Heather Welkes is a certified teacher with a Masters degree in Reading. Currently residing in Port Jefferson Station with her husband and three-year old son, Welkes teaches part time. In the past she has taught in several Long Island districts as well as daycare schools and camps.
Welkes is the founder and Director of Shake N' Make Music, a fun filled high energy music program with classes throughout Nassau and Suffolk County.
She sat down with Port Jefferson Patch to discuss how Shake N' Make Music was born and what her future goals are for the young company.
How did the idea to start Shake N' Make Music come about?
I belonged to a few Mommy groups and started having play-date music classes in my house for fun. Just for something to do with my son basically. I had a Mom say to me, “You should do this professionally.”
A friend of mine is a children’s librarian so I gave her my information and asked if I could do a class for free and have her sit in and give me feedback. This was June of last year. Now I go back every 3 months or so, now getting paid.
I started from there, having my husband build me a website because he’s a web designer. Advertising, a Facebook Page, sending flyers to every library on Long Island and doing free classes for some of the local Mom groups.
From there I started having Moms say, “Can you come do my kids birthday parties?” Which was something I hadn’t even though of at the time. So this kind of found me. I wasn’t necessarily looking for it at the time. But its working out well.
My first interest was my son Gavin. He was turning two at the time. I started this and again at the time I wasn’t looking to make money with it just something to do with him and the fact that I could do it, and make money, and bring him, it was a huge bonus.
Where are some of the places you have held classes?
Birthday parties, libraries, pre-schools, day care centers. I just started at in Riverhead doing a series of classes.
I started looking into play places and happened to be at with my Mom group and bumped into the owner. I asked if he had someone that came in and did music classes, and asked if he would be interested in renting the space to me.
How did your brother get involved with the business?
I partnered up with my brother. He is a certified music teacher. He has outlined a business plan. He has pushed me farther then I could have pushed myself. My thought was really just do this in some libraries and make some extra cash.
My concern was did it look professional to be using other people’s music with the class if I’m getting paid. My brother being a music teacher was like "let me bounce some ideas off of you." And I said well here’s what I’ve got, I've got rhythm sticks, I’ve got bean bags, I’ve got shaky eggs, go to work. He ended up writing some original music that we recorded at a studio, so we have a CD.
We are in the process-hopefully this summer-to sell or give with a series of classes the CD's. We have people asking for the music so we are going to be starting with 500 copies.
Does your brother teach the classes as well?
My brother is not involved with the daily classes right now. He works full time as a teacher. If I have a weekend class he will run the class with me. One time I was sick and couldn’t do a birthday party so he took over and did it for me.
So from a teacher's perspective how does the class benefit children?
As a teacher there are so many benefits of music and first and foremost to have fun, have something to do, not sitting in front of a TV. So the benefits I would say are having the structure of the class, and having to take direction from the teacher. Sharing instruments, dealing with music and repetitive songs with stability and structure. Fostering a love of music and being with other kids.
Physically the kids are up, they are moving, their heart rate is up. The class is music and moving.
I also have a song we do in English and Spanish, one that’s in English and sign language. So there is a benefit of teaching another language, the possibilities are endless what we can do with it.
Have you had any challenges along the way?
It really hasn’t been tough at all. The opportunities have really come to me. I think because it’s a little different, a little-I don’t want to say edgy-but the music and I’m trying to think outside the box. I’m trying to look for the non traditional things to do music.
I’m not necessarily a spontaneous person I’m very Type A and doing something like this has been really interesting to me because this was not the path I was looking for. I always figured I would get my teaching certifications, I would get a job, have kids, but none of that worked out.
Maybe that really wasn’t my path anyway or maybe by having taught infants to adults and just finding all those skills, its all finally coming together in this.
What marketing strategy has worked for you in this economy?
One of my marketing ideas has been to offer free classes. At this point I don’t really feel I need to do anymore. Every opportunity I’ve found has led to another opportunity. I’ll do a birthday party and then book another from a guest there. So word of mouth. Its amazing word spreads and so far thankfully it has all been positive.