To anyone who thinks they have zero musical talent, meet Fiona Chatwin.
She’s the founder and executive director of Villa Musica, a nonprofit center that provides music lessons to anyone who wants them — no matter their finances, no matter their talent. Whether it’s a high school guitar prodigy or a grandmother looking to improve her voice, Chatwin’s school welcomes all.
Villa Musica has a space in Sorrento Valley that offers lessons, performances and community activities. And on Oct. 9, it will open a satellite center at the Logan Heights Library.
The University City resident, who moved to San Diego in 2000 from Melbourne, Australia, tells us why she’s so passionate about music.
Q: What inspired you to create Villa Musica?
A: Back in 2004, while I was in grad school at UC San Diego, I was teaching at UCSD Extension, working with novice singers. I spent a lot of energy trying to coax their voices out of their self-consciousness and feelings of inadequacy around singing and expressing themselves vocally. In most cases I was able to coach a solo performance out of these students, which was a huge accomplishment for them. Then they would ask me, “What do I do now?” I started to research what options there were in San Diego for adult students, and upon finding a serious deficit in this area, the Villa Musica idea just blossomed. My academic trajectory was changed forever when Villa Musica was born in late 2005.
Q: What makes Villa Musica different from a traditional music school?
A: I think it would be our accessibility. Our nonprofit status enables us to raise funds so that we can offer quality music education to all San Diegans regardless of their ability to pay. In the past three years we’ve also developed partnerships with the San Diego Unified School District and the Commission for Arts and Culture, as well as a number of local foundations, that enable us to offer free programming to children in underserved neighborhoods where music education is limited or not offered at all. In fact, our new Logan Heights location will open at the Logan Heights Library next week with programming for children and adults.
Q: What is your own musical background?
A: I have four degrees in music (I know that’s kind of crazy, right?). But my greatest triumph was receiving my Doctorate in Musical Arts (voice) from UCSD under the guidance of professor Carol Plantamura. This degree truly changed my life.
Q: You also have a musical family?
A: You could say that. My husband, Jude, and I met in grad school at UCSD. He has a Ph.D. in composition, and during September of 2000, I was given the daunting task of learning his jury composition for performance for the entire music department. There was a lot at stake, but apparently I didn’t embarrass myself too much. We started dating right after that, within a year we were engaged, and we got married in August of 2002. Our daughter is nearly 10 and plays piano, violin and guitar – but her real claim to fame is her amazing voice. Imogen is the lead singer in the Villa Musica Junior Rock Band.
Q: Why is music education important?
A: Music is the universal language of expression. It knows no boundaries when it comes to race, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. In my opinion, music education has the capacity to direct social change and address many of the issues of inequality and injustice that pervade the fabric of today’s society. Music education gives people insight into the creative minds and souls of others — and themselves. It taps into so many people’s own creative talent — and in many cases, literally saves kids who would otherwise struggle and even drown in school. And, heaven forbid, it can be such fun.
Q: What do you say to people who think they can’t take class because they have no musical experience?
A: “Everybody starts out as a beginner.” The thing to get over is whether you can handle being a beginner as an adult or not. We have had students who start with us at 2 years and those who are in their 80s. At Villa Musica we treat everybody with the same respect, nurturing their inner musician, regardless of whether they are Julliard bound or just hoping to sing better to their new grandchild.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of music?
A: I find this question so difficult – I think most musicians do. So here is my list of top 5 depending on mood and situation. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” – Australian Chamber Orchestra; Puccini’s “La Boheme” – live recording Pavarotti/Freni; Elvis “30 #1 Hits;” Berio’s “Sequenza” box set; Muse – “Absolution.”
Q: What is the best advice you ever received?
A: Education is the only gift you can give that no one can take away. Give generously.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I am a member of the “cancer survivor” club. Not a club I would have joined by choice – but one I am immensely proud to be a part of.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Friday night – Villa Musica “informance” (informal performance) for our emerging adult performers to share their musical successes (and failures), followed by wine and cheese and a few laughs. Saturday – hanging out with my feisty 9-year-old at the horse barn, swimming pool and Villa Musica for Junior Glee Club. Cooking, sipping wine, listening to Bach while everyone else makes their way back home from their busy day. Sunday – early morning walk in the canyon followed by brunch at home listening to “Big Band Brunch” on Jazz 88.3, stroll through the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, movie.
What I love about University City . . .
Our condo is right next to a beautifully landscaped community park with mature pine, eucalyptus and oak trees in abundance. “Our” park is the central point for all of our neighbors – we meet there, eat there, work out there, play there. One end of the park tapers off into Rose Canyon where we hike, walk or just visit the coyotes – at the other end is a playground and a pool. Heaven!