Jazz musician Aaron Sizemore views music as a communication tool that transcends cultures. And it is music that can help link people and build community.
Those ideas have been the guiding principles for Music House School of Music, which Sizemore and his wife, Katrinka, also a professional musician, own and operate.
“Music is the most central of all art forms,” Aaron Sizemore said. “The problem is in the public schools, music programs are still in the 20th century and have become more irrelevant. There are good people but with the bureaucracy it is so hard to change.…
“We wanted to create an environment where all kinds of music are accepted and relevant. We don’t want to replace the public schools. I want music to be more valued.”
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Both Sizemores had been teaching private lessons at an area high school, but they wanted to build their own program and be masters of their own destiny and philosophy of teaching.
Today, with two locations, the Music House offers a variety of lessons, individual and group, as well as performance opportunities for children and adults. Aaron Sizemore said it has been a journey setting up the business.
Q: With little experience in business, where did you reach out for help?
The Sizemores spent about six months researching what musical education was available in the area. Once they decided their philosophy of teaching music had merit, the Sizemores sat down and wrote a 40-page business plan with the help of consultant Elisa Waldman at the Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College.
“We talked to a lot of people within the business community, but writing our business plan was key in forcing us to look at every detail,” Aaron Sizemore said.
Q: How did you finance the school?
“Trying to find someone to fund us was difficult,” Sizemore said. “We managed to get funding through personal loans. … We borrowed less than $10,000 and used about everything we had. We really boot-strapped.”
The Sizemores opened the school in a house in southern Overland Park. Aaron Sizemore did much of the remodeling himself to save money.
“I had 15 tons of gravel I used to spread out for a parking lot,” he said. “And the school took off.”
By the end of its third year in business, the Music House had 300 students and needed more space. This time around the Sizemores decided to go into a commercial retail location on West 161st Street, expanding to 5,000 square feet.
“We spent about $100,000 fitting it out,” Sizemore said. The space includes nine studios for lessons, three group classrooms and a 130-seat auditorium complete with stage lighting.
“Performance is central to music, and that’s why the auditorium,” Sizemore said. It is used daily for ensemble rehearsals.
“You can look right into it when you visit,” he said.
Rather than follow the traditional music school model of hiring independent contractors to teach lessons, the Sizemores hired instructors as employees as well as administrative staff.
“This way everyone buys into the vision and there is solidarity,” Sizemore said. Staff instructors help develop curriculum that everyone follows, and there are common goals with consistency and quality control.
However, Sizemore is first to admit this method of operation has its costs.
“It’s a more expensive model,” he said. “We have to pay taxes with our employees. We have to manage schedules, train staff and assess them. And we’re responsible for coordinating the work environment … but the results have been great.”
Q: What else is different about your school?
“We didn’t want to be just a music store that offers lessons and that’s all they get,” Sizemore said. “The lesson is just to support the community and what happens outside of the studio — giving it meaning and purpose.”
Music House incorporates performance opportunities for the student to both participate and watch. There are also regular performances that are open to the public. In addition, Music House has a variety of clubs students can join to expand their musical interests, including songwriting and improvisation.
Since opening in 2007, Music House has continued to grow in both size and scope of offerings. In January 2013, Music house added a second location in Lenexa.
Q: Why a second location?
By adding a second location, Sizemore saw the opportunity for more growth; Music House now has 650 students between the two locations. He chose the Lenexa location after doing some research.
“I looked at the current demographics and where everyone was coming from and looked just outside of that,” Sizemore said. “I want us to be a cultural hub. … I want to have an incredibly diverse program, and the only way to do that is be big.”
Last summer, the Sizemores decided to launch a music education program for young children beginning at age 4. The Sizemores originally tried teaching the younger kids when Music House first opened.
“We decided we couldn’t do all of this when it was just the two of us,” Aaron Sizemore said. Now with two locations and more than 40 employees — 30 of them instructors — the time was right to expand to the younger crowd.
“In early childhood we get them to see music as a craft,” Sizemore said. “At age 6, we like to put them in group piano because it puts things in perspective for them. It’s more relatable with other kids, and they get to see how everyone else is reacting.”
Sizemore admits there are challenges to operating their own school including marketing.
“It’s probably my least favorite part of running a business,” he said. “I believe in what we do, but it’s tough to get people to wrap their heads around what we do.”
Music House uses social media and its website to promote the business.
“Word of mouth is huge for us,” Sizemore said. “Once we get people in the door, they understand what we do.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Music House School of Music
ADDRESSES: 7465 W. 161st St., Overland Park, and 12715 W. 87th St. Parkway, Lenexa.