“Where words fail, music speaks” – Hans Christian Andersen

1st April 2015

Posted In: The Interview

At the ripe age of 51, when many of her friends were thinking of retiring, Ann Maybin made the unusual decision to begin a whole new adventure by starting her own business – The Churchtown School of Music (CSM) – located in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. As her company celebrates its 10th birthday, WMB caught up with Ann to see how her love of music has developed into a thriving family interest.

Born and raised in Co. Derry, Ann began her career as a music teacher in England and Northern Ireland before meeting her husband Colin, and moving to Dublin. “I had never learnt Irish so couldn’t take up a Department of Education job as in 1984 you weren’t recognised as a qualified teacher with no Irish!” Ann subsequently taught music in private schools and became an examiner for the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

She took a break from teaching to raise her three young children but soon discovered that she was always ‘on call’: “I was constantly answering the phone to people I had taught asking for recommendations for piano teachers, violin teachers etc. I was dishing out this information on a daily basis based on a lifetime of experience in teaching and examining in Dublin so I thought I would take it one step further and provide tuition for all instruments in one location.”

At the time (2005), there were only four main music schools in the Capital, two of which were subsidised by the state, so CSM was quite a unique concept. Ann’s business model was to deliver bespoke music tuition to fit in with the lifestyle of today’s young people. “As a parent myself, who has been through the endless drop-offs and pick-ups, I understand the importance of having three siblings doing their music lessons concurrently. We are different in this aspect to most other music institutions that give you a day and a time and hard luck if it doesn’t suit.”

Her unique concept coincided with her desire to return to the workplace. “I was brought up with a very strong work ethic, both my parents were in business so I knew once my children were grown up I would not be happy if I wasn’t busy. My twins, Nicholas and Rebecca had just finished their Leaving Cert and my youngest son Andrew was in transition year so this was a good time.”

Ann’s initial vision was: “to provide music education for the children in our community. The end result after ten years has exceeded all expectations”. The School of Music provides lessons in all instruments. Mini Music was launched in response to demand from parents of young children and includes lessons at CSM and weekly in The National Concert Hall. “There is much research to show that all babies are born with an innate music ability and it is important to develop the ear from birth”, says Ann. Most recently Ann and her team have developed ‘Music for Life’ and elaborates: “It [music] has been proven to have a very positive influence on Stroke victims, Dementia patients and other age related illnesses.”

CSM employs 38 people and among them are two of Ann’s own children. But how does she handle conflict when it comes to working with family members within a business environment? Rebecca is Assistant Director and having grown up with the business from day one, she understands every aspect of it, according to Ann. “She is often referred to by the parents as Mini-Me and thinks exactly like me! I know that when I retire, the school will be run exactly the same.” Whereas Andrew’s degree is in composition and “as he is a typically laid back musician, there are never any conflicts – famous last words!”

Ann’s biggest source of inspiration comes from her family: “My role models on the business side are my parents, my sister Gloria and my husband Colin who are all in business. On the education side is my sister Elizabeth, who has just been awarded an OBE for services to Education in Northern Ireland.” Her husband’s business experience has come in handy too: “He helps to cultivate the business side of my brain and I help him with the artistic side. So we compliment each other.”

As with all businesses a passion with a strong commercial bent is essential in order to succeed: “This is a difficult combination to find! I think passion is the most important quality as this is what keeps you motivated and enthusiastic. Also the ability to identify the best quality teachers to suit the ethos of the school.”

The road to now hasn’t been without its challenges. Ann has relocated the school three times due to its growth, which was costly. “We have been in our current location for five years and hopefully for much, much longer!” The transition from music teacher to businesswoman was a deep learning curve and Ann has found the right balance over time: “I used to always think with my heart but I have had to learn to think with my head as well. It seems to work.”

On making a considerable life change in her middle age, she remains resolute: “I still don’t think I’m the age I am!! My friends were all starting to wind down from high profile jobs at the age of 51 so they were in shock when they heard I was starting a brand new business. My family wasn’t at all surprised as they know me well!”

With all the traits of a self-confessed Leo – Ann has honed her abilities to achieve her goals. To ‘would be’ entrepreneurs, she offers some advice: “Be prepared for sleepless nights and long hours. For the last ten years my finishing time was 9pm every night!” Sound advice indeed!