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Inside Musonia, School and Shrine to Rock God Guitarist Randy Rhoads

Run by Kelle Rhoads, Randy's brother, the business has been located in the North Hollywood area for over six decades.

It’s both the oldest music school in the Valley, and a shrine to a fallen rock god.

It’s a place where people have come to learn how to play piano and other instruments for over six decades, and also a place heavy metal fans have made pilgrimages to from all corners of the globe to commune with the spirit of a man considered one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time.

It’s called the , and it’s located where Tiara Street meets Laurel Canyon Boulevard, just south of Oxnard Street in the Valley Glen neighborhood.

Kelle Rhoads is the keeper of the flame, both for his mother, Delores Rhoads, a public school music teacher who founded Musonia in 1948, and his brother, Randy Rhoads, the legendary guitarist for the Ozzy Osbourne band, who died in a tragic plane crash in 1982.

Both Randy and Kelle Rhoads grew up in and around Musonia, both giving and taking lessons here, and playing their first shows in the Grand Salon.

Like his mother and brother, Kelle’s a naturally gifted musician. He started out playing drums, before stepping to the forefront as a singer-songwriter and guitarist. Most recently he’s released three critically-acclaimed albums of original piano music, Portraits of Oblivion, Titanic Overture and Pride & Profanity. 

His mother, a UCLA music grad who taught music in public schools, bought this parcel of land with two fellow music teachers in 1948. She had Musonia built to her specs, with the large, high-ceilinged Grand Salon in the center, and smaller rooms and practice spaces connected.

She laid the first bricks for the building herself, and invented the name, an amalgam of music and euphonia.

Musonia was never a home — as some people assume — but always a place where adults and children alike could come for affordable music lessons. To this day, it remains a music school, with several teachers, including Kelle, offering instruction in piano, drums, woodwinds, guitar and other instruments. Presently there are about 80 regular students who study at Musonia. In its heyday, there were upwards of 200.

But Musonia’s also a genuine rock and roll shrine, the place that devotees of Randy Rhoads come to from literally all around the world to pay their respects to this man who, although he only lived to his mid-20s, is considered one of the loftiest of all rock guitar gods by many fans.

Throughout the year, Kelle gives tours of Musonia to fans who make a pilgrimage to Tiara Street from places as far-flung as Australia and Japan. In the spirit of generosity that defined Randy, Musonia charges no fee for these tours.

You won’t find any computers here — or really any technology prior to 1960 or so. But you will find a panoply of antique instruments — trumpets, clarinets and cornets dating back to the civil war, antique violins of every size, small enough for children to play, several upright and grand pianos, and libraries of books and photographs.

You’ll also find a multitude of Randy Rhoads memorabilia: photographs, of course, and also guitars and awards and even the very room he used for practice, untouched since the day he died.

“[Randy] taught here in this room,” Kelle said. “And he practiced here. We preserved his room. When he left to go work with Ozzy, we left the room exactly as it was, and it’s become kind of a meditation center. Japanese people will book it a year in advance, and make a pilgrimage. They’ll go to his gravesite [in San Bernardino] and then into his room and meditate. So in a way it’s a shrine. Some have called it a living, working museum. Because we’re still operating as school.”

Although Musonia was warmly heated on this brisk winter day, in Randy’s room it’s always cold. No exaggeration.

Any YouTube of Randy’s performances with the Ozzy Osbourne band, such as the classic “Crazy Train,” which they co-wrote, shows why Randy remains so revered. The man was on fire. With the exception of Hendrix and Randy’s local pal Eddie Van Halen, few humans are considered to have ever achieved the kind of fluid virtuosity that he brought to the electric guitar. He could do it all — searing riffs to launch a song, crunchy rhythm parts to power it, and miraculous classically-tinged solos to make it sparkle and soar.

Just glance at Ozzy’s face when Randy begins to solo, and it’s in that look of astounded delight and deep respect that you see Randy’s impact first on Ozzy himself, reacting, as did their audience, with incredulity and joy. Randy’s talent was boundless, and he seemed to know it, and revel in it as much as anyone.

Like their mother, both Randy and Kelle shared a powerful allegiance to classical music. Although both brothers made their way into rock (Kelle recorded two albums as a solo artist), neither left classical music behind. Randy famously sought out classical guitar teachers at universities whenever he was on tour. He intended to take a break from touring with Ozzy to attend UCLA and get a music degree just like his mom, according to Kelle. Sadly, it was never to be.

Kelle, meanwhile, while not running Musonia and sharing its history, delved deeply into a remarkable career as a classical pianist, earning him kudos around the world for his unique dynamics both as a soloist and orchestral pianist.

Though he was open about the challenge of living in his brother’s formidable shadow, the pride he felt while discussing both his mother and his brother was palpable. Sitting like a king in the center of the Grand Salon, he generously shared with us the many layers of history that exist at Musonia.

“When my mom opened this school, there was nothing around here,” he said. “There were some houses on Tiara, but tiny houses. There used to be nothing across the street but a field, and we could see straight across to Califa.”

When the school opened, the entire surrounding area for miles was all called North Hollywood — before smaller, nearby areas started calling themselves "Valley Glen" and "Valley Village" and "Studio City." Musonia — which still considers itself to be in North Hollywood, like many, many businesses that ignore the newer neighborhood labels — also opened just a few years before the nearby Valley Plaza was built and kicked off a development boom in the area. Learn more about the Valley Plaza and its impact in North Hollywood-Toluca Lake Patch's .

Delores was born in San Bernardino on March 30, 1920, and started both learning music — and teaching — from a very young age.

“When she was nine, her teacher told her she had too many students, and she needed my mom to take some on,” Kelle said. “So she started teaching then. All in all, she taught for 78 years... My mom is a real, true dyed-in-the-wool musician of the old school. One of her professors was Arnold Schoenberg. Her dad was a doctor during the Depression, and he took a horn in on trade, ’cause people couldn’t pay him, and he was sick of eating oranges. So he took this cornet for her. She took to it. And her cornet teacher was Herbert Lincoln Clarke, who was John Phillip Sousa’s first cornetist. She is a direct link to people who learned their craft in the 19th century. 

“She plays 15 instruments, her main instruments were trumpet and cornet. She primarily excelled in brass. She changed a policy at UCLA when she was a music student there. A woman couldn’t sit first-chair in the brass section. Until my mom. My mom challenged this because she was so much better than the guys. So they had a little contest, she smoked them, and she was the very first woman that got to sit first-chair in a brass section. In the very early forties. She graduated in 1944 and got married. Plays piano, violin, flute, flugelhorn.”

Delores lived in Brentwood when she started Musonia, but recognized the potential of the Valley as the ideal place for her school.

“The San Fernando Valley was beginning to explode right after WWII, with all the soldiers coming back, all the housing tracts. She got the property for a good price,” Kelle said.

His mother subsequently moved to Burbank, where she lives to this day. By 1960, with Musonia a rapid success, she paid off her mortgage and has owned it outright ever since.

From the start, her mission was to provide affordable music lessons for adults and kids both.

“She didn’t want a private school that was expensive or exclusive,” said Kelle. “She wanted a school where someone who made an average income could come, and do something very affordable. And to this day, an adult can study guitar here for $76 a month — for four private lessons.”

Though she was teaching music at Mount Vernon Junior High when she started Musonia, its success was rapid and substantial, so that she was able to stop her public school teaching after one year, and devote all her energy to Musonia.

She appeared in one movie, People Will Talk, starring Cary Grant in 1951, both on the score as a musician, and onscreen as the french horn player. But she wanted a family, and so rather than concertize or do more film work, she devoted herself to Musonia full time and to her family. Her husband was a clarinetist, and they had three children: Kelle, the first born, came in 1952, then a daughter, Kathy, in 1955 and Randy in 1956.

“My parents divorced when we were quite young, my brother was 17 months,” Kelle said, “and my mother raised us alone.”

Though he didn’t speak much of his father, Kelle did mention an unusual parallel. “Eddie [Van Halen] and Randy are known as the quintessential guitar players of the 80s for L.A. And Eddie’s dad played clarinet, too.”

Back in the day, in addition to offering instruction, Musonia also had a store which sold instruments and other musical supplies.

“We used to sell a lot of band instruments out of here,” Kelle said. “A lot of people bought their trumpets and french horns and trombones from us. We were A Gretsch dealer in the ’50s, and sold Gretsch guitars and drums. But with the advent of Guitar Center and Sam Ash and some of the bigger retail stores, that pretty much wiped that out.”

Randy’s introduction to the guitar was sudden, as Kelle recalled, when one literally fell on him.

“My mom’s dad was a physician, and he played guitar as a means of relaxation. And one day when my brother was a little tiny kid, like five years old, he was snooping around in her closet, and the guitar that belonged to my grandfather, a 1918 Gibson Army-Navy Special, fell down and hit him in the head. He put it on the floor and he started to fool with it. About a year later, when my mom saw he was serious, she gave him lessons in acoustic guitar.”

It was Kelle who introduced Randy to rock and roll.

“I took him to the show that changed his entire life,” he said. “In 1971 I told him I was gonna take him to see Alice Cooper. He said, ‘Okay, who’s she?’  He thought that Alice was a folksinger. But he soon learned!”

The show was at the Long Beach Auditorium, a former vaudeville house. Kelle arranged for a friend’s mother to drive them. It changed their lives.

“After that concert, Randy decided that that was what he wanted to do,” 
Kelle said. “He said, ‘I can do this.’ Only he didn’t want to be Alice, he wanted to be his guitarist, Glen Buxton.”  

Although guitar was one of the few instruments his mother did not play, she did enlist excellent teachers, and Randy studied classical and acoustic styles of guitar playing for several years at Musonia before she consented to let him study electric. And to that end, she hired an excellent teacher, Scott Shelley, to teach electric guitar.

Of course, a significant aspect of rock guitar is the use of volume and feedback, and Shelley was not shy when it came to turning up to 10. So loud and fiery were the lessons that he gave to Randy that Delores moved the electric guitar department to the farthest wing of the school, so as not to drown out everything else going on.

At first Randy used electric guitars that belonged to the school. But when his father recognized how dedicated he was, he bought him his first electric guitar, an Ovation electric hollow-body guitar.

“The white Les Paul which he’s been associated with,” said Kelle, “didn’t come for about four or five years.” 

Randy absorbed everything Shelley could offer, and quickly surpassed his teacher in terms of knowledge and facility.

“Randy took lessons from Scott for nine months,” Kelle said, “and after that Scott came to my mom and said he couldn’t teach Randy anymore. She asked why, and he said, ‘Because he knows much, much more about guitar than I do.’ And that was it.”

 

Heidi Birker February 27, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Both my boys took lessons there and are now music minors in college. My best to Mrs. Rhoads and Kelle!
david greem March 24, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I've read your story twice.My only question is where San Bernardino did your mom li
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Neil Breakstone January 16, 2013 at 03:58 PM
I studied piano at Musonia from approximately 1959-1965 with Fern Vachon. During that time I was pianist under Mrs. Rhodes as conductor of the junior and senior bands as well as featured soloist in 1961 as a 10- year old with the senior band at MacArthur Park playing "Anitra's Boogie". I went on to obtain by undergraduate degree in piano performance (BM) at U.S.C. In 1973. From 1996-2008 I lived on Tiara Street about quarter mile east of Musinia and on occasion would stop by and chat with Mrs. Rhodes about the "old days". I remember her (and her mother!) as a very energetic, on-the-ball, knowledgeable musician who was very supportive of us kid musicians and invariably wearing a big smile. An inspiring human being! I now reside in Sedona, Arizona with wife and brilliant, aspiring concert pianist, 12- year old son, Jonah, who on 1-6-13, won 3rd place in the Yamaha Young Artists Competition at Arizona State University. Thank you Delores for sending me on my musical way! Neil Breakstone
Bob Cobb February 08, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Excellent read. I have a real admiration for the Rhodes family.
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Um, this is for "jakosez" who posted above. Do you think anyone is going to click on your stupid spammy scammy BS links? Why do you bother? Get the hell off of here and quit disrespecting the Rhodes family with this crap. You lowlife troll.

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