Magi Kapllani of DEA Music & Art: “Never give up dreaming big”

Never give up dreaming big — that really sums it up for me. I don’t think I ever thought all the things I am doing today would be possible. Never, ever give up on your dream. I am one lucky person, and I do what I love to do. That’s the biggest key to achieving the “American […]

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Never give up dreaming big — that really sums it up for me. I don’t think I ever thought all the things I am doing today would be possible. Never, ever give up on your dream. I am one lucky person, and I do what I love to do. That’s the biggest key to achieving the “American Dream.”


Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Magi Kapllani, Founder & Director, DEA Music & Art.

Dizdari Education Academy, or DEA Music & Art for short, pays homage to the classical training founder Magi Kapllani received as a young child, which allowed her to develop a love of the fine arts before she was even in elementary school. Kapllani’s parents are well-known, classically-trained musicians in Albania, and they established a popular music school and center for culture in the area named DEA Center of the Arts. In 1999, Kapllani came to the U.S. to attend the piano performance master’s program at the University of Illinois and performed all over Chicago. After moving to New York City, she decided to establish her own school where students could receive the absolute best music education possible, like her parents did in Albania. The first DEA Music & Art studio was established in 2003 in the Rosebank neighborhood of Staten Island to meet the demand from parents who were seeking high-quality music and arts education for their children. DEA Music & Art studios are run by musicians and artists who have dedicated their lives to performing and teaching. In both one-on-one and group lessons, each and every student benefits from tailor-made music and art instruction that is designed to meet their specific aspirations. In 2011 Kapllani opened a second studio in the Willowbrook area of Staten Island, and in 2016, Kapllani opened a third studio on Page Avenue in the Tottenville section of Staten Island. In 2019, with a dream to help others open their own studio, Kapllani decided to start franchising the DEA Music & Art brand.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My parents are both well-known, classically-trained musicians back in my home country of Albania. They established a famous music school and center for culture in the area named DEA Center of the Arts. Being raised by the two of them, music was around me all the time — our second home was the opera house. In 1999, I came to the U.S. to attend the piano performance master’s program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and performed all over Chicago. After moving to New York City, I decided to establish my school where students could receive the absolute best music education possible.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

I came to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree after traveling in Europe, and I really wanted to get a feel for the U.S. before immigrating here. I received a full scholarship at the University of Illinois, which included me working as a TA there as well. My TA teaching job really motivated me and got me started on the teaching path that I am on now. Working as a TA made me realize that I wanted to be able to teach in America while also learning how different schools and colleges approach music and education in this country. Of course, there are many differences in the methodology behind how Americans approach music education, but I welcomed the opportunity to grow and learn more.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I certainly faced a lot of challenges getting acclimated to coming to the U.S. from Europe. I found that the art of music-making and songwriting is the same everywhere — but performing that art was where I saw a significant difference in style. Surprisingly, when I came to America with degrees from different continents, I felt at home. Of course, there were differences — I mean, look at the cars and roads! They are huge compared to Europe or the places I was coming from. But, the big picture is that the music is the same, no matter where you go, which I found to be a universal truth.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

I have to give credit to my mentor Ian Hobson, my teacher at the University of Illinois. He’s a great pianist and performer who still teaches at the Urbana-Champaign campus. He was my piano teacher throughout my time getting my degree, and he was very supportive and a great role model who advised me on the best path for me to take when it came to my future in America. Being a great pianist, conductor and teacher himself, he truly opened my horizons for dreaming bigger. When I was his student, he was performing everywhere in the world, and you could just see that he was inspired by what he was doing — it was more than just playing music to him. Watching him lead this extraordinary life through performance, I dreamt of doing it myself one day. He was an inspiration and a great support system that continues to inspire me to this day.

So how are things going today?

With three locations up and running and a new franchise ownership opportunity, things are going well for DEA Music and Art! As COVID-19 continues to impact our business, we’ve pivoted from a consumer standpoint. We implemented virtual classes at the beginning of the pandemic to provide students with all of our programs from the safety of their homes. We’re also continuing to offer a micro-schooling program, which allows our staff to help students connect to their virtual classrooms and assist with other schoolwork in addition to our arts and music education programs.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In addition to a diverse curriculum for our students, I want to note that my classical experience with piano performance was a key differentiator in establishing DEA’s success, and I believe it’s how I’m able to bring goodness to the world. I’ve always believed that practice is only half of the work when it comes to music — performing is the other half. Through carefully constructed performing and exhibiting platforms, our students learn how to overcome their fears and handle themselves confidently in front of other people. Our students achieve public speaking skills, confidence and high self-esteem, which they can utilize to become anything they want to be in life. Our students not only learn the foundations of music and arts, they take home experiences and memories that last a lifetime.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

I don’t think so — In my point of view, the way things were set up for me was great and it was a smooth process. It felt right and very natural.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

Never give up dreaming big — that really sums it up for me. I don’t think I ever thought all the things I am doing today would be possible. Never, ever give up on your dream. I am one lucky person, and I do what I love to do. That’s the biggest key to achieving the “American Dream.”

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

The U.S. is a fantastic country. I think the U.S. has the entrepreneurial spirit — in my opinion, that entrepreneurial spirit is stronger here than anywhere else in the world. I think it was my destiny to be here, especially in New York City. I love it; it’s not the city I was born in, but it’s the city I was born for. There’s a sense of resilience here that is so big, and it truly makes me very optimistic. Americans are not easy to put down. Whatever happens, whatever struggle comes our way, anything can be accomplished.

The U.S. is also a place where your dreams can truly have meaning and can become reality. That alone is the biggest reason to be optimistic. I’m very optimistic, even after this past year that brought the pains of the pandemic. To me, these challenges have prepared us to get stronger, to come out on the other side better than before and be more enthusiastic about life.

I’m also optimistic that soon I will have a lovely group of individuals supporting the mission of expanding performing arts through franchising with DEA Music & Art. Music and art are the food of the soul. America has always taken food for the soul very seriously, and I’m ready to work with as many people as possible that see this mission of mind as theirs too.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

It’s impossible, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If I could sit and have lunch with him, it would be a dream come true! I’d ask him how he can write music that speaks so well to me with just two or three notes. I would love to have a conversation with him so that I could get to know his personality and understand how he was able to write such an immense amount of music in such a short period of time. His music is so powerful, yet the texture is so light. With just a few notes, his music is able to reach the deepest level of the soul. The power of his mind is very unique.

As for someone who’s alive, if I had the option to have breakfast with someone in my field, it would be Massimiliano Siccardi, who created the immersive Van Gogh exhibit. The way that exhibit is put together really speaks to me. As a performer myself, I’ve always had a movie playing in my mine every time I go on stage, even though it’s just me playing. I’ve always visualized music with so much action, and this exhibit puts into practice to what I’ve always done in my mind. By combining theater, music and digital media with the artwork of Van Gogh, which is amazing, a new language is created. I’ve never seen anything like it. This exhibit also has the power of music in it. If you take the music out, the art doesn’t speak as powerfully. This combination is something I’ve even experimented with students in visual arts at DEA Music & Art. For example, in one of our art classes, I played “Devil’s Dance” from “The Witches of Eastwick” by John Williams and told our students to paint. It was such an interesting outcome to see what they drew when they were asked to convert the sounds to colors.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

https://www.facebook.com/deamusicandart/
https://www.instagram.com/deamusicandart/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs-s6WvI_kMffGzlohBRvxA

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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