Samses devote their life to bringing music to youth of Kirkland

Renting out musical instruments to high school students is not how most people think of celebrating their 10th anniversary.

Renting out musical instruments to high school students is not how most people think of celebrating their 10th anniversary.

However, that is how Eric and Elizabeth Samse spent their’s last fall as the managers of Metropolitan Music at Totem Plaza. A music retailer offering affordable instrument rentals, its 10 studio rooms provide private lessons from a selection of 20 long-time Eastside music instructors, in addition to world music classes for toddlers and preschoolers.

The Samses opened the store after they were approached by long-time friends and colleagues Paul and Jean McVicar, who first opened Metropolitan Music in the Maple Leaf neighborhood of North Seattle in 2004. The couples first met while Paul McVicar was managing the Mills Music in Lynnwood, where Eric Samse worked before transferring to the Redmond store.

At the time the McVicars approached them about the idea, Elizabeth and Eric Samse, who play the flute and drums respectively, were doing private lessons out of their home and at the Music Mills in Redmond and Bothell. Although they had worked previously on the retail sales floor at Mills Music stores, handling the business aspect of one was an entirely new area for them.

“We had to think long and hard to get into the retail side,” Elizabeth Samse said.

At the same time, the Samse’s saw it as an opportunity to have more control over how they handled things compared to previous arrangements, such as customer service.

“They (McVicar) allow us a lot more autonomy,” Elizabeth Samse said, a Juanita High graduate who grew up on Finn Hill.

The arrangement also worked well for the Samses, who homeschool two of their children, Reagan, 7, and Nathaniel, 5, both of whom play the piano, while the youngest, Benjamin, stays in daycare.

“I’m a teacher at heart, so I really enjoy it,” Elizabeth Samse said. “I know it would drive some people crazy, but I like having my kids around. They’ve been really involved in the whole process.”

After searching for an appropriate location, they finally found a place in Totem Square in August, just as the local school districts were about to start and students rent instruments in anticipation for the music programs. Looking to get as many customers as possible, the Samses attended as many parents’ nights as possible, spending their anniversary at separate schools trying to rent out instruments, a prospect of which they expect in the future unless their anniversary happens to fall on a weekend.

“I felt like we hardly got a gasp of air,” Eric Samse said, adding “We got a respectable amount for not being known.”

For the Samse’s, the appeal of Metropolitan Music is that it meets two needs that are often hard to provide for music students, particularly in high school, offering high quality rental instruments that can perform at the level necessary to play competently that are also within budget range for those who are new to playing.

“I think their (McVicar’s) mission is removing barriers to success,” Elizabeth Samse said. “Rental is a balance between money with a high quality instrument accessible to students for a price but meets teachers’ expectations.”

“You can get a good quality instrument and not have to pay a lot of money for it,” Eric Samse said.

The store also allows renters to build up credit that can be used towards eventually purchasing an instrument. A child starting out renting a smaller violin, for example, can accumulate credit to use when buying a full-size violin when they’ve fully grown.

Though rental affordability is important, Elizabeth Samse said that for most customers money is not the primary issue, but being able to fit music in with other activities.

“We’re competing with time rather than the budget,” she said. “Music takes so much time and commitment.”

The Samses said there is still a heavy emphasis on the quality of the instruments. They plan to install a repair shop in the back of the store, and a luthier handles stringed instruments after they’re shipped due to changes caused by differences in climate and humidity.

Eric Samse said it’s critical that instruments sound correct for beginning students and families who aren’t as familiar with music.

“If it doesn’t sound right kids get discouraged right away,” he said. “If you’re equipping them with a good instrument you’re taking that out of the equation…We try to make it simple and easy so those who don’t (know) don’t have to become an expert.”

“I think (we) help parents to navigate the world of music and instruct and help with that fear factor,” Elizabeth Samse said. “We’re not trying to sell them the most expensive instrument.”

The Samses do encourage new students to take private lessons, however, saying a typical music teacher is limited in what they can teach when they have to instruct an entire class.

“I tell first time students the first year is the hardest, but afterwards it becomes more fun,” Elizabeth Samse said.

They attribute their success in amassing nearly two dozen private instructors to the fact that they give the teachers the same autonomy granted to them.

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