Teaching music is a family affair for Ahwatukee's Music Maker Workshops

By Sara Edwards – Contributing writer May 13, 2021, 4:47pm EDT Phoenix Business Journal

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Music Maker Workshops is made up of (from left) co-director Kim Steedman; office manager Jessica Magee; and co-director Shelley Yakubow.
Sisters Kim Steedman and Shelley Yakubow have been involved with family-owned Music Maker Workshops in Chandler part time since their mother started the business about 24 years ago.

Their mother Beverly Bigam sought out in 1997 to create a music school for students of all ages that could learn a variety of programming like Kindermusik, rock, mariachi and ensembles. She retired in 2016 and passed the music school down to her daughters who have kept it going ever since.

“I had always been involved with music growing up so music was part of my life but it wasn’t the career path I went down,” Steedman said. “But then eventually after getting involved with the school, I was glad I had that foundation because now it’s the best career ever.”

Added Yakubow: "I started helping our mom develop group lessons and when my kids were little, I switched to work completely at the studio."

The school had 32 instructors and over 500 students taking lessons before the pandemic. But as March 2020 rolled around and the virus spread, the sisters immediately brainstormed ways to pivot the school to virtual learning.

Steedman and Yakubow temporarily closed the studio and held lessons and classes online, with staff teaching lessons from their homes. The school even created virtual activities for students and staff to play while on a video call, like at-home scavenger hunts to make the virtual experience more engaging. These activities were also able to show parents that virtual musical lessons could work, which encouraged parents to keep their kids in lessons.

“That was probably the reason we were able to retain 80% of our students in these first few months, because they craved that voice of regularity,” Steedman said. “Our teachers are musicians who are used to going out and playing in gigs so they were also craving this interaction.”

Small businesses were some of the hardest hit during the pandemic. According to the National Women’s Business Council, female-owned businesses dropped by 25%. But Music Maker was still able to grow and succeed during the pandemic despite Covid restrictions, keeping its teachers employed and students continuing to learn.

The school developed a text system to make sure students logged in for lessons while also holding virtual recitals, where students would prerecord their performance to be compiled into a video concert.

“It was a positive experience and coming out of this, our business will be stronger,” Yakubow said. “When kids went on vacation, they weren’t withdrawing from classes. Instead, they brought their computers and instruments with them so they could still have lessons.”

Music Maker started transitioning back to in-person learning in June of last year, with 50% of their students coming in to take their lessons. The school also has plans to have in-person and virtual summer camps for students.

“I’m just looking forward to that connection again,” Yakubow said. “I’m really looking forward to getting together and having a good time. Our No. 1 priority is to be of service to the teachers.”