Last Saturday, I caught up with Melissa Ng, a former classmate. She runs a music center with her family in Jackson Heights called PianoVerse – an organization dedicated to facilitating people’s love for piano and developing their passion.
PianoVerse has come a long way since it first opened over a year ago. According to Melissa, challenges during the first year of business involved getting the word out about the company and learning the logistics. The challenge for the second year was finding ways to improve the company.
Word of mouth advertising, or customer driven advertising, is one of the most effective marketing techniques today. This technique works in your favor when you provide individuals a positive experience. PianoVerse continuously demonstrates these experiences.
PianoVerse: A place to learn, play and love piano
“Parents come to PianoVerse to give their children a chance to play piano. They see their child has potential. Recently, I have seen an interesting development among parents: they start building an interest in piano after they see their kids practice. This has inspired many parents to take lessons at our facilities for their own interest in music.” This developing trend encouraged Melissa, her sisters and mother to make PianoVerse a more accommodating space for adults. I then asked Melissa on the challenges of working with students on a wide age range.
“We believe age is just a number. We don’t lock anybody into a “learning” category. I’ve met all kinds of students and I’ve learned that each person has their own way of learning. Work ethic is a big part of learning piano; and if you have a desire and curiosity for it too, that’s already taking you half of the way. If you have the willingness to do it and you give yourself permission to try, this is what will help you move yourself along.”
Discipline and work ethic is a small part of learning piano; a larger part of it is passion. At PianoVerse, playing piano is all about “enjoying it – something that is a huge part of learning. It helps you stay engaged.” This is perhaps why PianoVerse’s latest tag line reads, “PianoVerse: A place to learn, play and love piano.”
As someone who has been a piano student for years, I wonder how PianoVerse facilitates this love for piano for their clients. The answers might stem from the fact that Melissa and her family doesn’t simply see their clients as business customers, but as “friendly new faces.”
The positive student and teacher dynamic
“When people come in here, we think of them as new friends. I believe you meet a person with expectations but you never know what you might learn from them. We want to create an environment where people can learn from each other and support each other; and we find this helps develop a positive relationship between teachers and students.”
The relationship between student and teacher is very apparent in the way some young students reacted when they learned they wouldn’t have the same teacher for the Fall as they did this past Summer. Melissa explains, “On one hand, this is endearing. On the other, some students had to continue with a new teacher due to scheduling differences. Overall, we are really happy to see that a positive student and teacher dynamic. It means the student really enjoyed learning with that teacher.”
Such a dynamic really helps create a familial atmosphere at PianoVerse. The idea of family is a reoccurring theme at PianoVerse – one that is perhaps fueled by the critical role music plays in Melissa’s own family.
It was a family pursuit and we all felt like it was the right thing to do
Melissa’s grandparents ran a piano center in Manhattan for over 30 years; her mother and her mother’s siblings also played a big role in managing the business in their youth. Melissa’s mother also pursued additional entrepreneurial projects outside of this center, but has now found herself returning to music.
Melissa tells me, “My grandmother told my mother, “Whatever you do with your life, make sure music is a part of it. It will give you peace.”
“Overtime, my mom continued her various businesses with my father while she raised me and my sisters. A year and a half ago, my grandmother became very ill and at that moment, my mom and sisters decided to drop everything we were previously doing and come together to make a piano center in Queens. It was a family pursuit and we all felt like it was the right thing to do.”
Melissa, her mother and sisters wanted to show their grandmother the results of this starting venture, but her grandmother passed away before they even had a chance to show her PianoVerse.
As our conversation continued, I truly understood how music brought personal and entrepreneurial fulfillment to the Ng family. “Music has really drawn our family together,” explains Melissa. “My family has always been close and working with them is great. Jackson Heights is also a very family oriented neighborhood; many businesses are family run. And in times like these, people appreciate small businesses more, because working with family gives you that mutual support and constant communication. This helps make a business better.”
Creating opportunities in music
Like many young professionals in the arts industry, I am attracted to the robust artistic scenes in and around New York City; and I plan to make PianoVerse part of my artistic pursuits when I physically get closer to the city. In addition, I also feel young professionals in the arts have something to learn from Melissa Ng and her family’s business, and that’s how to find career opportunities in music.
Melissa explains, “We need to be more creative of how we want to use music in our lives. People will ask me, “What’s the point of learning music? Or “What can you do with music?” I believe everybody should learn music without expecting a specific end goal like “how much do I have to practice before I can become a concert pianist?” Most goals in our lives constantly change just like music.”
Melissa and her family wants PianoVerse to be a place where people can fall in love with piano and carry this love to something more notable like improving their performance skills or completing a piece. While PianoVerse cannot magically transform beginning students or training pianists into “superstars,” they can help students develop musical goals or simply help students relax and have fun.
When I asked Melissa where she hopes to see PianoVerse a year from now, she would like to make the business “even better.” She enumerates, “We always want to improve and supports our students’ interests and help them out more… a lot of our teachers and students are very performance oriented and we’re looking to find them performance opportunities outside of recitals.”
For Melissa and her family, music is not just a business, it is a lifestyle. PianoVerse doesn’t only require dedication, business expertise and an understanding of music; it requires genuine love and a belief in the potential music helps unlock in every person. Melissa claims, “Just like people and life, music is beautiful and forever changing.”