Expressions exists today as the result of many factors. One of the more interesting is how a young piano teacher named Jessica Schatz decided to go against her conservative nature, take a risk, and do something totally extreme.
In the words of Jessica herself, here’s how it happened…
I grew up taking music lessons like many kids, and fell in love with the beautiful sounds and versatility of the piano in particular. I started learning how to play the piano when I was 10 and was motivated to keep working at it until I got quite good. Throughout high school and college, I taught piano lessons to students of many different levels and ages at a music center in Troy, growing in my own love for music and also exploring my desire to help others to grow through music. While teaching, I began to form philosophies and develop methods to help conquer the most prevalent challenge I encountered – motivating students to practice. I knew that most students enjoyed music and learning how to create it, but when it came to practicing at home, it could be a battle sometimes! I researched and tested for years while dreaming of operating my own private studio where I could freely and fully implement my ideas. Some students were motivated by performance opportunities or competitions, others by level-based systems of advancement, others by consistent goal planning, others by reward programs, others by great music, others by technology, and still others by group atmospheres. The trick, I learned, was to make all of these resources available to students so each could have the opportunity to discover their own natural motivation factor.
In May of 2009, I graduated from Rochester College with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and with great enthusiasm, opened my own studio out of my dad’s house, the Novi Piano Academy. Business was slow at first as the Novi Piano Academy had only attracted three students in four months. I did notice, however, that these three students were motivated and excelling beyond any other students I had ever taught. I focused on immersing my students in all the many exciting facets of music – not just in the technicalities of playing the piano. I wanted to ignite their curiosity for the larger world of music by giving them a “music university experience”, and by tapping into their unique motivational styles. True to my nature, I was meticulously organized in my planning, record keeping, and policies and was ready for many, many more students. By the end of December, my wish had come true as the Novi Piano Academy had grown to 18 students. Between the referrals and the website, and despite my own fears and frustrations, my little business had really started to take off.
With expectations of continued growth for the future, I started to wonder if something bigger might be a possibility. The Novi Piano Academy had, after all, grown quicker than I anticipated. My philosophies were really working and I was starting to gain some confidence. What if my ideas could be reproduced, passed on to other instructors, and made accessible to many more students than just my own? What if I could create a place where students of all instruments, ages, and levels of experience could come and be exposed, inspired, and immersed in the world of music? I knew that this was a unique idea. Other music companies focused on selling sheet music and instruments primarily and then offered lessons in the back of the store as a secondary source of revenue. What if there was a place that poured all of its attention, time, energy, and resources into music education alone? And what if it wasn’t some other person in the world that opened this wonderful and necessary place…but me?
Well, the problem here is that I was an overly practical and rather unadventurous 24 year-old just barely out of college and paying off my school loans. I had the dream, the idea, and the vision, but really… how does someone actually bridge that huge gap between a dream and making it a reality? For me, this gap felt like an impossibly huge chasm, and I was afraid to cross it. Honestly, I didn’t think I could. I was in a constant wrestling match between my fears and this feeling that I just knew was right – this feeling that I had the ability and the responsibility to touch so many more lives through everything I had learned.
At this point in the story enters Mark Schatz, my dad and my biggest hero and supporter. My dad and I had talked before about “how cool it would be” to expand my music business into something much larger. These were just imaginary types of conversations, of course – just two people dreaming about something that neither of us really believed would ever happen. One day in November, just a few months after the Novi Piano Academy had really started taking off, my dad and I were cleaning out the basement for a family Christmas party. We were chatting about different topics and as usual, our conversation drifted to the music school idea. This time, however, it took a different turn. I started asking my dad some serious questions in a very serious way. Could this be something I could actually pursue rather than just think about all the time? Can normal people do things like this? Normal people without money or exciting backgrounds or business education? What would I have to do? What was the first step? And then, in a series of surreal moments that I would never forget, the person I trusted and respected more than anyone else in the world told me that I could… and should… do it. My dad said that if I was really passionate about this idea and wanted to pursue it, that I could, and that he would support me all the way. At this point you have to understand that my dad didn’t just say things like this. Mark Schatz wasn’t one to take big risks himself much less inspire his daughter to do so without really believing it was a good idea. He actually thought I had a shot. And that was the catalyst that sparked my life changing decision.
The next ten months hosted a whirlwind of events that hardly even seemed real. Always with the support and assistance of my dad, I wrote several business and financial plans, secured a commercial space for rent, hired instructors, built systems and procedures, wrote an operation’s manual, launched a website, turned the commercial space into a music academy facility, bought pianos, attended a studio directors seminar in Washington D.C., designed a logo, delivered 20,000 door hangers around the area, and continued teaching and operating the Novi Piano Academy (which had grown to 40 students with a waiting list by the end of the summer). The new academy was first named the “Novi School of Music” which was changed to “Finesse Music Academy” and then finally to “Expressions Music Academy”. I knew this name was right because my main goal was to help students to express themselves through music in a way they could never do otherwise. This was the magic of music for me, and I knew others could experience it as well. I compensated for my lack of business experience and knowledge by seeking and accepting help, researching and reading books, and working at a frantic pace until I dropped exhausted every night. That time period between November 2009 and August 2010 was one of the most difficult and also one of the most exhilarating times that will forever define both my life and the life of Expressions Music Academy.
In September 2010, Expressions opened its doors for the first time. About 30 new students joined my original 40 students by the end of October and from there began a steady increase until now. Today, still with the help of my dad who is now employed by Expressions, and now also with the help of my incredible staff and instructors, I am fully grounded in the reality of Expressions Music Academy and all the lives that it has changed and will continue to change. The story of Expressions is added onto daily as students, staff, and instructors make their mark in the history of the academy. I frequently get chills and occasionally experience joyful tears as I witness the incredible growth of our students and staff – musically and otherwise. I have always had this really strong desire to coach, motivate, and mentor people to their full potential, and I find myself doing so more passionately than ever now. My dad is someone who did (and still does) this for me, and it changed my life. I just have this very strong feeling that I, along with my staff and faculty, will do the same for so many others through this special place. I have seen it happen already, and I just know that Expressions is here for a reason doing what it is supposed to be doing in this world. I still work long hours and refuse to ever stop making improvements and enhancements in this place as I live my dream every single day. I am committed to my students (now over two thousand if you count the entire academy) more than ever as I strive to impact and touch every precious person who walks through our doors.