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Past, Present … and Future
by Michael Riggs, President, Perfect Praise, Inc.
Although Denie Riggs and I (Michael) have been teaching most of our adult lives, our incorporated business began 25 years ago this summer. Since July 1996, Early Childhood Music and Music Helps Autism programs were born, and several other life-changing music programs have been developed. Lives of several hundred, if not thousands of students across America and even internationally, have been changed by the amazing power of music through our God-centered ministry.
We give Glory to the Father for every student who has touched our lives.
25 years ago this summer Denie and I began what was called the Muscle Shoals Music Academy, Inc. (MSMA) They began in a very small space, pictured below, on John R St. in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
This little space was a 250 square-foot building. It contained a bathroom, 3 large computer carts with computers, and 7 Yamaha Clavinova pianos. On a good day it was possible to turn around in that building.
We struggled for six months, but then landed on something to cause the business to ignite and grow.
On a Friday afternoon Denie and I were driving separately coming home from my work, and asking the Lord why this new little business was struggling so. His response to Denie was that the Muscle Shoals Music Academy is eternal and was under spiritual warfare. His response to me, (Michael) was that we need to quit worrying about getting and keeping students and focus on training musicians for ministry. We came together that night and discussed our interactions in prayer and immediately adopted as our business slogan, “Training Musicians for Ministry”. Immediately our business began to grow and within five months we had outgrown that little facility and moved to a space 10 times the size… Literally 2500 ft.²￼
In this new building, on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Denie and I worked from early morning till late at night, remodeling this building and making it ready for students. This was in December 1996 and January 1997. We saw the Lord’s blessing on our business in that new location. By May 1997 we’d grown from 65 students to 200 students. The growth there continued. By summer of 1998 we were teaching 300 students weekly.
It was at that point that Denie got an idea that pushed us into a new business model.
She was doing research on the Internet for a book she was writing called Piano Improvisation. She stumbled on research that said that the most impactful time for children to study piano is between 3 and 4 years of age. At that time we did not teach students younger than 7 1/2 years, second semester second grade. We taught only traditional private piano lessons using traditional curriculum.
With that new knowledge, Denie went in search of a curriculum to teach piano to 3 year old children. She was looking for a preschool music curriculum that was 1) piano-based 2) fun 3) parent-based and 4) Christian.
The search didn’t go well; there was nothing out there. She found only one piano curriculum for 3 year olds, called Harmony Road. There were only six lessons. She asked the author to expand the material beyond her 6 week program, but the author was not interested, as she was having trouble marketing it; most wanted curriculum for 5 years not 3. But Denie wanted a program for 3 year olds, because that is what the music research was regarding.
Without anywhere else to look for a curriculum, Denie asked permission to purchase the six-week Harmony Road curriculum, planning to add Christian music, traditional music and more piano activities. This was the beginning of a new adventure for Denie. She says that she felt like God made her into a song-writing machine. Everything she looked at became a song. Tick Tock Goes the Clock … I’m a Duck in the Park.
So song-by-song and department-by-department … Early Childhood Music was born.
The result was an amazing, non-traditional piano curriculum, that spans from Prenatal Curriculum through 7 years of fun, musical activities focused on the piano as the main instrument, but also includes guitar and recorder. Over the next ten years, Denie wrote hundreds of songs and age-appropriate curriculum for each age group. Our Early Childhood Music program has now become our strongest program and what we’ve become known for since 1998 – “Early Childhood Music… Give them the Best Start”
We have been privileged to teach several thousands of young students and work with thousands of families. We have also made many many many lifelong friends thru our Early Childhood Music program.
In 2000 we were blessed to acquire our own property and built our own building at 2409 Wildwood, Muscle Shoals Alabama.
Myself, being the shortsighted one that I sometimes am, just assumed that we would be there for life.
Again God interrupted our thoughts with His…
In 2001 we were given the opportunity to start teaching our Early Childhood Music program at AB Stephens Music (2828 Drake Avenue, Hsv) in Huntsville Alabama. We will be forever grateful to the owner, Mr. Steve Koslow for giving us that invitation and that opportunity.
The growth of our Huntsville school was slow to begin with.
Mrs. Marsha Everett, our then MSMA Office Administrator, and Denie held an AB Stephens Open House to kick start the Huntsville program. They sat there for 3 hours with no one attending. But, incredibly, 15 minutes before the Open House was to be over, a man walked in and registered his two daughters, desiring to pay for one year in advance! God showed his faithfulness and anointing on our efforts to expand in Huntsville. If that had not happened, we might have never moved to the city of our largest growth.
We started our AB Stephens Music Huntsville school with three students in one class on Friday afternoon. Then we grew to 25 students, and then 75. It seems at that point that again God just breathed on our program and we begin to grow beyond our imagination.
We have been so blessed to have a presence in multiple locations in North Alabama since 2001. At one time, we had 4 operating schools at the same time: Decatur, Hampton Cove, Muscle Shoals and in AB Stephens Music. We felt that was too much running and made a decision to put all our efforts into once school to calm the chaos!
We have also been blessed to have partners in Huntsville who have taught our program and also allowed us to rent their facilities. One such partner is Valley Fellowship Church and Valley Fellowship Christian Academy. In 2005 we were given the opportunity to teach our ECM programs at Valley Fellowship Christian Academy.
We have had a long-standing wonderful relationship with VFCA since that time. What a blessing they are to Perfect Praise Music and to the city of Huntsville and North Alabama. Thank you so very much for our partnership.
One thing that Denie and I were fully aware of was that, in moving us to Huntsville, God was preparing us for an international presence and a program which would affect babies, preschoolers and young children in the nations. “After all”, we thought, “Huntsville is ROCKET CITY and what happens there goes into orbit around the world.”
Again in 2001, we got a call in our office from Mrs. Marianne Scroop (Jonathan Marianne Scroope) in Johannesburg South Africa, who said she wanted to start “The Muscle Shoals Music Academy of South Africa”. She came here for a couple weeks to observe our schools and went home to teach our program there.
It was as a result of our move to the city of Huntsville that we changed our name from the Muscle Shoals Music Academy, Inc. to Perfect Praise, Inc.
As Denie and I were driving to Huntsville from Muscle Shoals, to our appointment with the city to get a Huntsville business license, we discussed the fact that we probably needed a different name to get a business license in Huntsville Alabama than Muscle Shoals Music Academy.
Denie has just concluded writing our Give them the Best Start Prenatal Curriculum, based on Psalm 8:2 and Matthew 21:16. As soon as we began to talk about what name we would choose, Matthew 21:16 came into mind. In this verse Jesus asks the question, “…have you not heard that out of the mouths of babes and unweaned infants God has perfected praise?” We agreed that this was it… We will call ourselves Perfect Praise, Inc. Since that day we have gone by that name excitedly, because the foundation of what we do is teach babies from the womb to worship the Creator and praise Him through music. That is who we are. That is what we do and always will do.
Having a presence in South Africa made us realize the potential of touching the nations. It birthed a passion in us. Since then we’ve been able to have an influence in the nations of Antigua, Grenada, Barbados, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Albania, Spain and England… to name those that we know of. It is our desire to continue to touch the nations of the world with what God was birthing in us in those early days a quarter of a century ago, even though we were not aware of it.
I cannot share about our history without telling the story of how our non-traditional piano program has affected those with special needs. We discovered that quite by accident, as students with special needs enrolled in our typical Early Childhood Music Classes. We found that they could grasp this non-traditional curriculum as it internalized the learning process, making it achievable. As soon as these students began interacting with the piano, music began to do it’s amazing work.
Soon we were witnessing amazing breakthroughs in their young lives. MANY non-verbal children ages 4 and up began singing first then speaking. Their hand-eye coordination improved, language development, attention spans improved, had new ability to sleep, improved ability to be potty-trained and many more non-musical benefits.
As time went on, autism become a hot topic. A morning talk show that was broadcasting an autism therapy every week day for the month of April, 2012. Denie purposely stayed at home every morning to watch that show, waiting for them to cover MUSIC! The last day of the month, they were interviewing someone who had developed tennis therapy for those with special needs. Denie found herself talking to the broadcasters, “Has no one ever told you about how music helps autism?” Hearing those words come out of her mouth, she determined to write a book called, Music Helps Autism. (MHA) It took her a year to write it while administering the ECM school. (The book is available on Amazon or through our office), and she launched the book the following April 2013.
Denie and the board working with her, determined that the best way to tell the story of the power of piano for those with special needs, they decided to do an Autism and Music Case Study. Working with Autism Therapists in our area, we held a scientifically documented study with 20 families of children with autism. The results of this eight-week study, was nothing short of a miracle! 6 out of 7 non-verbal children began saying new words during that concentrated music course. You can read her final MHA Case Study Report on this website. Since that time, we have worked with countless families of these precious children across American and in foreign countries.
Wow! In this 25th year of our business and its ministry, our biggest pursuit and the area of our biggest investment continues to be our Internet presence so that babies and toddlers and preschoolers and young children, and teenagers and adults, and senior citizens, and those with special needs can pursue music and the passion that is innate in all of us… To worship the Creator.
To that end Perfect Praise Music, and our Early Childhood Music, and our corporate entity Perfect Praise, Inc., exist and step into the next quarter century. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and from the very cells of our being for all those who have been a part of our business these 25 years and continue with us into the next season.
We believe God has great things ahead … exciting things. We cannot wait to share them with you!
Thank you to all those who have and continue to partner with us as teachers and training institutions. Thank you to all those who have and continue to pray for us and our business and our assignments. All of you are such blessings to us as we look back on the last 25 years of our lives. (2 Corinthians 1:11)
We invite you, our precious students, current and past, to share memories of your time spent with Perfect Praise Music and Early Childhood Music and our Music Helps Autism programs.
Scroll down below this post and leave a Comment, give a Testimony, Share a Song, Post Pictures of then and now, … Share your heart and let’s together celebrate God’s amazing gift of love through the power of music!
Thanks for the amazing memories … we treasure each and every one!
President Perfect Praise, Inc.
From our Scrap Book!
Some of these pictures are some from our earliest days in MSMA. Check back… we are digging out from piles of pics. Share yours with us!