A new downtown Rock Island business is music to many people’s ears.
After two months of renovations, Andrzej Kozlowski on Tuesday opened Sound Conservatory at 2235 3rd Ave., next to the video production and photography business dphilms. The corner building (owned by dphilms) had been vacant on and off over the past three years, last occupied by a recording studio, said Tarah Sipes, the city of Rock Island economic development manager.
“This works well in being a creative space. With them offering music lessons in a variety of different genres and instruments, that’s good because more people can come in and bring more life to this corner.”
“We filled three giant dumpsters, from tearing out what was in here,” Kozlowski (a pianist, singer, teacher, piano technician and contractor) said Tuesday morning. “I love the spot itself, but it took just a month to tear out everything.”
He worked two months on the $20,000 renovations, completely remodeling the interior, including hickory-style vinyl plank flooring. “Everything is new,” he said, noting part of the ceilings were kept. “It was a very interesting process. It’s been stressful and it’s been very exciting at the same time. We’re finally happy to be in here and get all the studios up.”
The elegant interior of the new school is reinforced by an 80-year-old hanging light fixture in the main room, from QC piano tuner Gene Taets. “He helped with the demolition and cleanup work and said, hey, I know you’re going for a historic feel in the space here, so maybe you could make this work.”
“It has that warming feeling when you walk in,” Kozlowski said. “To me, it gives off that energy. We’re teaching an art that’s old and historic.”
A former contractor, he and his cousin did all the labor on the 2,000-square-foot building. Kozlowski is waiting to install two upright pianos; there are five private studios in the conservatory — which will offer music lessons 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
“I quit music for some time, working mainly in residential construction,” he said. “I worked in the fitness industry for 10 years and walked away from that to focus on my construction business.”
Kozlowski has lived in Denver and Tucson, Ariz., before moving to Rock Island last July. “I missed music too much,” he said. “There was a part of me that was just really unhappy.”
A 37-year-old native of Gdansk, Poland, Kozlowski and his family came to the U.S. in 1992.
His musical talent was later discovered by his father. At the age of 14, he began piano lessons with concert pianist Dwight Pelzter, but due to the teacher’s health complications the lessons ended after only 9 months. After a few months of self-teaching, Kozlowski took lessons with renowned pianist and composer Zaven Khatchadourian, with whom he continued his studies until his sudden death in 2003.
He went on to continue his studies at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in music education, and then at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City.
Passionate about history
Kozlowski chose Rock Island because of its rich history, and similarity to Long Island, N.Y., where he was from. He lives in a 1910 house in the Broadway neighborhood.
He plans to buy the dphilms building, when co-owner Phil Dingeldein retires, to expand the number of studios, add a piano and instrument repair business and a retail store.
Kozlowski heard that some QC piano and voice teachers were retiring, and others couldn’t meet the need for more students.
“I wanted to bring more foot traffic into Rock Island,” he said Tuesday, noting he’s taught piano and voice from home up to now. “Everything I wanted was done in one idea.”
Sound Conservatory is geared to students of any age. Other teachers include Craig Bentley (guitar), Jenni Pickering (violin and viola), Gordon Pickering (cello and bass guitar), and Kindred Priest (bass guitar, trumpet and euphonium). They hope to expand to offer woodwind instruments as well.
“I wanted to be part of the revitalization process of downtown Rock Island, to show we have a great community,” Kozlowski said. “I always dreamed of opening a music school, being a pianist myself and a singer.”
He hopes when families come for lessons, they will patronize nearby restaurants and other businesses.
Down 3rd Avenue from Circa ’21, Rozz-Tox, Ragged Records and futureappletree recording studio, Sound Conservatory is an ideal fit, said Jack Cullen, downtown Rock Island director for the Quad Cities Chamber.
“It’s a nice pocket of downtown. It’s a great example of how we’re trying to diversify our offerings, to get more people downtown,” he said.
Arts and entertainment continues to be a focus of downtown, and Sound Conservatory aligns perfectly with that brand, Cullen said. “It’s an awesome spot in the corner, in our downtown core. It’s great to see also the renovation of the space; it’s improving the property. It’s not just a new business, but they pumped a lot of resources into making this just a more beautiful space.”
“This is just a huge win for downtown — to generate more foot traffic and more positive buzz for the city ,” he said. “This pocket we like to refer to as the creative pocket of downtown Rock Island. We have some performance venues, a recording studio, now this music school and boutique. We’re proud of this part of downtown Rock Island. It’s exciting just being added on like this.”
“This serves such a great need, to be able to teach individuals — especially kids — an instrument. To have a place to go, to practice, to play that instrument,” Mayor Mike Thoms said. He hopes this kind of business spurs more development downtown, including a piano bar, restaurants and more stores.
“I think it’s very important to see that activity happening, and building excitement,” he said. “We’re doing whatever we can to help that foot traffic. We’re doing some major renovations downtown.”
Benefit concert at Hauberg Estate
Kozlowski will perform a concert March 19 at 5 p.m. at the Hauberg Estate (1300 24th St., Rock Island), to raise money to restore its 1919 Mason & Hamlin grand piano.
“It’s one of the most superior instruments ever made, and when it’s rebuilt, it will be in many ways better than many of the instruments built nowadays,” he said. “It’s an incredible instrument. I own one, and when it comes to American pianos — Steinway and Mason & Hamlin, there’s nothing better than those two.”
Kozlowski will perform on that Hauberg piano, which needs about $5,500 in restoration (sound board, new strings, new pins and improving the action). He’s a piano technician as well, and will donate the labor himself.
“All they need to do is buy the materials to restore the instrument ,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal instrument.”
Kozlowski will perform Chopin and works by composers who admired him (Paderewski, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff).
“His music helps me stay connected to Poland,” he said of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), a beloved Polish Romantic composer.
For more information about Sound Conservatory (which also will sell sheet music), visit its website.