School Spotlight: West Island Music Academy's Derek and Joel Ovadia

Derek and Joel Ovadia are the reason that West Island Music Academy is so successful – the music- and business-savvy brothers have completely revolutionized the way music is being introduced and taught to children of all ages at their two locations: Pointe-Claire (est. 2010) and Cote-Saint-Luc (est. 2013). WIMA is a privately owned and operated music school offering quality personalized music lessons, rock band classes, music for toddlers programs, recitals and recordings. Here’s what they had to say about their unique approach to music, what advice they have for those starting their own business, and the best way to get your child involved in music.

Tell us how the music academy got started.

Joel: We both grew up in a musical household – our mom was a piano teacher, and many of our friends from school were taking lessons, so we were always surrounded by students working on music after school and on weekends. I started on piano, then took up guitar, and switched to drums and other instruments in my teen years. I went on to study music in university, and Derek studied business. As a teenager, I worked as a teacher at a local music school. I taught guitar to kids, teens and even adults.  Getting paid to play my instrument and share my favourite thing in the world was a great experience, but I started to realize that there something lacking in their approach. I got together with my brother and we discussed what we’d like to incorporate beyond the current music systems.

Derek: We don’t have a very strict classical methodology at WIMA. We can certainly teach that way, but our philosophy is different – all of our classes (except for rock band) are private lessons. We have created a really fun atmosphere, and we have a really good mix of new and experienced teachers. This way we have an excellent balance and we are able to match the teacher to each particular student to get the best fit. The goal isn’t necessarily always to become professional musicians but rather to develop an appreciation for music and benefit from all that music brings.

What’s the best way to start a child in music lessons?

Joel: For piano, young kids around 5 years of age can achieve success. The piano isn’t physically difficult to play, compared with the guitar, violin or drums, which all require a serious amount of coordination. With the piano, everything is visually there – you can see all the keys, and it’s much easier to figure out. Guitar and other string instruments require you to go searching for the notes.

What is your favourite part of your job?

Joel: For me, the highlight is definitely the recitals at the end of the semester. Each student performs what he or she has been working on and there’s a huge payoff: big smiles and lots of applause. It takes place over two weekends with two full days of performances. We rent out a hall, set up the PA, plus all the instruments and microphones so that each child can perform and sound as professional as possible. It’s an enormous amount of work on our part but we love every minute of it.

Personally, I also love when the rock bands get together and play.  Creating music is not limited to playing alone in a room. These kids get to share their passion with likeminded students. When I was in high school, I was one of the only kids playing at my level. In our rock band program, we assemble the top rock musicians from all these different high schools and they get to play with each other, learn how to compose and rehearse together. It’s a wonderful, creative learning experience.

We’re essentially trying to be the music school we wish we had as kids.

Derek: The best part for me is coming in every day and seeing those students who have a huge smile on their faces because their teacher made them feel special for that lesson. It can make an incredible difference to the student. It lifts the parent’s mood as well. And that’s the atmosphere we strive for – spreading positivity is hard to find in everyday life but these experiences just make my day!

What do you do you do on a day off?

Derek: What’s that? (Laughs). We both like to be outside and go to the cottage or find a mountain to hike. Get some fresh air.

Any tips for someone who is thinking of starting a business?

Joel: Be prepared to forget the “make your own hours” rule because if you want to succeed, the business will dictate what those hours are. That rule only comes into play after year two or three. Be prepared to work long hard hours to make your dreams come true.

Derek: Have a good business plan, practice time management, and keep it broad level. Be as customer-focused as you possibly can. It’s not about your business but it’s about them – be customer-centric at all times.

Where’s your favourite place in Montreal to hear local music?

Joel: We’re big comedy buffs, and there are lots of links between comedy and rhythm in music, so it’s fun to check out good comedians. We also like to go and see concerts. We have so many friends and teachers who are local, active musicians, so we have staff outings where we’ll go to each other’s shows, grab a drink, and support each other.

West Island Music Academy has two locations: Pointe-Claire, 1 Place Frontenac, Building E, 514-612-4323, and Cote St-Luc, 5555 Westminster #312, 514-612-4323