The Music Studio: Passion and Piano in the Capital District
“Love what you do and believe in it.”
On the toughest days, Noel Liberty’s advice is the kind that helps entrepreneurs remember why they took on business ownership.
Noel is the founder and owner of The Music Studio in Albany, NY. She played music in her youth and studied it formally in college, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. When she started her school in 1977, Noel had a vision for music education that combined the skills needed to learn to play piano – the school’s primary focus – with fostering passion that would carry young students through the rigors of lessons.
In the decades since, Noel has become one of the country’s leaders in piano instruction and The Music Studio is nationally recognized for excellence.
Love of piano and joy through teaching
“Music has always been an important part of my life and I wanted to pass that on to others, especially to children,” says Noel. “I started by teaching private lessons in a classroom of a former school and now, we teach 500-1,000 students each year.”
Students start with The Foundation Program, which teaches the basics of music – like rhythm, sound training and ear development – to children 4-8 years old. Along with skills, though, is an equally important focus on having fun and developing a love of learning. Noel and the school’s talented instructors build upon what they believe is an innate love of music. Parents join, too, building a network of support.
After completing that phase, students move on to The Piano Program: private piano lessons and the more rigorous training that comes with further study.
Funding her vision
Asked why she sought a loan after more than four decades in a successful business, Noel explains that without it, she couldn’t achieve her full vision for The Music Studio.
She says, “The pursuit of excellence is our goal and to achieve that means investing in special projects, like having a composer develop music specifically for our school and putting on performances for the community at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I also invest in our teachers and equipment, of course, because they’re the basis of our success.”
She continues, saying, “We run on very tight margins, too, because we want our programs to be as accessible as possible and after a while, we accrued debt. I wanted to do a total financial overhaul, including refinancing the debt.”
She initially worked with NBT Bank, which had long supported Noel’s vision and goals and knew that The Music Studio had a stellar track record in the community. Nevertheless, The Music Studio fell just short of meeting all of NBT’s commercial-lending criteria.
Fortunately, she says, they put her in touch with Pursuit, and in early spring of this year, The Music Studio received two loans to refinance existing business debt and for working capital.
“Our Pursuit team was really driven to make it work for us,” Noel explains. “They worked hard to find the right loan options and get us great interest rates. We received a microloan and another loan through a regional revolving loan trust fund.”
She adds, “The Pursuit team was a great combination of approachable and professional, too. They listened and understood what I needed and I was confident that they would find the best loans for The Music Studio.” She also says that Pursuit’s business consultants will be available to her going forward, an added benefit for which Noel says that she’s extremely grateful.
A pandemic can’t stop a love of music
Just as Pursuit funds were received and longer-term plans were on the horizon, The Music Studio closed down to onsite lessons as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For our youngest students, we’re providing videos and piano lessons and telephone check-ins. For the older students, who are in private lessons, we’ve continued those via Zoom and sent assignments. It’s imperfect, but it’s working to keep them connected and practicing,” says Noel.
Noel also obtained an SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through Key Bank, and her staff helped the school go virtual. She says, “A shared love of music is what keeps us going, so it was a huge relief to have our staff stay on board.”
She continues, saying, “The Music Studio has been an onsite, in-person venture since ‘Day 1’ back in 1977, so this has been a complete turnaround for us. When our school closed, no one thought it would last so long. It took us about two weeks to get lessons online. It’s not the same, of course, but for many of our students, the connection has been essential.”
“We’re not sure when we’ll be back onsite because we need to put a lot of measures in place to ensure safety, especially for the youngest kids, who are always interacting with each other,” she says. “We’ll do everything we can to make it safe and welcoming for our students, families and teachers and to meet them at their own comfort levels.”
“Love what you do and believe in it”
Noel has heard countless stories about the positive impact that her school has had during more than four decades of service to The Music Studio’s clients and community.
Perhaps now, though, its significance is the most evident.
“It’s not just the continuation of lessons that has helped through the pandemic,” Noel says. “Our students and their families also say that music has been an oasis through the uncertainty and fear. Through all the challenges, one of the things we keep hearing is, ‘Thank you for keeping music in our lives.’ I feel so fortunate to be a part of that.”