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Hiring My Best Friend
Posted on May 22, 2018 
It was September of 2017 when I was at my max, teaching 45 students just five months after moving back to Palm Coast. It was exciting to have filled up so quickly, but my one and a half year old son, Lukas, wasn’t so keen on my being gone all afternoon and evening, and half of my Sundays. And on some days, longer than that. I was missing all of my 11 year old’s homework help sessions, baseball games, archery practices, and art classes. And since my husband mostly works nights, I wasn’t really seeing him either. It was exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching and making music with others, and I get a refreshing energy whenever I’m with a student, but at the end of the day, after my last student, I was pretty much on empty.
Best friends hanging out after dark.
Back in early November of last year, I went to Houligan’s for a Girls Night Out with three of my closest friends that I’ve known since elementary and middle school. It was our first time out together in maybe a year?! Long past due. Anyways, we were all talking about our lives and whatnot, and we started to notice a few puzzle pieces that could fit together, to make our lives a little less stressful all around. One of my friends, Laniece, had been a stay-at-home mom for four to five years. She was trying to get back into the work field, but on a schedule that worked for her family. I totally get that, because that’s exactly how I was trying to run my business. It’s hard to find work accommodations when you have little kids at home, especially when you want to be at home with them and work at the same time.

Now, a little back story on Laniece. She and I have been friends since elementary school, and we were literally in every single choir and musical together, up through our senior year in high school. We did every singing competition and performance together, and we even joined the same local community theater together. When we were off for college, she went to Stetson University for Secondary Education and joined their choir, and I went to the University of Central Florida for Music Education. Our college lives shifted a lot with her transferring to Daytona State College and my transferring to the University of South Florida, and at one point, Laniece changed her major to Music Education, too. We both danced (or rather, sang) around that field our entire lives. That’s just where our passion is. And we didn’t even see it right in front of us until our friend Michelle, at that Girls Night Out in November 2017, said, “Why doesn’t Laniece just work with you?” Duh. Oh my gosh—Duh!

Once that idea was on the table, our friend Danielle started a full-on brainstorming session that got the ball rolling even closer to a reality. But Laniece had never given private singing lessons, and her piano skills weren’t advanced. Then again, I remember when I first started teaching privately, and my piano skills have definitely improved since then. I could train her! Just like when we were in college and had to do observation hours, Laniece could watch me teach! She has the voice, she has the background knowledge in how to use her voice, and she’s constantly still performing with theaters and her church choir. She’s even the Head of the Worship and Creative Arts Department at Palm Coast’s God’s Family Bible Church. All she needed was a little direction in how to apply all that into teaching individual lessons. I could 100% make that happen. Okay, that’s another point taken care of, thank you Girls Night Out!
Laniece Fagundies Performing at Planet e Studios Spring Recital 2018
On to the next troubleshoot: Laniece didn’t have a piano. That’s okay, I could get her one just like I got myself one! She had a toy room in her home that could easily be turned into a perfectly quaint music room. By the end of the night, we had gone through almost every troubleshooting possibility that came to mind, and we all agreed that yes, we could actually make this happen. I remember driving home that night feeling so giddy and accomplished, anticipating telling my husband everything we discussed at Girls Night Out. My husband loved the idea of expanding Planet e Studios, and as long as I felt that Laniece was qualified and right for the job, he trusted us and was happy to put the work in and make it happen. 

In December, my family moved into our new home and decided it was officially time to put Laniece to work. I have to admit, I was nervous about hiring my best friend. You hear horror stories of friends going into business together and it ruining their friendship or something crazy happening. I most certainly didn’t want anything like that to happen with Laniece. I decided to implement a few tricks from the successful business model of my former employer, Larry Bigel, owner of Tampa Fine Arts Academy, known to me as Bigel Music at the time. Larry has great rapport with all of his music instructors and really does business the right way when it comes to parent/teacher/employee relationships. Based on his model, Laniece and I have 100% transparency. In regards to her students and families, I handle the marketing, scheduling, and full-time maintenance for all music lessons and finances, as well as organizing performance opportunities like recitals, district and state festivals, and any competitions our students would like to participate in. Laniece provides the actual teaching service. And honestly, it’s so smooth!

Laniece was scheduled to start the last week of January, after her performance of “Songs For A New World” with City Repertory Theatre came to an end. That meant we could start filling up her schedule and getting her music room ready. I started making calls from my waiting list to fill up Laniece’s schedule. Meanwhile, she was coming over for training sessions with me so that she would be prepared and feel comfortable with her new voice and piano students. She learned how to play vocal warm-ups and how to say the same thing three to four different ways, because as we all know, what works for one person may not work for someone else. It’s important in one-on-one lessons that the students truly understands what the teacher is saying, rather than just nodding their head and pretending. For piano lessons, Laniece studied the method books I use and how to determine which books to use for each student and age. She was also observing me teach both voice and piano, at different age levels. Laniece was really getting the hang of it, and so well, too! My only issue was that I hadn’t found her a piano yet. It needed to be a sturdy piano, in great condition, because she and her students would be playing on it day in and day out. 
An upright piano in the street.
Literally three days before her first day of teaching, I found her piano. It was on Facebook Marketplace. A Senior Living Facility had received a new piano as a donation and didn’t need the one they had anymore, but I sure did. I rented a van and two ramps from Home Depot, and my husband and I went to Daytona to pick it up. It was exactly what I was looking for: A smaller-framed piano with all 88 keys, in great condition, with a cushioned bench that opens up. We put it in the van and drove it to Laniece’s house. It was fun getting the piano out of the van because I had forgotten my sneakers and was wearing flip flops. Every time I tried to push the piano out of the van for my husband to guide it down, I would slide back! Eventually we got it out and into her newly designed music room. I was so proud of her. She bought beautiful, comfy chairs for parents and siblings to sit on, there was a gigantic, custom built bookshelf for all her music and sound equipment, there was a mirror for her voice students to watch themselves, there were pillows with music notes and music decor throughout the room. It looked fantastic. And now, there was a piano. She was ready.

In came her first wave of students, and she hit the ground running. After every new student, Laniece and I had (and still have) a debriefing session to toss around ideas and a plan for success that is tailored to the student. I also check in with the students, or their parents if the student is under 18, to make sure they are happy and satisfied with their lessons. Something I absolutely love about Laniece is that she always wants to be her best for her students. Whenever she is stuck or needs ideas or input, she always texts me or calls me, and we’re always able to figure it out immediately. It’s one of her many great characteristics that just goes to show what an awesome teacher she is.
Laniece Fagundies teaching voice lessons at Planet e Studios
What I didn’t expect (and truly cherish) is how much closer we’ve become. It’s like we’re back in high school again. Sure, we kept in touch through the years after school, but not on a “best friend” level, if you will. Now though, we don’t go more than a few hours without talking or texting, whether it’s business related or personal. Let me be real, it’s usually both. Working with Laniece has been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. I love that Planet e Studios is able to work with more of the community, spreading music and creating musical opportunities for students. I love that Laniece has such a knack for teaching and that she enjoys it. I love the bond she’s created with her students and how much they are learning from her. I love working with my best friend. There’s a whole lot of love going on with our arrangement.

Overall, I think it’s working out so well because we really covered all of our bases to make sure it would be a good fit. We were very thorough and laid all our cards out on the table, discussed them all, came to decisions we both agreed with, and we carried them out. There’s a level of respect between us that is so mutual and so necessary, and we both share the same goals. As of now, after three full months, Laniece is going strong with 15-20 students a week, with a max capacity of 30. I have a feeling once summer officially hits, she’ll max out pretty quickly, so if you’re interested in voice or piano lessons, jump on it and be one of the lucky musicians who gets Laniece as a teacher.
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By Emily Feinberg-Hosier
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3 Music Explorers performing their recital piece at Planet e Studios Winter Recital 2017.
The Jeanie/Stephen Auditions originated in December, 1951 to encourage promising young Florida vocal students. It takes place at the Stephen Foster State Fold Culture Center in White Springs, Florida in conjunction with National Stephen Foster Day.
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