Roll Over Beethoven

Music teacher gets all ages to play along

By Jessica Laskey
May 2024

You’ll probably never meet anyone more passionate about music than Benjamin J. McClara.

The founder and artistic director of Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy, a community-based education program, gets choked up when he talks about music.

He shares that passion with hundreds of students and community musicians in academy lessons and performances.

“Our mission is to provide lifelong access to music education and a place where students can come and study music with professionals,” McClara says. “You don’t really get that in school.”

The academy offers private and group lessons at Midtown’s E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts in piano, guitar, ukulele, woodwinds and voice under McClara, Michael Dale and Anthony Tavianini.

McClara is versed in a huge array of instruments. Born in Oak Park, he started playing music in elementary school when his family moved to Carmichael. He played drums, trumpet, trombone and tuba. He took up electric bass in seventh grade.

As a Rio Americano High School student, he played rock with friends in a garage band. He wrote music and learned how to multitrack record on a Tascam audio recorder.

After graduation, he moved to Yosemite and made music with new friends, including bandmates who founded the music program at American River College.

He studied music with jazz pianist Joe Gilman, whom McClara calls “one of Sacramento’s greatest music educators,” and earned a bachelor’s degree in music at Sacramento State.

McClara taught one year in the Sacramento City Unified School District, then learned there was no money for a second year. He switched to subbing. Uncertainty led him to start the music academy in 2011.

He made the academy a nonprofit in 2015 and moved into the Raley studios in 2016, the same year he started a major musical project.

The Beatles Guitar Project began as a labor of love. McClara loves the Beatles. He also insists that “as guitar teacher, if you do not teach the Beatles, you’re missing a massive point in history that is so ruthlessly important. (Rock) didn’t start with the Beatles, but it did end up in their hands and they did the most with it.”

McClara transcribes and arranges Beatles albums to include rhythm section, strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and choir. He invites students to rehearse weekly alongside professional musicians, culminating in yearly performances that tour the region to raise funds for the academy.

“Learning these skills can serve them for the rest of their lives, so they take it pretty seriously,” McClara says.

The project’s May concert will feature early Beatles music. The fall show will be a two-day recital of all the Beatles “Live at the BBC” sessions. By the end of this year, the project will have tackled every Beatles record.

“Some of the kids get it and some are pretty young—we have 8- and 9-year-olds onstage sometimes—and they won’t really realize the magnitude for years,” McClara says. “When I look back, I wish I had this as a kid. That’s when (the music academy) really comes full circle for me.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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