Samantha Cisilino was eight years old when she sat in front of a tiny keyboard and learned to play her first song, the classic “Heart and Soul.”
Now, at age 28, she owns her own music school in the city’s Via Italia neighbourhood, where she teaches dozens of Windsor region children the instrument she’s had a passion for her entire life.
Her father taught her that first catchy tune that’s become a staple for nearly every beginner—and played almost anywhere a public piano beckons. Instantly engrossed by the piano, Samantha tinkered with the keys whenever she could.
“I couldn’t stop,” she said of her childhood obsession. “I just loved it.”
Music School Beginnings
As she evolved as a player, she wanted to teach others to play as well. That’s why, 11 years ago, she started Fermata Music Piano Studio.
The young entrepreneur operates from her Erie Street location, which doubles as an office for True North Counselling, her second business that’s she’s equally passionate about. If being a psychotherapist and a piano teacher isn’t enough, Samantha is also a counsellor for students at the University of Windsor.
“I love it. This is the ideal situation for me. I want a balance of both,” she said. “I want the psychology side because I love it and I want the piano side because it’s my passion as well. It’s a great balance.”
Playing that small keyboard as a young girl was clearly just the beginning for Samantha. Growing up in the Polish neighbourhood near Ottawa Street, she became a student of one of those nuns who lived down the street next to the church.
The two of them worked through several beginner’s piano books, learning songs like My Funny Puppy and A Rainy Day. On a shelf at her music school, Samantha still has the first piano book, each page emblazoned with a sticker marking her teacher’s approval. It’s a tradition she continues with her own students.
“They get stickers and they get candy, if they’re good. I think that’s why they come, for the candy,” Samantha jokes.
With nearly 40 students at her piano school, she added two new teachers: Logan Adam and Martha Tedla. Logan has studied piano since high school and is studying further in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Windsor. Martha, a math major also at U of Windsor, was one of Samantha’s first students when she started Fermata 11 years ago.
“We all come from very different backgrounds and offer unique perspectives for the students,” Samantha said of her team.
At Fermata, they offer a range of techniques as they connect with a wide array of students who are very different in age and experience. Some of those techniques come from the handful of teachers she’s had over the years.
One tool, in particular, includes encouraging students to imagine the story of the song they’re learning, a strategy Samantha picked up from one of her teachers.
“When I’d play, I’d picture my story and then I’d be able to be expressive in my pieces,” she said. “And that’s what I teach my kids now.”
Whether it’s visualizing the story or focussing on playing technique, Samantha has plenty of strategies for students, who’ve ranged in age of five years old to people in their 60s. For teenagers, as an example, she loves to show them how to learn to play by ear.
“I offer that to my students because some students don’t want to go buy a book and learn that way,” Samantha said.
Via Italia Home
Being part of the Via Italia neighbourhood was a natural fit for Samantha, but she credits her mother for using her persuasive negotiating skills and finding an affordable space for her music school.
“She’s the whole reason I’m even doing this,” Samantha said of her mother. “She just found these places and really helped me get to where I am.”
Samantha’s passion for piano has not subsided since sitting down next to her father and learning that first song. As busy as she is with two businesses and three different jobs, she always makes time for her students.
Even when she’s at home in the evenings, parents will send her video clips on WhatsApp of their children playing piano. She quickly assesses the homework and gives instant feedback.
“I love teaching, it’s also why I like psychology,” Samantha said. “Everybody has a different learning style, it’s like a puzzle. How do I get this person, who has a different personality than the last person, to learn this piece and to do well? You’re constantly trying to make them better.”