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Villa Musica Shares the Love of Music with Local Community

By Niloufar Shahbandi

This story was published in the Spring 2023 issue of UC San Diego Magazine.

Just a few miles from UC San Diego, Villa Musica invites visitors into a world of music.

Guitars, painted pianos and other musical instruments line the brightly colored walls. The tinkling of notes from piano practice creates a soothing background score, and the lyrical voice of Fiona Chatwin, DMA ’06, welcomes guests into the playful creative space she founded nearly 20 years ago.

During the last year of her doctoral program at UC San Diego, Chatwin established Villa Musica, a nonprofit organization centered around music instruction and performance. “I started Villa Musica so aspiring musicians of all levels could study music and connect with others for whom auditions and judgment felt scary.”

Chatwin’s own musical journey began before she was old enough to attend elementary school. When she was 5, in her home country of Australia, she begged her parents for piano lessons.

“I learned to sing at our player piano before I was actually allowed to take piano lessons,” she says.

At the age of 10, Chatwin’s parents enrolled her in a private school (because of its music program), and she later attended the Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne. Eventually, her passion brought her across the Pacific, to UC San Diego, which she chose because of the Department of Music’s reputation for cutting-edge research and her interest in contemporary classical music.

And Chatwin knows first-hand that cutting-edge isn’t always comfortable.

The first day she walked into the Department of Music at UC San Diego, she was assigned a 65-page “jury” score to learn and perform in just three weeks. The piece had been composed by Jude Weirmeir, PhD ’06, another music student.

“I had never seen such complex music, but somehow, I got through; it was invigorating,” she says. “I guess I didn’t do too bad of a CM job because Jude’s jury was MY well received by the department and he and I have been married for 20 years.”

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