Keeping MI Retail Contemporary: Menzie Pittman of Virginia’s Contemporary Music Center

Menzie Pittman of Virginia’s Contemporary Music Center.

Whether he knows it or not, Menzie Pittman has always been an entrepreneur.

Virginia's Contemporary Music CenterBefore his store Virginia’s Contemporary Music Center was even a thought, the drum teacher had 96 students, 20 students on a waiting list, and worked with a handful of school bands.

And that’s not even counting the bands that Pittman performed in.

Still, at the end of the day, the Contemporary Music Center owner finds it hard to unwind when there’s so much to juggle between the store’s (very successful) two locations in Chantilly and Haymarket, Virginia.

“I kind of knew in 1989 what to expect, as far as no ‘off switch.’ That’s the one thing they don’t tell you, when you go to open your own business, they don’t tell you there’s no off switch, they don’t tell you that the thing never sleeps, you don’t have an off switch, you’re just on all the time,” Pittman says.

But if anyone was made to handle the stress and duress of managing 8,000 square feet of store, it’s Pittman. With almost 30 years of business experience under his belt, and a lifetime of teaching and performing ingrained into his system, Pittman is the man you’d want as the captain of any ship – and he has the success and history at Virginia’s Contemporary Music Center to prove it.

Pittman Family Values

Pittman grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, surrounded by musical talent in one of the most pivotal periods of rock ‘n’ roll history. In the midst of the explosion of the British Invasion in the 60s, Pittman’s siblings dabbled in rockabilly, James Brown, and Elvis. His father, who played professionally in a jazz band until his 30s, stayed in music his whole life, playing about three days a week.

“My father was a professional saxophonist, so that was the catalyst to my exposure to music. I often joke and say my first gig was as a roadie,” Pittman says.

Between helping his father with his gear when going to shows, to seeing the frequent living room rehearsals of his dad’s 7-piece band, Pittman’s involvement with music grew rapidly by the time he was a teenager.

“In the house, it really affected all of us, because there wasn’t anyone who met my father who didn’t immediately revere what he did, so that spoke to me growing up,” Pittman adds. “We couldn’t agree on everything in the house, but we always agreed that music was reverent.”

When Pittman founded a band in high school, things never blew up for the young rockers, but every member of the group went pro at some point afterwards. While one member is now an actor, two are studio musicians, and one works in commercial music, Pittman went pro in an entirely different way.

When Pittman was about to take over the business that would become Contemporary Music Center, he had 96 students (with a waiting list of 20 students), worked for three high school marching bands, and was in two different freelance bands. From that point on, Pittman realized that freelance performances would probably be the best fit with his new schedule and responsibilities.

After performing in a total of fifteen-plus bands over the span of his career, Pittman doesn’t play for a living anymore, but the idea of starting a new project is never off the table. “I don’t perform for income anymore. I’ve closed that door but I never lock it – it’s always unlocked.”

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