiny, consisting of two practice spaces, one of which is partitioned off by a curtain that is sometimes drawn back to create an intimate performance area in the front. But despite its small size, McAllister and her staff of five other instructors have approximately 150 students who take private lessons there. 

While McAllister's continues to work exclusively with adult students, she also has a children's department, headed by Lizzie Clapper. Currently, the studio's students are about 60 percent adults, 40 percent children. 

The front practice room which opens up into an intimate performance space. | Photo: Stephen Jackson/Hoodline

McAllister seeks to provide a holistic experience to those who come to her school, priming them to be full-fledged musicians, not just musical robots.

"We combine the fundamentals of note reading, proper technique, and music theory along with ear training, improvisation, and songwriting," she said. "The idea is for people to get creative with music right from the beginning, and I think that's what makes people unique. My passion is to get people to see both sides of it. It makes them really well-rounded musicians."

Another practice space at McAllister Music Studio. | Photo: Stephen Jackson/Hoodline

As an instructor, McAllister has found her niche working with local singer/songwriters, often helping them prepare for performing their first gig or recording their first LP. The school also offers workshops like "Music Production in the Home Studio," which shows students how to create a professional-sounding studio in their living spaces.

The studio also hosts an open mic/jam session one Friday per month, open to both students and the community, and an annual recital at the Mission's Community Music Center Performance Hall, which holds 100 people.

McAllister also recently started a community outreach program, in which she and a handful of students leave the school to play for community members in need. In October, they went to Maitri, a residential care center in Duboce Triangle for people living with AIDS; in November they performed at Age Song, a residential eldercare center in Hayes Valley.

"For me, it's a way to give students more performance opportunity while bringing the community together and giving back to those who are in need," she said.

Adult students at a recital. | Photo: Courtesy of McAllister Music Studio

"I love that moment where a student has a breakthrough and feels that rush and that exhilaration you get when you put so much into something and you work so hard for it and it pays off," McAllister told us. "I also love the healing that music brings in an age where everything is so fast-paced and there's so much stimulation. Music helps us to slow down and focus on one thing."

Interested in taking lessons? Visit the school's website, or swing by in person (although they might be in session). 

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