Bill Dittlinger has opened a music studio in Warsaw at 2176 N. Biomet Drive. Photo provided.
Bill Dittlinger has opened a music studio in Warsaw at 2176 N. Biomet Drive. Photo provided.
Teachers at Music Encounters not only instruct their students how to play notes, but also how to deliver a message in a way other people can relate to.

Owner Bill Dittlinger opened his second location, at 2176 N. Biomet Drive, Warsaw, just two weeks prior to the COVID-19 pandemic closing everything down. In those first two weeks, Music Encounters took on about 18 students, with 15 staying on.

His other music studio is in Columbia City, where Music Encounters has about 200 students.

“We just have the three offices here right now. We have first right of refusal on the (offices) right above us, that are this exact setup,” Dittlinger said, adding that he wants to eventually have six offices at his Warsaw studio.

“We teach guitar, piano and voice and all of those kind of things. And then we also try to take them from that to being able to do band situations,” he said.

The studio only charges $18 per half hour lesson, compared to the “standard” price of $30, he said. “It’s one of the reasons we get lots of students because we wanted a diverse kind of people to be able to afford us.”

Dittlinger is from the Anderson area originally. He’s taught music part-time on the side for over 20 years, but only taught it full-time for the last three years.

“I was in Columbia City at a lake property and tried to find work in my old area of expertise, which is management and training and human resources and those kind of things. I had tons of years of experiencing doing it and I just couldn’t find anything,” he said.

Then he got an idea to teach music full-time. His wife told him that if he could get 12 students, they could survive.

“I thought that was even a challenge because I’m a male trying to get children to teach in an area you’re not from and that can be challenging sometimes. But in two weeks I got those first 12 students,” he said.

While talking to neighbors about his new business over a weekend, one told him that he had to get a special exception to run a business out of his home. On Monday, he made a phone call and learned from the city that he did need that exception. After a negative, public meeting, Dittlinger decided to see about getting an office in Columbia City instead. Music Encounters started at the Linville Center in downtown Columbia City.

He didn’t have enough money to pay the rent with the amount of students he had at that time. However, within a year, he started renting four offices and hiring people.

“And the reason I started hiring people was because I noticed that what was happening in my lessons was far beyond teaching music. I was positively affecting kids, and the parents hearing what I was saying to their children was positively affecting the parents and I had some great conversations with the parents. So I figured out that I was really affecting my community, and I wanted to do that as much as I could,” Dittlinger said.

When he hired his first two teachers, he had to take a cut in pay. Music Encounters began growing, and eventually a property on Ind. 13 and 9 became available and he bought it in 2018. From 2018 to recently, Music Encounters grew 300%.

“It was just mind-blowing to me,” he said. “So my wife, who didn’t think I could get 12 students, we now have 200 over there, and it’s just awesome.”

Dittlinger said he’s always liked Warsaw. He shops here whenever he can, he likes its layout and he said there seems to be “really nice” people.

“I just got to thinking: Can I do the same thing there as far as positively affecting people? That’s our number one thing. I didn’t come here to make a bunch of money. I came here to see if we can put some positiveness in the next generation,” he said.

The studio’s students range in age from 4 to 84. Music Encounters has 15 people on staff between the Columbia City and Warsaw locations, with five in Warsaw.

Dittlinger said the studio has “so many amazing stories” that come out of their work.

He had a young college man who was contemplating suicide. The man told Dittlinger later that because of meeting with him weekly and the lessons they had, the man “went a different direction, which is really good news to hear.” Dittlinger had to excuse himself from that lesson to weep because he felt what the man told him was “so powerful.”

Another young lady would stare at the floor all the time and pull at her clothes when she initially began her voice lessons with Dittlinger. She had her first solo at a local farmers market and when they got back to the studio Dittlinger had a conversation with her about it.

“I said, ‘Hey, you had an assignment, you’re supposed to give me some new songs you’re interested in, what do you got?’ She goes, ‘Well, I want you to listen to this one.’ And I had never heard it before at that point – I’ve now performed it multiple times because I love it – but it’s called ‘Fear is a Liar,’” he said.

As Dittlinger listened to the song, looking at the girl, he wondered what she wanted him to do with the song because it’s such a “powerful” song “where she’s giving a message to people to change when she hasn’t changed herself.”

After the song played, Dittlinger told her, “You know, you’re singing this song and it has in it problem, problem, problem, solution! You’re going to deliver a message of solution so somebody can make a change in their life so they don’t have to deal with these problems anymore because they’ve finally figured out how to move forward. And yet you’re staring at the floor. And you’re singing so softly, I can barely hear you.”

When he was done, he asked her if she could look people deadset in the eyes and “know that you know what you’re talking about and deliver it with such conviction that you can make a change in their lives, because if you can’t you’re going to have to sit down because we can’t do this song.”

Her parents were sitting there with their mouths agape. The girl looked up from the floor that day and said she was ready. Dittlinger said she’s been different ever since and performs out with Music Encounters’ bands.

A third and final story he shared about his music students involves a girl who has a sister with Down syndrome. When the girl got home from school one day, her sister was banging on a door of their home. They had to call 911 and authorities had to bust down the door to get in. Their mom was found cold on the floor.

The girl was at the hospital with her mom’s sister who told her the mom wasn’t going to make it.

“And what had happened that day was she was singing a song by Plum says, ‘Lord, I need you now.’ And it was that song that came back to her and she started praying, ‘God, if I’ve ever needed you, I need you right now,’” Dittlinger said.

The mom did live, though the girl had to go to foster care because her mom was doing drugs and alcohol. “Today, she’s been put back with her mom and her mother is actually helping run the women’s center, helping other women with drugs and alcohol,” he said, choking up.

“So when we’re teaching these kids, we’re like we don’t just teach them how to play notes, but we teach them how to deliver a message that is life-changing and compassionate for them. And we don’t put our message behind what they’re going to sing or play about. We want to hear what their message is and we just help them deliver that message in a way that people can understand it,” Dittlinger said.

For more on Music Encounters, visit its Facebook page, its website at musicencounters.biz or call or text 260-213-0350.