There’s a new music community buzzing in Santa Fe: Queen Bee Music Association. Named after the famous Taj Mahal song, it offers group classes for kids and adults in a fun, engaging and low-pressure setting. Launched in 2019, Queen Bee’s mission is “to support musicians in every stage of their career, no matter their age, aspiration or ability.” Founders Brian Nelson and Lindsay Taylor met while working at Swallow Hill Music in Denver, the second largest folk music school in the country. When the duo moved back to New Mexico, they recognized the potential for a similar organization in Santa Fe and acted on it.
From a weekly kids sing-along class taught by Nelson (or “Teacher B,” as his delighted students call him) to group classes on a variety of instruments, Taylor and Nelson focus on one, simple goal: to help others find their rhythm and their voice.
“Folk music is about the collective gathering of people to celebrate music,” says Taylor. For those who want to learn an instrument, but are unsure about the commitment or difficulty, Queen Bee makes learning this new skill accessible through a tried-and-true method. Nelson explains, “Across the country, folk music organizations utilize an experiential way of learning. At Queen Bee, we use familiar music, from Neil Young to The White Stripes, to teach rhythm, harmony and melody, the building blocks of playing music.” He continues, “It’s about learning to play with other people and having a damn good time while you do it.” While Queen Bee doesn’t focus exclusively on folk music — plans for a youth technology lab are in the works — it uses the same effective teaching approach in all the classes.
In addition to group classes and kids’ sing-alongs, Queen Bee hosts a variety of summer camps. A favorite, their Kids Bluegrass Camp, has two locations — one week in Crested Butte, Colorado, and one in Santa Fe. “The Kids Bluegrass Camp began in Crested Butte back in 2013,” explains Taylor. “When we moved to New Mexico and started Queen Bee, we were able to keep the camp in Crested Butte while also beginning to offer it in Santa Fe. Some of those Colorado students we’ve known since they were eight or nine, and they are driving now. It’s been so wonderful to see them grow as musicians and people.”
Queen Bee’s goal is a permanent brick-and-mortar location, a place for community jams, classes and eventually concerts. “There is an abundance of musical talent in Santa Fe; the community is so robust,” says Nelson. “The dial has been moving in the right direction, but performance venues are still lacking for local talent, especially listening rooms. We want to provide that experience for local musicians and their audiences.” In 2019, Queen Bee partnered with the Santa Fe Botanical Garden to provide pro bono sound engineering for their Summer Concert Series. When the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, they plan to expand concert presentations with more partners.
“Music is the universal language,” says Taylor. “If we’re not investing in that, what are we investing in?”
Tamara Johnson is a writer, educator and dancer living in Santa Fe. She grew up in New York and moved to New Mexico five years ago after a decade working in South America and Asia.