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Turn up the volume: Music Land celebrates 50 years in Harford County

Three young members of the Homeschool of Rock jostled through the front door of Music Land, instrument cases in hand.

Liam Wilmoth, 15 (on bass), Daroch Wilmoth, 13, (on guitar) and Ryan Wilmoth, 10, (on drums) are a regular and popular fixture at the monthly open mic sessions at the Bel Air music store, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

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As the name of their band suggests, the Wilmoth siblings have been educated at home long before COVID-19 temporarily shuttered Maryland schools. Music Land provides the brothers with instruments, lessons and the rare chance to rock out Metallica in front of supportive strangers.

Jerry Davison, who specializes in repair of guitars, cellos and violas at Music Land, works on a guitar in the shop. The store sells and repairs instruments, gives lessons and hosts live performances.
Jerry Davison, who specializes in repair of guitars, cellos and violas at Music Land, works on a guitar in the shop. The store sells and repairs instruments, gives lessons and hosts live performances. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

“It’s a great opportunity for kids — and especially kids who are home-schooled — to perform on stage in front of crowds,” said Ayrin Wilmoth, 41, the boys’ mother and the band’s chief roadie. “It boosts their confidence. Practicing at home just doesn’t compare to being able to come out and play for a live audience.”

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Feedback like that makes Larry Noto smile. Noto, 45, quit his job as director of marketing and communications for the National Aquarium in 2015 to run Music Land after Joe Noto, his father and the store’s founder, passed away at age 72.

Noto has taken pains to preserve his father’s legacy by re-christening the store (it’s now officially “Joe Noto’s Music Land”) and decorating the exterior with photos. But, he’s also added his own touches — including a new performance space and monthly open mic.

Other innovations included computerizing the inventory and sales systems and adding a humidity-controlled room for acoustic guitars. In 2016, the National Association of Music Merchants honored Music Land with its “best store turnaround” award.

“My dad and I had always talked about working together,” Noto said. “I’d think, ‘I’m killing myself working for other people, and I could be doing all this for family.’ ”

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Larry Noto, owner of Music Land, took over the business when his father died 6 years ago. The store sells and repairs instruments, gives lessons and hosts live performances.
Larry Noto, owner of Music Land, took over the business when his father died 6 years ago. The store sells and repairs instruments, gives lessons and hosts live performances. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Joe Noto left Italy for the U.S. in 1958 when he was 16. In 1971, he founded Music Land in Bel Air to sell bugles, saxophones and violins. Today, school band instruments make up half Music Land’s business. And from the beginning, the store taught customers how to pipe on their piccolos.

”My father’s specialties were accordion and keyboard, but he could play anything,” Larry Noto said.

Customers like Gray Gold began dropping by Music Land just to hang out with Joe. In 1984, Gold was a music-crazy kid who began sweeping the floor and doing other odd jobs as an excuse to soak up the atmosphere.

“Joe paid me in record albums and music magazines,” Gold, now 61, said. “I thought that was great.”

It was Joe Noto who helped Gold get his first teaching job. Now retired, Gray still teaches at Music Land three nights a week.

And it was Joe Noto who opened a studio in the back of the shop so instruments could be repaired on site, instead of being sent to a specialist.

On a recent weekday, technician Gary Linderborn attached slivers of cork to the keys of a clarinet while repairman Jerry Davidson fine-tuned a Fender Telecaster guitar for the customer who had just purchased it.

“It’s satisfying to have someone bring you a guitar that’s having issues and that is difficult to play,” Davidson said. “By the time you’re done with it, you’re getting the best sound that instrument can give.”

Joe Noto’s Music Land, 200 Gateway Drive, Bel Air, is open Mondays through Saturdays. 410-879-1079. musiclandstore.com

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