Much has happened to Judy Shoulak and her son Jake since we last spoke about their music school Bach to Rock in our December 2020 issue. I caught up with her to discuss the opening of a second center in Coon Rapids, the school’s transition to and from full quarantine protocols, and the future of Bach to Rock.
Bach to Rock’s approach to music has always been to meet students of any age where they are. Rather than create strict lesson plans with specific songs, Bach to Rock works to license popular songs and then deconstruct them at several technical levels so students can play what they want, at their own complexity. There has always been an underlying ideology of the franchise: If students are enjoying playing music, they’ll stick around to learn more.
And apparently that model is working. With a 40% increase in the number of classes this year, students are flocking to the school from across the metro. Because of that increase in classes, Judy and Jake opened a second Bach to Rock location in Coon Rapids last May. While opening more schools was always the idea for Judy and Jake, the pandemic had put off those plans. “After we got into the pandemic, we thought 'well let’s just try and do one new location really well',” says Judy. During that time, Judy and Jake worked hard to create a name for themselves: “Building reputation early was important. Now that we've done that, we can expand."
With the school beginning to offer more and more in-person lessons, including the creation of new student bands, and continuing their annual tradition of hosting a battle of the bands, it made sense to open more locations. And here, Judy’s background in operations and franchises shines.
Before Bach to Rock, Judy was not a musician. It's her son and co-owner Jake, a guitarist since 13 who has a background in various bands and pit orchestras, that brought the musical expertise. Judy's background is in operations for companies like Buffalo Wild Wings. “We were always opening lots of restaurants,” she shares. And that when it came to Bach to Rock, she expected the same thing: “That was just kind of what I thought would happen.” Judy envisions Bach to Rock opening many more locations around the cities: “We’d really like to have between four to six schools by 2025,” she adds.
One key lesson Judy has taken from her operations background has been putting more of a focus on hiring. “It's been a secret to our success; just being very proactive about hiring. That’s where I’ve spent a majority of my time," Judy explains So when opening a new school, replicating Plymouth’s success comes down to building a strong culture with excellent teachers: “We feel really strongly about having people that will replicate our values and culture."
A testament to that positive culture is Bach to Rock hiring its first student as a teacher. Creating such a positive culture that its students come back to teach there was always a goal for the school, but the mission has shifted somewhat. “Our mission is still to impact lives through music, but its more the lives of our students and our teachers and managers."
Another step Judy has taken since first opening Bach to Rock has been to enroll herself in lessons. “It was much more fulfilling than I anticipated it to be because not only did I learn how to play the piano, but I really learned why some of the things we ask our teachers to do are so important." Learning how to play songs like "Sweet Caroline" not only taught her the basics of the piano, but gave Judy a greater appreciation for both the students and teachers of Bach to Rock: “I never really understood how the lesson worked. In the beginning, I’d come in fifteen minutes early to whip through my practicing, and that just didn’t work. It was so important for the instructor to have me do some kind of activity outside of lessons so I was staying engaged in the lesson; to give me some kind of homework.” Because of her time taking lessons from the school, Judy walked away with a tactile understanding of the lessons from the ground up, which is something she appreciates: “I’m in operations, I like to know how things work,” she says.
Bach to Rock’s success with bringing music to people, of meeting them where they are to teach, is obvious. An aspect of the school that isn’t so obvious is its affect. “We didn’t realize how impactful it’s been,” says Jake. And that is a sentiment Judy echoes. “What we’ve been most pleased with, when it really comes down to it, is the difference we’ve been able to make in people’s lives.” Whether it’s the creation of bands, a student’s first recording, or learning how to play "Sweet Caroline", Bach to Rock continues to teach music and impact lives, only now from two great locations.