This month, our school is heading to Graceland for a once-in-alifetime experience for our students to play on a professional stage at Elvis’ house. It doesn’t get much cooler than that. We can offer this incredible opportunity to our students thanks to Music Academy Success (MAS), a trade organization of music educators. They chose MnSOM from among more than 300 members as one of the top 10 schools in the U.S. and Canada. A few days before our Graceland performance, we will be competing for National School of the Year.

a wild ride

That’s a huge honor, and it has been several years in the making. I first joined MAS in 2016. Marty Fort, now my coach and mentor, runs the organization. I signed up because I knew I had extensive experience as a music educator, but I didn’t have similar experience as a business owner. In fact, I had been admiring MAS for several years, but I was always too tethered to my desk to attend any of their conferences. I also had an additional problem beyond a lack of time: I didn’t have any money.

In April 2016, I decided to take the plunge, meet with other music school owners, and learn from Marty in person. But I was still broke, and I needed to find a way to get from Minnesota to Charlotte, North Carolina. I didn’t have a credit card, so that wasn’t an option. So, I did something crazy. I sold all of our school’s pianos, apologized to the piano students and their parents, and shut down the piano program.

That’s right: I turned away paying customers and sold assets so that I could load up my vehicle and drive to Charlotte in the hopes that it might somehow pay off. It was an impossible bet, but I felt compelled to roll the dice.

The week of the conference, I put all of my concentration and effort into my personal development. I met other music school owners and learned how they think. The schools were much more successful than mine — we only had 84 students, and they had 500 or more. I also met Marty himself, the guru of music education businesses. Sitting in the back of the room, soaking it all in, I found their wisdom incredibly empowering. And when I spoke with them directly, I could feel the fire in their bellies and the passion they had for success. They enlightened me regarding the kind of commitment this endeavor took.

I haven’t missed a conference since. I made additional friends and learned more every year, but I was always a participant, not a presenter. This year, I will have a chance to present what MnSOM is doing and argue why we are the best music school in the nation. The other members of the organization will vote to decide a winner.

It feels endlessly rewarding to know that I have earned my position on that stage, and I’m honored that our school will be competing among the best. Just being nominated makes me proud, but I’m also going down there to win and get our school the kind of exposure and success that national attention can bring.

Our journey to Graceland will be a landmark trip in more ways than one. I can’t wait to watch our students play and prove that we deserve recognition as the best at what we do. Get ready, Memphis — we’re coming to shake, rattle, and roll!


–Eric Nehring