Noteworthy: New school makes lessons hip

Sitting together in the tiny room on Seventh Street that's home to their new Fingerdance Studio music school, Jay Pun and Morwenna Lasko seem like excited kids– and indeed that's sometimes an apt description.

"Sometimes we look at each other and say, 'Whoa, we're teachers!'" laughs 22-year-old violinist Lasko, who began dating 23-year-old guitarist (and Charlottesville native) Pun during their last year at Boston's Berklee College of Music. The duo moved to Charlottesville following their 2003 graduation, and since that time they've taken on nearly 30 students– more, they say, than they could handle from home.

The secret of their success? It may have something to do with the "hip factor."

Though they have students ages four to 50, they say their bread and butter is the 12-to-15-year-old crowd. Pun, says Lasko, "uses slang and stuff" with his students.

"I really relate to how they think and what they're talking about in school," adds Pun.

Lasko, who had some music teachers who "made me feel horrible about myself," says she won't do that to her students. "It's so important to not only be the child's music teacher," she says, "but also their friend."

But while they can easily relate to their younger charges, they also can crack the whip.

"They're both very serious teachers," says Yumi Womack, whose eight-year-old daughter, Lana, has been studying violin with Lasko for a year. Though Lana had spent three years learning classical violin, with Lasko she focuses on jazz and Irish fiddle. Her daughter "loves it," Womack says.

It's their skill as performers that may most inspire their pupils, however.

Bluesman Corey Harris offers Lasko high praise on flyers around town: "She's sick," he says. "There's no cure a doctor can prescribe for her." (That's slang for "really good," for all you fuddy-duddies out there).

In addition to playing on Harris's upcoming CD, Lasko has performed with big stars like Celtic and bluegrass guitarist John McGann and even Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.

Pun, whose specialty is "fingerstyle," in which both hands are on the guitar's neck, has also won props from famous music celebrities. Following a stadium show in Boston, Dave Matthews Band saxophonist LeRoi Moore invited Pun to go on tour with them, playing in stadium parking lots with his music piped over speakers. He credits his hometown for that introduction and that opportunity.

"When you're that big, you meet so many people," says Pun of DMB. "But Charlottesville makes that connection."

While both Pun and Lasko love the idea of "making it" with their music, they're not looking to be typical rock stars.

"The MTV thing? That's not us," says Pun. "I'd just love to sell out a show at Starr Hill or the Prism."

They're hoping to sell out the Gravity Lounge on Thursday, December 9.

Jay Pun

Morwenna Lasko