By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by Kelsea Schafer

Music is a universal language that is so profound–even the most polarizing cultures rest on what sliver of common ground it provides: A way for the heart to express what words sometimes cannot. Where humans fall short in communication, they make up in beautiful harmony.

Some of the world’s greats–Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Antonio Vivaldi–understood that learning both to play and to teach music was to unify people–to create positive change in a broken world. Even today, music is the most popular cultural phenomenon that is ever-evolving, always in tune with every new generation to come.

Founded in 2012 by renowned guitarists and instructors, Allen Barlow and Rob Gannon, the Homewood School of Music aims to raise the next generation of musicians by effectively teaching such language–more of a ministry, itself–to students young and old, anyone that will take a chance and pick up a pick.

Allen first picked up a guitar when he was 11 years old. He was selt taught for five years before he received a gift certificate for guitar lessons, which is how he met Rob. Rob was professionally trained at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, California.

At the time, Rob ventured cross country to teach at Band Stand Music, and although that school has since retired its services, Rob’s time there propelled him to pursue a career in teaching his passion–guitar. After teaching there, Rob was later recruited in the early ‘90s to teach at Fretted Instruments in Homewood, where he built a reputation as one of the finest guitar instructors in Birmingham.

“As far as teaching music, I find it very rewarding,” Rob says. “I always love seeing my students have those ‘aha’ moments. Seeing their confidence grow as they progress always makes my day.”

Meanwhile, Allen says he had some growing up to do. After taking a gap year, Allen enrolled at the University of Montevallo as an undeclared major at 21 years old. During this time, he got his first teaching job as a guitar instructor at The Music Station in Pelham.

Allen began taking an accounting course, but he actually ditched his very first accounting class to go to Lollapalooza. There, he witnessed musical history being made as bands such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers swept the stage.

Allen says it may have taken him a few years to “find himself,” but what brought clarity to him was the way music spoke to him like no one ever could. Upon returning to school, Allen quickly switched majors to study music.

“When someone learns music, they learn a skill that can connect them with others around the world,” Bailey Hill, Homewood School of Music mandolin instructor, says. “The communication, empathy, storytelling and experiences that music provides outside of being strictly a discipline in performance is an excellent way for folks to learn from one another to make our world a more peaceful place.”

When Allen graduated at 25 years old, he had only been teaching for three years, and yet, he already had 45 students. Rob soon learned of his protégée’s success and recruited him to work at Fretted Instruments, where Allen acquired an additional 35 students upon arrival.

To Allen’s surprise, the majority of his students stayed on with him, and some still take guitar lessons from him today. Allen and Rob worked alongside Herb Trotman, Ricky Stone and David Walbert–the founders of Fretted Instruments–for more than a decade before the dynamic duo ventured out on their own to create a music school whose focus was to create a hub for community.

In 2012, Allen and Rob founded the Homewood School of Music, and over the last 12 years, the school have grown to include 18 more professionally trained musicians who teach an array of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, voice, drums, violin, brass, woodwinds, orchestral strings, music theory and more. The school now boasts a roster of more than 400 students and is one of the most successful music schools in Birmingham.

Some big dogs in music such as Grammy-nominated artist Sam Hunt, Jeffrey Harper (guitarist for Scotty McCreery), Matthew Mayfield, Will Mason (Mason Music), Lee Bains (Lee Bains and the Glory Fires) and Levi Watkins (The Voice) are proud protégées of Rob and Allen, and the list is ever-growing. Although seeing their former pupils become so successful is inspiring, both Allen and Rob agree that their purpose is to teach music–to spread a ministry where people can freely express themselves and feel as though they, too, are loved, cherished and understood.

“Teaching is like a form of ministry,” Allen says. “We try to recruit teachers that understand what the bigger picture is. It’s not just clocking in and talking music. It’s about building relationships.”

One of Allen’s most memorable teaching moments came not at a high, but at an all-time low as a friend to another in need. One of Allen’s students came into his lesson downtrodden, saying his brother had a terrible injury.

Instead of watching the clock or avoiding uncomfortable topics, Allen engaged, listening to his student and figuring out how to help him grieve. What better way to grieve than to let one’s heart sing?

The two jammed to one of the student’s favorite musicians, Van Halen, for an hour, and the student left feeling hopeful–an emotion he wasn’t sure he’d feel again.

“Not all great musicians are teachers, and not all great teachers are musicians,” Rob says. “We’re lucky to have both.”

Strolling down the halls at the Homewood School of Music, one will hear the classics such as Beethoven and Led Zeppelin, amidst the cheers and high fives shared between teachers and students alike. What makes this school so special is that students enjoy coming to learn because they are valued and appreciated, no matter what stage they’re at.

“Learning music exposes students to a wide range of emotions that will shape who they are as people,” Katelyn Hoag, Homewood School of Music violin instructor, says. “It is important to pass on these life lessons music teaches to the next generation.”

Allen says the Homewood School of Music is relatively young in terms of the school, but he hopes to continue recruiting the best musicians and teachers in Birmingham years from now. His goal is for the Homewood School of Music to continue fostering a culture of inclusion among all people groups for years to come.

Perhaps if everyone treated music with such appreciation, the world would indeed finally be in harmony.

To learn more information about the Homewood School of Music or inquire about taking lessons, visit

Why do you love teaching?

“Music is a language and a beautiful one, and teaching music is all about connection and expression. Everyone has the potential to be creative, and most have the desire to express it. I love being the person that helps others unwrap that.”
-Sabina Barton, piano instructor

“Understanding music allows you to tap into other cultures and understand the universal human experience on a very deep level.”
-Bailey Hill, mandolin instructor

“Teaching music has been important to me because it helps keep me in touch with the state of a ‘beginner’s mind.’ That seems to be important to keeping one’s perspective fresh when doing something challenging and meaningful for many years.”
-Michael Glaser, drums instructor

Giggin’ It

Allen performs at weddings and is happy to meet with engaged couples for consultations. To get in touch with Allen about bookings or for questions, email him at

Allen’s performance credits include The Black Jacket Symphony, Oteil Burbridge and The Psychocats, The Maverick Lounge Series, The Birmingham Guitar Quartet and more. He is also the worship leader at Christ Community Church in Helena, Alabama. No matter if a couple enjoys rock ‘n roll, smooth jazz or anything in between, he is happy to help them find their “wedding sound.”