Sarah Monson put her musical plan into motion, literally. She got the keys to a new cargo trailer, then moved in two sets of black and white keys — piano keys. Monson was ready to take her show on the road and make her piano instruction studio mobile. Now, she teaches 31 students from a specially remodeled trailer frequently parked outside of The Music Mart store in Rochester.

The idea for the mobile piano studio was born out of necessity. While Monson has been teaching piano for the past 20 years, she formalized the Sarah Monson Piano Studio in 2012.

When the pandemic hit, Monson's hours at The Music Mart were cut. With three children at home, it was a difficult time for Monson.

“My husband was able to maintain his employment during the shutdown, but as a two-income family, it caused some anxiety and stress,” she said.

Before she qualified for unemployment through the CARES Act, one of Monson’s Music Mart co-workers donated hours to her.

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“It was such an amazing gift, and to be the recipient of such kindness was such an encouragement during those especially uncertain days,” she said. “I tear up even thinking about it.”

Sarah Monson teaches Ivy Petzold, 5, in her mobile piano studio on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, in The Music Mart parking lot in Rochester. The trailer is equipped with side-by-side pianos. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Sarah Monson teaches Ivy Petzold, 5, in her mobile piano studio on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, in The Music Mart parking lot in Rochester. The trailer is equipped with side-by-side pianos. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Though Monson could still teach piano lessons online, she needed to come up with a way to make her piano teaching more viable for in-person lessons to maintain her income. “That meant either leaving music completely, because it's about the most uncertain business one could choose, or reinvent, once again, how to build and sustain a workable business model,” she said. She chose the latter.

Before the pandemic, Monson taught in her students’ homes or in a small space at The Music Mart that couldn’t accommodate two pianos and social distancing. Neither worked for in-person lessons during the pandemic, and her home, which didn’t have a readily available space for a studio, was too far away from Rochester to make it feasible for lessons. With retail space unaffordable, Monson toyed around with the idea of converting a bus she could drive to her student’s homes. Eventually, she landed on the concept of converting a cargo trailer into a piano studio.

After checking with the city, the county and The Music Mart, her idea to build a two-piano studio in a trailer started to become a reality.

“I was a bit nervous about how the owner of The Music Mart, Joe Meidl, would feel about having a trailer parked in his parking lot, but he has been nothing but supportive,” Monson said.

By applying for a combination of loans and grants through her local bank and the Small Business Association, Monson was able to purchase a trailer and start the process of converting it into a piano studio.

Luckily, Monson’s husband, Trever, had training as a carpenter, so he could help customize the trailer. After getting the cargo trailer in late July, it was insulated, wired, and remodeled to house two pianos and everything Monson would need to teach her piano students by the third week in August.

“I think my favorite is the desk my husband built in the nose of the trailer,” she said. “It's all recycled material and … he also built it so that everything has a place and is bolted down for easy transit.”

The remodeled trailer is big enough to allow 6 feet of distance between the two pianos it houses. This allows each student to use a newly disinfected piano while Monson can demonstrate techniques on her own piano without sharing the same keyboard. The mobile studio also has vents and a fan to create proper airflow and includes surfaces that can be wiped down.

The mobile studio can also be taken “off-grid,” since it has its own power source. And, since she owns it, Monson doesn't have to pay rent. She was quick to add, “Plus, it’s so, so fun.”