Village Music – A Love Story and a Music Store
By Krista Martinelli
When you walk into Village Music, you might be struck by the sense of community they have built in such a short time (less than a year), the constant flow of music students and the fun that’s going on inside. People pick
up a guitar or a ukulele and dabble. Kids are taking music lessons and learning different instruments. Customers are buying instruments, accessories, and sheet music. They already have 110 students, fifteen talented music teachers and offer lessons in guitar, ukulele, piano violin, drums, trumpet, clarinet, bass, voice and synthesizer. Their students range from 4 to over-eighty years old.
It’s a very special music store, all thanks to a shared dream that owners Donna and Steve Willey had. “People really appreciate our personalized service that we give,” says Donna Willey. “We both have a real passion for music and for spreading it in the community. This is more of a way of life than a business for us.”
Recently a single Mom came into the store and bought an electric piano. Steve went to her house and put the piano together for her. They can deliver when necessary and will do whatever it takes to get music back into your life.
When it comes to lessons, they put more emphasis on the quality and requirements of the music teachers than some other music stores do. “I’m a classically-trained pianist,” explains Donna. “All of our teachers must read music and be able to teach music theory.”
Since my 7-year-old daughter began taking uke lessons with Steve, she has really learned to play the instrument quickly and seems to thoroughly enjoy her lessons. Right away on the day of her first lesson, she spotted a Taylor Swift guitar book and asked if they could order a Taylor Swift ukulele book. Just about a week later, the book arrived. So in addition to thoroughly enjoying the lessons with Steve, she is enthusiastic about the songs she practices. As I have seen, he is always positive, always funny and continues to make it fun! (Quite a difference from the painful piano lessons I used to endure as a 15-year-old with my Romanian music teacher who tapped out the rhythm on my head and made threats about what might happen if I wasn’t ready for the recital in time).
When it comes to selling instruments, Steve says, “We try to have everything people need. And we have a special passion for the ukes here, with the best selection of ukuleles in Palm Beach County.” If you haven’t noticed, the ukulele is becoming a very popular choice among children. (See related article about the “rise of the uke.”) If you look around Village Music, you will also find a lovely assortment of guitars, electric pianos, drums, amps, other instruments and sheet music.
Steve Willey had a store in Sturbridge, MA, a historic village, for ten years – also called Village Music. Since opening this store in Wellington in November of 2012, they’ve been gaining momentum and spreading their joy of music. “My main focus is learning, but having fun while doing it,” says Steve. “Yes, we’re all about the fun factor,” says Donna. “With our students, we like to give them variety. If they are not enjoying an instrument, we let them switch to another instrument. It should be about the joy of music.”
If you spend any time with this terrific couple, you will hear about their one-of-a-kind love story. (And just as a disclaimer, this is much better if you hear it from Steve or Donna, along with the songs along the way that led up to their
wedding day). In the beginning, Steve was a young soldier, sent to Germany at the age of 22. His troop took a trip to Yugoslavia, and they were introduced to their tour guide Donna, who the men were instructed not “to touch” under any circumstances. They asked why, wondering if she was “extremely hot” or what the issue would be. Right away Steve was in awe of Donna’s beauty, but was trying to not get in trouble with the officer’s command. Donna organized a barbecue, overlooking the cliffs of the Adriatic Sea. Steve caught a glimpse of an amazing eclipse that evening, and asked Donna to come see it. “And then I planted a kiss on her,” he says, rather proudly. After that, they were in love and spent every possible weekend together. Steve got the bad news that he was being re-located to Texas, while Donna was applying to get her Master’s degree in Heidelberg, Germany. She felt that a long-distance romance would be too painful to maintain, so she ended her relationship with Steve.
Steve was beside himself and wrote the song “Donna, Sweet Donna.” He asked an artist friend to paint a large painting – with the lyrics written onto the sky in the picture. He mailed the song and the painting to Donna, all rolled up in a tube. But he didn’t realize that she had moved to a different address and never received it. They moved on with their lives, each getting married and having kids. Ultimately, neither Steve nor Donna had found the special connection or closeness that they had found with each other – and Donna was going through a divorce. Many years later in 2010, Steve looked up Donna on Facebook and found her, still living in Germany. He sent her a quick message, including the first part of the lyrics to the song he had written for her. She found the lyrics beautiful and explained that she had never received the song in the mail. That was the beginning of the next chapter of their lives.
They carried on a telephone romance, sharing their favorite songs and playing music for each other (with a lot of Carole King, James Taylor and Bob Dylan in the mix) for two months. Donna had a business trip planned to the Boston area, where Steve was living. It wasn’t long before they married, just as Steve had dreamed about so many years ago (as etched into the love song he wrote for her). And they spent a year researching their next move, finding Wellington, Florida to be the perfect home for their new family and their music store.
“We love it here!” says Donna. “We have had an amazingly warm welcome from the community.” It’s a good thing they love their time at the music store, since they spend many hours there, along with Donna’s children Sophie and Jonah and even bring their adorable dog Benji too. They recently finished construction on all six lesson rooms and are very happy to have the space to accommodate even more music students now.
Donna and Steve love seeing the positive effect music has on children in their overall development. For example, Steve has an autistic student taking ukulele lessons. He has to be tested on a regular basis, and his academic scores have recently doubled; his parents and doctors all attribute the positive change to the music lessons. Also, it’s always rewarding to hear parents report back that their kids have more self-confidence, thanks to the music lessons. Numerous studies show that taking music lessons increases a child’s abilities in math and science.
This summer Village Music offers Summer Music Camp: Instrument Exploration from July 22nd to July 26th, 9am to 3pm each day. “The whole idea is to expose kids to the whole range of instrument groups, learning about two new instruments per day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” says Donna. The camp will combine music theory with hands-on practice. Those students who register in May can avoid paying the $25 registration fee. See the Village Music website for details.
As for their musical backgrounds, Donna started playing piano at age seven and went onto to train at the New England Conservatory in Boston, dabbling in other instruments along the way. She also has an M.B.A., which comes in handy with running a music store. Currently, Donna is a doctoral candidate in the subject of Moral Philosophy. Donna and Steve complement each other with the “best of both worlds” – classical music and band music.
Steve started playing drums at age fifteen, but then broke his hand playing softball. He picked up the guitar, played and sang in bands in the army, and started writing songs too. He was in a band called Shades of Grey in Massachusetts. And these days he plays every other Saturday night at Backstreet’s in Wellington at 7pm. “I like to keep things fun! You never know who your next student is going to be,” he says. He taught a young guitar player named Joel Crouse, who is now the opening act for Taylor Swift on her Northeastern tour of the country.
Steve and Donna are very happy with the music teachers they are working with – including a jazz pianist, a BerkleeCollege music grad with a N.Y.U. Master’s degree, a violinist, a flamenco guitar player and many others. Now that more practice rooms are recently finished, they are on the lookout for more talented teachers too.
Village Music is a wonderful place to find an instrument, learn a new instrument or just enjoy the ambiance of this warm-hearted shop. Stop by and indulge yourself in music – located in the Fresh Market plaza on Forest Hill Boulevard in Wellington.
10660 W. Forest Hill Blvd. #150
(Between Fresh Market and Joey’s Outback)
Wellington, FL 33414
Open Monday thru Saturday