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Meet Fiona Chatwin of Villa Musica – San Diego’s Community Music Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Fiona Chatwin.

Fiona, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In September 2000, I moved from Melbourne, Australia, to take up a scholarship to do my Doctorate in Music at UCSD. As I neared the end of this opportunity it became clear to me that a career as an academic was not where my true passion lay and I set about creating Villa Musica. In November of 2005, with an 11-month-old baby on my hip, Villa Musica was founded. In June of 2006, I graduated with my Doctorate.

For the first 5 years, Villa Musica offered classes at churches and rec. centers – basically anywhere that would allow us to use space. Our community ensembles programs evolved (the backbone of our organization) and I met potential faculty, board members and donors at my “Peets office” or my kitchen table. Thank goodness for laptops and wi-fi!

In 2010, with the help of a very generous donor and the small community we had amassed, we opened our Sorrento Valley Campus (our current”headquarters”) with a few group classes, 6 faculty, and about 17 private students.

Today Villa Musica educates 340 private lesson students each week with a further 150+ participants who come through our doors to take a group class or play/sing in an ensemble. In addition to this Villa Musica employs 26 gifted teaching artists who teach every instrument you can think of. We also run 3 satellites in under-served communities where programming is free and teach at 14 schools around the county where access to quality music education is limited.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Surviving the financial crisis of 2008-10 was tricky. Luckily our overhead during that time was very low and we were able to struggle through.

Spreading the word about what we do has also been a little trying at times, as the community music school model was little known in southern CA, unlike the East coast where the idea is more generally understood.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Villa Musica inspires people of all ages and backgrounds to explore the joy and lifelong value of music through education, performance and community engagement.

Founded as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in November 2005, Villa Musica is a vibrant gathering place where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together to take music lessons, play in an ensemble, or participate in a workshop. Villa Musica’s goal is to create a focal point for community music education in San Diego, where students and teachers can meet to exchange ideas and experience the joy of making music. By creating a supportive and creative environment for the study of music, we aim to inspire many San Diegans to make music making part of their lives.

Villa Musica is dedicated to becoming San Diego County’s premier music community with neighborhood sites that offer programs of the highest quality in a collaborative and nurturing environment that embodies each neighborhood’s unique personality, needs, and interests.

What were you like growing up?
As a kid, I was pretty creative and a VERY bossy. My poor younger brother was always being dressed up to play a part in whatever mad skit I was creating, or show I was putting on. When I was six, my parents bought an old Wertheim player piano which came with a pile of old song rolls from the 30’s and 40’s. I would sit for hours pumping away and singing all of the old songs – I’m pretty sure that was my unofficial introduction to music and musical theater.

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