A successful career isn’t always a fulfilling one until you take the leap and follow your passion. That’s what led former engineer Veena Pandiri to transition from corporate technology roles and open her own music school, Notes n’ Beats.
Pandiri’s tech experience turned out to be the perfect background, allowing her to comfortably and safely provide lessons to her company’s 500 students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the music school continues to offer online lessons along with in-studio lessons at its Ashburn and Aldie locations.
Instruction at Notes n’ Beats centers around classical pedagogy, while also allowing students to explore other genres like pop, rock, musical theatre and Indian music. Pandiri and her faculty at Notes n’ Beats are dedicated to bringing excellence in training for Western, Indian and diverse styles of music to younger generations.
Tell us a bit about your business! What led to your decision to open Notes n’ Beats in Loudoun County?
“It was by chance that I started this journey when, in 2005, I discovered my passion for teaching music. After doing that for five years, I spoke to many children to understand how they wish to learn – which was very different from how I learned as a child. Children of today want to connect with what they are doing and want more active learning methods.
“With that in mind, I started Notes n’ Beats, a music school that incorporates foundational concepts rooted in classical music, along with traces of non-classical music that children understand and relate to more easily. Notes n’ Beats has the unique fortune to provide diverse styles of music like Indian, classical, rock and pop because of the varied cultural backgrounds that each faculty member comes from.”
Does your focus on musical and cultural diversity have a special meaning in the Northern Virginia region?
“Absolutely! Northern Virginia is a hub for cultural diversity. Notes n’ Beats is in the best position to make a connection with many different cultures through music. One of our primary areas of focus is to create music that is unique and fresh while drawing its roots from a multitude of musical genres and cultures.
“One of the largest communities that learn music from us are Americans of Indian origin, who have gracefully adapted the best of both cultures. To them, Notes n’ Beats brings a piece of home from their faraway land to the homeland they live in. Music from their Indian classical roots keeps them close to their culture while the integration of Indian music to other genres of music that their children listen to makes it very relevant for their entire family. Oftentimes, parents of our students tell us that they are able to bond with their children over music.”
How did Notes n’ Beats adapt operations and maintain enrollment during the pandemic?
“Music is more than just something to learn. Music projects positivity and hope. When the pandemic hit us, it was very important for us to convey positivity and hope to our student families.
“Notes n’ Beats approached the lockdown situation the same way one would solve a technical problem. We migrated our entire operations to support all 500 of our students through an online platform. Fortunately for us, students knew that music was an outlet during stressful times and most of them continued lessons through the pandemic.
“To make the classes more engaging to our students and ensure the transition was seamless, we added many fun activities to our regular classes. We organized online performances, we dressed up in Halloween costumes and organized Halloween recitals, and we auditioned our students to form new ensemble teams that are now undergoing training to write their own music. We also organized our very first competition, which was conducted all online.
“All in all, we conducted 38 online events in 2020 and this year, we celebrated our Indian Fusion Music Festival in June. Our summer camps evolved into virtual camps. In order to be able to support this heavy lifting of activities during the pandemic, we hired seven more employees, thus providing full-time and part-time employment to more than 30 people in and around Loudoun County.
“We also restructured our studio space to install screens that keep the students and teachers secluded and at a safe distance. Students are now beginning to come into the studio. I feel that the halls in our studio are finally now coming back to life, after being silent for over a year!”
Do you think the hybrid business model is here to stay? What benefits are there for in-person interactions among staff and students as we emerge from the pandemic?
“To be honest, when we originally transitioned to a 100% online platform, I told my students and staff that I expected the quality of our services to drop down to 80%. But to my pleasant surprise, I can say with 100% confidence that we have made NO compromises to the quality of our lessons. We have seen children as young as 4 somehow figure out how to learn music and even perform, on instruments like violin, on the online platform. While we missed meeting in person, the staff, as well as our students, developed new skills to create music and music videos and go digital. These are skills that are required in this new digital age, anyway.
“However, there is no substitute for human interaction and for the benefits it provides in terms of learning or building relationships. While I truly think that meeting a teacher in person has its own charm, I believe that the hybrid model is here to stay! It provides the flexibility for working parents to save on travel times on their busy days. It has also allowed for staff members who drive up to 1.5 hours to our studio to spend more time teaching instead of traveling.”
What advice do you have for other tech professionals who are considering taking the leap into entrepreneurship?
“In general, an entrepreneur armed with knowledge in technology has an advantage over others. Technologists are trained to problem solve and think outside the box. And running a business involves having to solve problems, sometimes, on a daily basis!
“Technology helps you think on your feet and not falter when challenges are presented. It allows you to solve and apply them to optimize processes for efficiency, reduce time to go to market and help scale up easily. Case in point, during the pandemic, I saw several businesses in our area shut down as they were not able to adapt quickly enough to acquire new digital tools that were required in this new landscape. Fortunately for us, the technical expertise from my past enabled me to quickly pivot the school into an online school and save the business and save the jobs of our employees.
What’s next for Notes n’ Beats? How do you plan to build on your #LoudounPossible success?
“Getting down to the roots!
“Our students have already shown a great interest in pursuing classical music, rock and pop in both Indian and non-Indian styles of music. Because of that encouragement, the staff at Notes n’ Beats has been delving deeper into the roots of classical and Indian classical music and drawing out associations and differences between the two. We now have restructured our curriculum to weave in diverse genres of music, not just at the pop/rock level but at the classical level too. In a few years from now, our students will be talking about what scales and modes map to specific ragas. That day will be incredibly powerful!
“Notes n’ Beats also launched its first nonprofit organization, called The Stage, that provides opportunities to our students to leverage their musical talent to serve the community. Our students performed multiple times in large venues as well as in smaller venues like the senior centers in Loudoun. These shows raised awareness of issues like cancer and autism and as part of these events, students raised money and donated to other nonprofit organizations in Loudoun County. We continue to plan more of those and raise our students into not just great musicians, but also into responsible citizens.”
Notes n’ Beats was one of more than 2,000 Loudoun businesses that received funding through the COVID-19 Business Interruption Fund. That funding was dedicated to investing in the current Notes n’ Beats staff, adopting new video and audio technology, and hiring additional help with the transition.
Visit the Notes n’ Beats website to explore local music lessons, after-school care and camps.
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