By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times
As a classical music teacher and an emergency medical technician (EMT) with Birmingham Fire and Rescue (BFR), Ahmun Miles said she has found a calling in two fields – both which allow her to help others.
Miles, a classical pianist, is founder of the Piamistry School of Music, located at WaterMark Place in Bessemer, Alabama. The school introduces students to music through instruction for playing instruments like the piano and guitar, in addition to voice training and music production.
“I feel like it’s something God wanted me to do and led me to do,” Miles said about teaching music. “I just feel like [God] predestined me to teach music, to heal through music.”
Beyond her passion for music, Miles, 27, always wanted to be in the medical field, so she earned a paramedic degree from Jefferson State Community College (JSCC) and joined the BFR in 2018.
“When I [completed my studies at JSCC], I started working for a private ambulance service,” she said. “It just kind of happened. … I love science, as well, and I feel like I am here to just genuinely help people. So, I am just staying true to my purpose.”
Her day-to-day duties of saving lives provide a spiritual experience that she is able to tie back to her first love—music, Miles said.
“[Performing] is kind of the common denominator for me: performing a task, getting out there, just doing it,” she said. “Sometimes it reminds me of why God chose me to be in people’s lives, … whether it’s medically or musically. [I said to myself], ‘God gave you this talent and this skill set, so you have to go out and do it.’ … I believe that if we don’t use the talent God gives us, he’ll take it away. … Do what you were designed to do, and you fall in your purpose.”
In 2015, when she was just 21, Miles opened the Piamistry School of Music, where students are greeted with various instruments and musical elements in a space adorned with a plush couch and a fluffy rug; the school even has a studio. All ages are welcomed in a “judgement-free” environment, Miles said.
“The purpose behind Piamistry is not only to teach students how to play an instrument but also to teach them how to appreciate various styles of music, build stage presence and confidence, and cultivate skills and talents they can use as young entrepreneurs,” she said. “Piamistry teaches children how to be patient, it teaches them how to explore and use their imagination. It teaches discipline. If you learn how to be disciplined on the piano, … maybe you will be disciplined in math or science. You will have a different respect and approach for other subjects in school.”
The name of the school is comprised of two elements: the first three letters “pia” stems from the word “piano, and “mistry” stems from “chemistry,” Miles said.
“It represents having a strong connection and passion for music,” she added.
Music therapy brings out a lot, said Miles, explaining that “people are going through depression, kids are dealing with depression, some people have a lot of stuff going on at home, and they have no other outlet. Piamistry provides that outlet.”
An Ear for Music
Even though she has yet to reach age 30, Miles has put together an impressive resume. She studied with Young Musical Geniuses of Birmingham; became a member of the Birmingham Music Teachers Association and National Federated Music Club, receiving the Gold Cup three times and Silver Cup twice from the latter; studied Music Theory and Performance at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB); and in 2018 was named an Educational Partner by prominent piano manufacturer Steinway and Sons. Even with all of her accomplishments, Miles believes her true calling is the work she does with Piamistry.
Miles, who has a younger sister and two older brothers, was born in Birmingham in 1994 and raised in Bessemer. She attended Jonesboro Elementary and Davis Middle schools. She went to Midfield High School for her freshman and sophomore years, and eventually transitioned to the Alabama Homeschool Academy for her junior and senior years.
“In 9th and 10th grades, I dealt with low self-esteem,” Miles said. “The transition to home-school was super-beneficial to me because I was able to self-preserve. I was motivated more to do my schoolwork, set my own schedule, and have more free time. It was just a peaceful environment. A lot of people love to say that kids who are home-schooled grow up weird and lack social cues, but that wasn’t my experience at all.”
Miles’s musical foundation was established when she first touched a piano at 3 years old.
“In our home, my parents would always play music—classical music, different genres of music,” she said. “My oldest brother actually started playing piano before I did. He would sit down at the keys and just play, and I would be right there beside him listening.”
From there, it wasn’t hard for Miles to pick up on the rhythmic, feel-good melodies her brother would lay out. Eventually, she and her brother started playing side by side at their home church, Birmingham’s Community Privative Baptist Church, which strengthened her love for music, particularly classical.
“I will say that [classical music] is my first love and passion,” Miles said. “There’s just something about it, the technicality of it. … Wanting to be able to play what I heard is what inspired me to play start playing.”
Miles started piano lessons at age 13 to learn how to read music and study the art of performance. Shortly after the teen mastered her lessons, her mother, Dianne Miles, made a suggestion.
“My mom had an idea and said, … ‘Hey, instead of playing for yourself, why don’t you write and play for other people and get experience out there?’ … So, I did,” Miles said, adding that she performed as a solo artist at different events and volunteered to play at Children’s of Alabama, UAB, elementary schools, summer camps, and nursing homes. Her performances at elementary schools and nursing homes sparked her interest in music therapy and opening up the Piamistry School of Music.
“I would do this thing I called Composition of the Heart, [through which] I would create an activity to serve as a type of music therapy for elementary school students and nursing home residents,” Miles said. “Several residents and older students would get so involved in that.”
Participants would get emotional as she played, which fueled her curiosity.
“It just got to be this happy experience,” she explained. “[Some] people would leave crying. … Whenever I would do this activity, the music would bring out emotions for some people who had bottled them up. … [I started thinking that] I could do this as a professional musician.”
Miles’s popularity grew, and people asked her to perform at weddings, banquets, and churches eventually asking if she could teach them how to play an instrument.
“I was like, ‘OK, I never thought about being an instructor per se,’… but I kept getting asked about it,” she said. “Looking back now, it was definitely a sign.”
Next, Miles decided that she wanted to offer personal music lessons, so she and her mom advertised in their neighborhood.
“We literally took some chalk paint, drew out a sign that read ‘Piano Lessons,’ and stuck that sign in the yard,” she said. “My first student was my next-door neighbor, who saw the sign while walking down the street. … It just grew from there.”
After a year in business, Miles celebrated by putting on a performance at her building in WaterMark Place.
“I invited [Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley], pastors, lawyers, doctors, different people that I’d met along the way,” she said. “It kind of motivated me to invite every important person I could think of that I knew … and the few students I had. … I spoke to the crowd and introduced what I was doing.”
It was intimidating at first for Miles, who was 21 at the time.
“I was thinking, ‘What if they don’t show up? What if they don’t care what I have to say? To them, I’m just a kid.’ I was proven wrong. Everybody showed up,” Miles said.
Piamistry School of Music is located at 4500 Katies Way at WaterMark Place in Bessemer, Alabama. Virtual and in-person lessons are available. For scheduling or additional information, visit piamistry.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Facebook and Instagram @piamistry.