We had the good fortune of connecting with Alison Hoffman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alison, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When I was 18, I wanted to go into music education. I was a typical band kid in high school, I knew I loved teaching and helping others, and it seemed like the right step to become a band director. Halfway through getting my music education degree, I realized how much I despised the strictness and inflexibility of being a school teacher, and I also realized how much I wanted to pursue performing since I always preferred being in the practice room and enrolling in competitions to writing lesson plans.
In the spring of 2020, I was finishing up my Master’s in flute performance. I was already teaching a few students, but at the time, all I knew for sure was that I wanted my career to consist of some combination of teaching privately and performing since those were the experiences that left me the most fulfilled in my life.
When the pandemic hit, I finished up the last month and a half of grad school online, started teaching my students through Zoom, and sat in my living room watching my graduation happen from a computer screen in mid-May. My grad school part-time job of working in the admissions office ended, and all I was left with were a few virtual students who stuck with me through the first few awkward months of online lessons. From there, starting a business happened more naturally than I expected. Not easily, but it was a logical next step.
I had previously considered teaching flute at a music school and performing in a local orchestra, but after a few months of the world completely pausing, it felt unaligned. It’s all too common for musicians to be underpaid in these positions, and I frankly didn’t have the energy or desire to overwork myself without being compensated fairly. As a musician with a chronic illness, I have a cap on how much energy I have every day, and I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to use my energy on my own terms.
My parents are both entrepreneurs, so I was already familiar with the idea of irregular schedules, not having a boss, and beginning with a lack of stability. Working from my couch in my hot apartment in the summer of 2020, I made a website, started being active on social media, and began contacting as many band teachers and music schools that I could find. Performances were on hold at the time, so I practiced in anticipation but didn’t hold my breath for gigs to resurface. There’s a special connection that I feel with teaching flutists one-on-one, and I knew that’s what a huge part of my career had to be. It was a very slow first year, but I started a blog, kept emailing band directors, connected with musicians on social media, and put on some solo live-streamed recitals to perform on my own terms. Eventually, students started rolling in.
At this point, a majority of my work comes from my apartment in Boston. I teach a studio of musicians across the country on Zoom, ranging from ages 8 to 74. My other work includes sharing practice tips on social media and on my blog, performing solo recitals, and publishing resources for my students and other flutists, including an Intermediate Flute Scale Book that I just released.
People often ask me if I am looking for a “job” or if I would want to take auditions or apply for positions at music schools. If the right opportunity arises, I might, but my physical and mental health have never been better than when I’ve been able to set my own schedule, boundaries, and goals. I finally have the freedom I’ve craved for years and it’s empowering.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My brand focuses a lot on mental health, partly because it’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life, especially when I was a student. I am so incredibly passionate about building fantastic flute players, but I’m even more passionate about making sure they feel empowered to set goals, create boundaries, and learn that we’re on the journey of discovering balance in life, including practicing flute, mindset, and patience.
The balance of having high standards while giving yourself (or your students) grace is a fine line that I struggle to walk along but strive to every day. I grapple with pushing my students too far, because although I know what they would be capable of if they put in the work, I had teachers who had no business assuming that their students weren’t working hard enough, overlooking the mental health of the young people right in front of them. Myself and many of my classmates in both high school and college were consistently sleep deprived and overworked, and hearing teachers belittling us for not prioritizing their subject was damaging. Learning is nearly impossible when you’ve only gotten 4 hours of sleep or you’ve skipped lunch to practice or study, and it’s compounded when you struggle with mental illness. There is a toxic productivity culture among musicians and school that I aim to dismantle by prioritizing the mental health of my students.
As an educator, you have to remain open to the possibility that your students might need support more than they need your subject matter. It hurts me in some ways because of how passionate I am about making luxurious sounds through a metal tube, but I have to set my goals aside and consider what they need. Because of that, I don’t raise a full studio of competitive flutists, I illuminate musicians who are on a journey to support themselves and learn how to grow.
One of the most challenging things that I accomplished was getting my Bachelor’s in music education. As a slow planner and a recovering perfectionist, I felt confined in this environment that seemed to revolve around flawless lesson planning and appeasing school administration rather than focusing on music and connections with individuals. I was struggling with the misalignment of my love of music pedagogy and connecting with students but hated the idea of being a school teacher. I hold so much respect for school music teachers because of how difficult it was for me to complete this degree. In hindsight, I’m grateful that I finished the degree because I gained skills and perspectives I never would have learned as a flute performance major which have become invaluable contributions to my teaching.
One of my proudest accomplishments is a book I just published last month called the Intermediate Flute Scale Book. It’s a book of scales for flutists ranging from 6th to 12th grade as well as adult amateurs and woodwind doublers. The book carefully bridges the gap between simple scale sheets and advanced scale books that many students aren’t ready for. I originally started writing up scale sheets for my students, and as I kept adding different variations, I combined it into a book to share with flutists and teachers across the globe to fill a specific need.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There are so many amazing things to do in Boston that it’s hard to pick! For coffee and breakfast, we would go to Cafenation, Glasser, and Farmer’s Horse. We’d get some great pizza at La Befana, incredible tacos at Teresa Market, and the best Bahn Mi at Pho Viet’s. We’d walk along the Charles River and pass through Boston Public Gardens and check out the North End.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have many friends, family members, and mentors that have helped me get to where I am today. My wonderful flute and education professors have shaped me into the flutist and private teacher I am, my incredible business coach has helped me discover the fullest version of myself in my career, and my parents and my partner have been my hugest fans, supporters, practical advisors and inspiration givers.
I read everyday, so books have played a huge role in my career building. Some of my favorites are Mindset by Carol Dweck, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and Essentialism by Greg McKeown.