Classic Sounds says farewell

Classic Sounds says farewell

Matthew John, Ziggy Atwell, Andrew John, Allison-Ackerman-John, Rachel John, Morley John, Margaret John and Katherine John celebrate the 10th anniversary of Classic Sounds, in 2011.

For the past 22 years the John family has been the rhythm section of the local community. Their support and drive has allowed young local musicians to reach for life’s high notes, while Classic Sounds has provided a solid bass for social harmony.

But this weekend that will all change, as the family closes the doors on Classic Sounds for the last time.

The community has been invited to bid farewell to an era on Saturday from 10am-12pm, with a sausage and a song.

The memories have already started to flood in, shared by decades of customers and music students for whom Classic Sounds has had a profound impact.

Because, the John family business is not just a music shop, or a music school, a performance space, or an instrument repair workshop – although it is all of those things too.

As Katherine John explains, Classic Sounds is more of a community centre.

“We’ve always welcomed everyone, and we’ve been a safe space for so many,” she said.

“It might not be an accolade, but I think it’s what we’re most proud of.”

In 2001, at the age of 55, Morley John retired from Alcoa, and used his super to fund his lifelong dream of opening a music shop, in partnership with his wife Margaret.

It wasn’t long before the entire family – including the family dog – came on board to help.


In fact, three generations of Johns have now served the community from the Railway Avenue storefront.

The Kelmscott store quickly grew to be a thriving business, and Morley paid that local loyalty back in spades through community initiatives like his work experience program, and the two decades-long sponsorship of an award for excellence in music education at the University of Western Australia.


Four years after the opening of the retail store, the youngest John daughter, Katherine, took a chance on launching a dedicated music school from the same location.

“There was such a need for it in the area, because there was – and still is – nothing else like it,” she said.

“It grew to over 300 students in just over 18 months, and peaked at 400 students at one point. We employ a steady staff of 20 teachers.”

It wasn’t long before the Classic Sounds Vocal Ensemble was borne, and then the Classic Sounds Performance Troupe, which launched the careers of many young performers, some who have gone on to achieve international fame.


The Classic Sounds Orchestra came next, a project which became so popular it’s become an association.

In 2010, Morley and Margaret purchased the shop next door and tore down the adjoining wall, to create a dedicated live music space – Studio Nine.

As one of only a few live venues in the area, Studio Nine has been a huge boon for the local music scene.

Then, after a trip to America to study guitar building, Morley came home to introduce instrument repairs, and guitar building workshops into the fray.

“I’m very proud of the many outlets to engage with music that we’ve provided the community,” Morley said.
“I feel very satisfied.”

With tendrils reaching into so many aspects of the local community, it’s understandable there has been a swell of sadness that it will all come to a close.

But it’s not without good reason, deep contemplation or concerted efforts to pass the torch on.

In May this year, Margaret suddenly and sadly passed away.

“Dad was the face of the business, but mum was the heart and soul,” Katherine said.

“She was the smiling face in the background, and without her this shop wouldn’t have run.

“There are also the continued strains of running a small business, which get harder and harder without adequate government support. This was absolutely the right choice for us as a family.”

Katherine said several attempts to sell the business fell through.

“To run a place like this, it takes vision, passion, drive, and commitment. Mum and Dad had all of that – but they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” she said.

Morley said after working in the shop six days a week for the past 20 years he’ll feel strange on Monday when he no longer has to come in.

“I am sad that it is closing – saying goodbyes are difficult,” he said.

But he’s also excited about what the future holds, and is considering continuing to operate an instrument repair business in his spare time.

The family’s Rock Recycle business – which converts old and unused instruments into household furniture – will live on too.

And Rachel John will also play a part in keeping the legacy alive by continuing with the Classic Sounds Orchestra Association.

There’s a bittersweet feeling in the air inside the Classic Sounds shop, as the last of the instruments and sheet music start to dwindle from the racks.

Soon only the memories will remain.

Katherine said she’s grateful for the journey, for the community’s support, and for the many customers who have become lifelong friends over the years.

While Morley added that he wishes all past and present customers well and hopes they “continue in their music ventures”.

“That’s what mum would say too – ‘stay positive and keep the music alive’.”