Today we’d like to introduce you to Colleen Lilley.
Hi Colleen, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Although I’ve owned Music & Me for 12 years now, I actually began my professional career as an opera singer. Performing was at times incredibly fulfilling and at others, incredibly difficult. At first, I was lucky to be contracted as a singer for 6-8 months of the year.
Like most performers, though, I needed to supplement my income with other work when I wasn’t being paid to sing. This took the shape of jobs in human resources and eventually veterinary assistant and office management work. I also taught voice both privately and for performing arts academies when possible. Little did I know how much each of these positions would prepare me for opening Music & Me!
As you may know, funding for the arts is one of the first things pulled during any recession. After surviving two as a singer, I decided in 2008, I’d had enough of the instability and looked for an opportunity to share my passion for music in another way. Because I no longer needed to be in the States, it also seemed the right time to move.
I spent the next year in Berlin, Germany. A friend from graduate school recommended I explore teaching the early childhood music program she’d been teaching for years, Music Together. In fact, there was a large Music Together program in Berlin and so I was able to train in and teach the curriculum there over the next year.
When I moved back to the United States the following year, I knew I wanted to open and run the program here myself. I looked for a warm community that valued education and had a good-sized population of young families. In minutes of walking through St. Pete, I knew I’d found home.
I opened my first class in April of 2010 and am happy to say both I and my program were fully embraced. Today, 12 years later, we run 15+ family classes per week out of our brick-and-mortar studio and serve four premier private preschools in in-school music programming.
We also have a strong commitment to giving back and making music accessible to everyone. To that end, we donate programming to in-need organizations and offer free community programs on a regular basis.
I couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago that this is where I’d be living or what I’d be doing, but I’m so very glad it is. I am fulfilled every day by the joyful, meaningful connections made in classes and by the educational value of our program and teaching.
There are endless opportunities for continued personal growth and learning, endless opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others, and countless and enduring relationships built through and around music. What a gift!
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Like most paths, there have been bumps along the way. If it weren’t for the friendliness of the people who live here, the very real kindness of strangers, and the connectedness of our city, my story could have ended very differently.
Moving to a place where I knew only two people and opening a brand new business at the same time was a huge lift. I stretched way outside my comfort zone getting into grassroots, direct marketing, handing out flyers at Saturday Morning Market, at the grocery store, etc, and knocking on doors of other businesses and schools serving the population of families I wished to engage. I was told no a lot.
I mean really, a lot. But in the end, there were 9 yeses. 8 students and one yoga studio are willing to let me rent space for the class. That small success and a true belief that what I was doing was important kept the fire burning in my belly and so I networked and networked, and often provided free programming just to be seen.
I lived inexpensively to save all my pennies to put back into the business. There were several very skint years in the beginning! But it was all worth it.
Staffing has been another ongoing challenge. It takes a special person to be able to engage not only kids but grownups too. It requires maturity, confidence, and playfulness. And then there’s the education. To provide it at the level I wish, my teachers have to have degrees in music and/or equivalent experience in performance or teaching.
They also have to have a background in or a desire to be educated in early childhood development and specifically how music influences it. It’s a unique and special person who meets all those requirements. To top it off, it’s rarely full-time work. For a lucky one or two, yes, but largely each school year is a new contract of studio/in-shool work which is all dependent upon enrollment.
You can imagine how we were affected during the early stages of Covid. Thankfully now, we know much more about how to manage the spread and many more resources are at our fingertips, such as vaccines. Music & Me currently operates with just three staff members, including me.
Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Music & Me, LLC?
At Music & Me, we strive to support our local families and strengthen community and family bonds by providing meaningful early childhood music education for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary students both at our studio and in a number of area preschools.
Music has the special power to bring us together and support our children’s growing bodies and brains in surprising ways. We support that ability by using the best family music program available, Music Together®, based on over 35 years of ongoing research, and by regularly engaging in continuing education for our teachers.
We are present in our community with special, periodic, open to the public programming reinforcing our commitment to growing our community bonds through music making and ensuring quality music is available to all at some level.
Behind the scenes, we offer discounted and/or donated programming to organizations that serve a variety of at-risk populations. Music-making families are happier families. We can’t imagine a better mission than to help spread that joy.
Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
I believe an element of risk is inherent in any pursuit of progress. Without some people assuming risk, there would be none. How much risk one is willing to assume is another question.
For me, risk has been easy to assume and embrace when I believe strongly in something but it is not something I seek out for pleasure. For instance, taking the risk to sing and act on stage in front of thousands of people was one I was willing to take for the pleasure of creating musical and theatrical art with others.
Moving overseas to gain a new perspective and learn a new language; is easy. Moving to a new city and opening a business I passionately wanted to build; yes! Sky diving, gambling in a casino, or other risky behaviors taken for personal entertainment hold no interest to me whatsoever.
- 10-Week Semester of Family Music $250
- Sibling and multiple class discounts are available.
- Website: MusicAndMeLLC.com
- Instagram: @MusicAndMeLLC
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MusicAndMeLLC
Sheri Kendrick Photography and Brian James Gallery