Fifteen years ago, John Kolbrich wanted a career change. With a passion for the accordion that stemmed from childhood, he decided to veer far away from his analytical engineering sales and marketing career toward a creative path lined with treble and clef notes.
John literally awoke from a dream where he visualized a music school that would engage young and young at heart and help them discover the same love of music he had. He sketched his vision and contacted an architect who brought his vision to reality in Orlando.
Fast forward twelve years and four thriving music schools later and John’s friend was looking to sell her popular musical school in Westchase. John jumped at the opportunity to expand his reach into Tampa through the centrally-located busy music school on Countryway Boulevard. John’s wife, Marge, is a retired music educator from Canada, and also shares her passion and love of music in all the schools.
The then two year old school, continued under John and Marge’s new ownership and has been flourishing ever since, with over 300 students starting as young as four years old and those in K-12 attending.
“It’s based on the age where they can sit and be engaged for a thirty-minute lesson,” said John. “Our lessons are fun and our job at this point is to create a love of music in their lives. If we can do that, they will learn anything in the future. If we make it really hard, like old-school, then they glaze over.”
For those students not sure of what they want to play, the school offers a one month Music Marathon program where each week they get to try up to four different instruments. By the end of the month, they know what they want, and seem to be much more successful.
Twenty instructors teach in lesson rooms decorated with artwork of students and other bright, cheerful images. Each lesson room is adorned with the name of a famous musician, and pianos of all types, drums, guitars, band instruments – brass and woodwinds, ukulele, bass guitar, cello, violin instruments are just a few of the instruments that the students are taught to use to fill the rooms with music. Voice lessons are also available. A computer lab with interactive age-appropriate music software allows students to apply learn theory in addition to what was taught to them in the lesson. As part of the school’s family safety plan, each instructor is thoroughly background checked and each room has glass doors and video cameras that can be viewed from the waiting area. Students perform regularly in the waiting area in front of parents, and other students after their lesson and during a once a month open mic session on Saturday morning. This gives them a mini-venue to work the bugs out of their performance.
The school also offers short term coaching and preparation for advanced students auditioning for advanced high school or college level. Several students have won generous college scholarships in oboe, bassoon, and tuba – key instruments in an orchestra.
“Our director and teachers are amazing here. We have a really nice variety of skills – from young that may have just graduated college or who are still doing internships to our senior instructor from Switzerland, Mr. Hanspter, who is in his early 70s and is an incredibly talented guy not only in music, but also in science, computers, and videography,” said John. “With our amazing director, Ms. Avril, we have a very organized way of conducting the school, the lesson programs, recitals and things for kids to work towards.”
Westchase Music School features a patented “Music Ladder System” allowing students to earn rewards – wristbands and trophies of increasing size – for meeting set goals by passing individual tests every 45-60 days. A fun Summer Camp program runs June and July.
With instruction available year-round, Westchase Music School hosts recitals each fall and spring at Westtown Church that showcase students’ hard work. Parents, grandparents, family and friends love to see their student perform.
“The church has full audio and visual, so the kids get to see their names up in on the big screen. Their teacher calls them up and they get to perform on a beautiful grand piano, their own instruments or sing. Sometimes our teachers will accompany them and sometimes it’s a solo, or two or three students may perform together,” he said. “It’s never the same. Sometimes we’ll do a movie theme and the kids will dress up in character. We like to mix things up with different themes because we have students that stay with us for quite a number of years.”
As an extra bonus for parents waiting for their children during the forty-five-minute lesson, the school offers a free 60-minute guitar class on Thursdays. On average, 5 to 10 parents participate with instructor Christian Rastelli, learning the basics of guitar.
Age is not a factor at Westchase Music School. Older students and retirees are also welcome to take lessons at the school. John told a story about a retired nun, who at 81, took piano lessons because she always wanted to be a piano teacher.
Another testament to how much students enjoy John’s schools comes from a young teacher. Kelsey Rudder started as an elementary student in one of John’s Orlando schools, continued instruction through high school, graduated USF for college and returned as teacher at Westchase Music School. “Having students go through our program and see them come back and become teachers is very gratifying! I’m so proud to have been such a positive part of their lives that they would return to share what they learned with brand new students”, says John
“Our teachers are the biggest cheerleader of the school because they know how much fun they had as a student,” he said. “We’ve given countless new teachers the opportunity to engage with young students and get them interested. The technical aspect will come down the road when they are hooked on it. It’s amazing to see how focused the kids can be when you’ve got them on the right track. You always hear about all the bad kids because they are in the news, but how about all these great ones here that have so much talent. When they get up on that stage, it’s them and the instrument. This is the training ground for life.”
John is proud that Westchase Music School is very community-oriented, supporting local elementary and middle schools with partner in education donations, as well as monthly contributions to the Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, an organization that helps homeless women and children, providing housing and education toward job skills. John is adamant that music belongs as a resource for children.
“Music is just as important as math and science. It’s a terrible idea to remove music from schools. Music is therapeutic and makes us think differently, it drives creativity. We’re excited to be a place for the kids to still have music. There’s excitement, enthusiasm, and positive energy here. This is a happy place. If that’s what you’re looking for, come here.”
Westchase Music School is located at 11301 Countryway Boulevard. Hours are Monday through Friday, 1pm to 9pm and Saturday, 9am to 3pm. For more information, visit westchasemusicschool.com or on Facebook.