The sound of music
Demand for lessons spurs Avon’s Erica Ogden to open Westside Music Academy with business partners Saundra Kirchenbauer and Susan Finney
By Stephanie Dolan
Music is the universal language, and students as young as 18 months up through their 60s are filling the air with sounds of music at the new Westside Music Academy in Avon to improve their music skills or learn a new instrument.
After watching what she called a crazy idea come to life, in early August Erica Ogden opened up Westside Music Academy with business partners and college friends Saundra Kirchenbauer and Susan Finney. Their studio space sits off U.S. 36, east of Indiana 267.
“We’ve had an amazing start to the school year, way better than we could ever imagine,” said Ogden who has been teaching piano in Avon since 2013. “We teach everything, aside from like rock and roll.”
The three partners, plus other instructors offer lessons in guitar, piano, brass, woodwind, percussion and voice.
“She’s very kind and patient with all the kids and really teaches them to do their best and put forth their best effort,” said Jen Tuttle whose daughter just graduated but took lessons for five years from Ogden, and her son now takes guitar lessons at the new academy. “She’s really encouraging to them. It helped my daughter be more sure of herself.”
Teachers use traditional music instruction but also conform to their students’ needs.
“The other thing is that we really have a heart for our students,” Ogden said. “We really want them to succeed. We would not have made it a career if it wasn’t our world. We want to pass that on to our students. In hard times, music can be there. It can lift you up. That’s what we want to instill in our students.”
Ogden took a risk in the hard times opening the academy in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, but her ideas paid off.
“I was seeing over 50 students each week in my front living room. I also had a really long waiting list,” said Ogden.
Born and raised in Covington, Va., she attended Pensacola Christian College, majoring in music with a concentration on piano pedagogy. After teaching in Pensacola for a few years, she moved with her husband Stephen to Avon after he became the music pastor at Faith Baptist Church, also in 2013.
Through search engine optimization, Stephen Ogden helped determine that her idea for a music school would work.
“Because there aren’t a lot of teachers in the area with an online presence, I was easy to find,” she said. “People heard I had a waiting list, and that draws people in as well. I don’t think I’m all that, I just think I’m all that there was. There are teachers here, but they’re really hard to find, and the ones I know have tried to lessen their enrollment.”
In October 2019, she contacted and pitched her idea to her now-partners, Kirchenbauer and Finney who both are fellow Pensacola Christian grads who were still teaching in Florida. However, they both happen to be Indiana natives.
They weren’t in the same circles in college, but Ogden and Kirchenbauer worked together afterward. Kirchenbauer’s band background compliments Ogden’s piano concentration.
“To my surprise she didn’t shut me down immediately,” she said, noting her partners were already roommates. “The week before I called, they were actually looking at houses in Avon, thinking about moving up here. I was shocked.
“Everything has worked out so beautifully,” Ogden said. “We pulled the trigger on it. They moved up here, and we started getting pre-registrations in January and February.”
Then the pandemic hit, but business continued with virtual lessons the last two months of the school year and then by staying in compliance with state mandates and taking precautions to make teachers and clients feel safe.
“I retained every student at the end of the semester,” Ogden said. “ really expected there to be some kind of falling away, but it just worked out that everyone kept their jobs, and lessons just kept plugging away. and my students practiced more because they were stuck at home.”
Ogden’s students even participated in a virtual recital, and her husband meshed the performances into one video. Hopefully the next recital can have an in-person audience.
Now the enrollment has doubled her home studio to about 100 students.
“There is no one more talented, more patient, more kind and just such a wonderful teacher to all of the students that she has, no matter their age,” said Amanda Babinec whose three daughters have all taken lessons with Ogden. “I’m so proud of her for everything she’s doing. She’s filling a need in the town of Avon. I think it’s fantastic.”
Westside Music Academy
79 Park Place Boulevard, Avon
Phone: (317) 771-3084
Hours: 1-8 p.m. Monday-Friday
Getting to know Erica Ogden
Town of residence: Avon
Family: Stephen, husband
Do you have pets? Two greyhounds, Journey and Tara. They’re ex-racers.
What is your favorite song? “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers
What is your favorite TV show? The original “Star Trek”
What is your favorite movie? “The Man from Snowy River”
What is your favorite book? The Bible. I know it’s a little bit cliché, but it’s the only one I make time for.
Who or what inspires you? I would have to say a combination of my family and friends. I’m a worker, and I like to party. Because of both of those, it makes me super outgoing and friendly, and I love to work. When I’m around people who care about me, I work harder because I want to make them happy. If you don’t have those people in your life, what’s the point?