U-Rock Music School – which began in 1997 with owner Cathy Hallessey teaching music out of her Stittsville home to neighbourhood children – will be celebrating 25 years in business in the upcoming year. At its peak in 2019, the school had 150 students. Now down to 100 students (due to both the pandemic and to make things more manageable for the teachers), U-Rock Music School has won many awards which showcase how incredible the business and its teachers truly are. Most recently, the school was named Ottawa’s Top Choice Music School of 2021. Cathy believes it’s “unusual for such a small business” to have received such a prestigious honour, but she thinks the close relationships the teachers have with students’ families help to truly set their music school apart.
Cathy is proud of the fact that her business sets itself apart from other music schools for a few reasons. First, rather than being based in a “brick-and-mortar” shop, U-Rock Music School is run out of the home Cathy shares with her husband, Brian Brodersen. Cathy and Brian are co-owners of the school, yet both continue to teach music in addition to running their business. Additionally, Cathy and Brian hire their own former students as teachers. Cathy believes this is a “really unique way of running a music school, as it is nurturing the family environment” of U-Rock Music School.
Cathy’s love for music began when she was 7 years old and got her first guitar for Christmas. She was soon performing for audiences – charging her neighbours a nickel to watch her play music and lip-sync to records in her basement. “I’m probably the person who invented lip-syncing,” Cathy jokes. She began taking guitar lessons at 11 years old, taught her friend in junior high, and soon enough she was teaching others what she had learned. Throughout high school, Cathy taught classmates to play guitar.
Cathy soon met her equally music obsessed husband, Brian. He joined Cathy in teaching music: “I honestly could not have grown the school without Brian,” says Cathy. Both she and Brian were still working at other jobs as they were teaching music. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that the school became the couple’s full source of income. Cathy is happy to continue introducing kids to music and nurturing their love for it, admitting that the business is “a labour of love. It’s lots of work but so worth it!”
Normally, U-Rock Music School puts on six performances a year, where students can showcase their growing talents and rock out for an audience live. Over the past year, these performances have been put on virtually. Cathy feels a bit sad about this, but reminds her students that they are still performing for audiences, as their performances can be found online.
When asked how they plan to celebrate 25 years in business, Cathy says, “if we’re past all the restrictions, we want to do something big!” They’re planning to celebrate in the new year when it’s officially been 25 years. Cathy states they would probably do something which focuses on the community. This is not surprising, as U-Rock Music School is very community-oriented overall. Every year, the business donates prizes to local schools and sponsors one or two kids in the community who have medical needs. “I’d rather help someone and be remembered for that, and I encourage my students to do the same.” Cathy is proud to have instilled a sense of community in her students, saying “you’re not just teaching these kids about music, you’re teaching them to be good people and give back to their community.”
In closing, Cathy has a few words for our readers. “Thank you to the community for embracing us! We love being part of Stittsville!” Congratulations to Cathy, Brian, and all of U-Rock Music School for such an incredible achievement!