At 14 years old, Erica Ogden announced to her parents she was quitting piano lessons. It’s a good thing they didn’t allow it. Ogden never would have guessed that as an adult, she would open Westside Music Academy in Avon along with friends and business partners Saundra Kirchenbauer and Susan Finney. At Westside Music Academy, students learn musical theory and skills in piano, strings, woodwinds, brass, guitar, concert percussion and voice, from skilled, passionate and degreed teachers.
Growing up in the mountains of Virginia, Ogden’s childhood was adventurous as she learned to hunt and fish with her dad. She began learning piano at the age of 7 and was not motivated to practice. However, her skill was evident, and as a young adult she opted for a degree in music at Pensacola Christian College.
“It was my skill that captured me as a freshman,” Ogden says. “Once I got to college, I was around people in the same field and getting inspiration from teachers. I saw what it could be.”
She began teaching music at Pensacola Christian Academy, where she also took on many other roles, from choir director to music librarian to harp tuner. When she began teaching music theory, she met Kirchenbauer and they worked together for five years.
When Ogden’s husband took a job in Indiana and they moved, Ogden decided she could teach piano anywhere. She opened Erica’s Piano Studio in 2013, quickly growing her enrollment to 50 students per week. By the time she closed the doors in 2020, she had 40 students on her wait list. She wanted to continue teaching but knew she needed help, and there was only one person she would trust her business with.
“Saundra is highly talented, skilled and organized,” Ogden says. “I called her in Florida, and I thought for sure she’d shut me down, but we began talking through what it could look like.”
Unbeknownst to Ogden, Kirchenbauer was already contemplating moving back to the Indy area, where her family is from, as was Finney. The opportunity, while out of the blue, turned out to be the perfect solution for all three women.
The three women opened Westside Music Academy in August of 2020, and just celebrated their first anniversary.
“We opened right in the middle of a pandemic,” Ogden says. “We took my little studio of almost 50 and we’re knocking on the door of 200 now. That’s my next goal.”
The staff has a wide range of skills, and all of them have teaching experience and degrees in music, which is rare in a music studio. Cindy Porzio teaches voice and the Music FunTime program, William Sousa teaches strings and piano, and Ben Edwards teaches guitar. Finney will be teaching bassoon lessons this fall. Kirchenbauer teaches beginning piano, and all woodwind and brass instruments.
“There are six of us, and we’re a very diverse group,” Ogden says. “We have a great team, great culture, we have fun, we laugh a lot, but we take great care in staying focused on the same goals.”
Those goals revolve around instilling a love for music in students and furthering the advancement of music on the west side of Indianapolis.
“Music is a very special thing,” Kirchenbauer says. “There really isn’t much you can learn and enjoy like this for your entire life. Our goal isn’t to just teach, but to instill a love of music.”
Finney also feels an immense sense of purpose in the work of the academy. While she handles all the finances of the business, she is excited to start teaching bassoon lessons this fall. She started playing piano at 6 years old, and music has always been a constant, calming skill she could turn to in all seasons of life.
“Music has always helped me significantly in life,” Finney says. “It’s a crucial tool for a lot of kids in many areas of development. It has a calming effect, helps with mood enhancement, stimulates the brain, and helps with retention.”
Students’ ages range from toddlers in the Music FunTime program, where students get introduced to different types of instruments, all the way up almost 70 years of age.
“We want to encourage creating music, sharing music, and communicating using music,” Ogden says. “It is a language after all, that can be felt across every culture. Kids need caring and skilled teachers who love what they do. The marching bands here are brilliant, and we just want to keep furthering music in Hendricks County and beyond.”
After increasing enrollment from 50 students to nearly 200 in a short time, Ogden has plans to continue growing. The academy’s first anniversary was in August, and as the staff members focus on current customers, they keep their sights on possible expansion in the future.
Westside Music Academy is located at 79 Park Place Boulevard in Avon. For more information, call 317-771-3084 or visit westsidemusicindy.com.
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