It was 23 years ago when Vivaldi Music Academy founder and CEO Zeljko Pavlovic came to the United States, a refugee from his home country of Bosnia, bringing over 200 years of family history in music.Pavlovic played violin for the Houston Symphony for 13 years, but his desire to start a music school did not take hold until it was time for his son to begin taking lessons.

“At that time, music academies were an afterthought,” Pavlovic said. “People would take lessons at the back of a guitar store or at the back of a retail store. So it was like they were in the background. And the quality was just not there.”

Pavlovic decided to rectify that, opening the first Vivaldi Music Academy in West University Place in 2013. Eventually he left the symphony to focus his time and energy on the academy. In a year, enrollment ballooned to 400 students, and within three to four years, Vivaldi Music Academy boasted 2,000 students across four locations in West University, Bellaire, Memorial and Sugar Land. The school now bills itself as the largest private music academy in the United States, but Pavlovic emphasizes quality over quantity.

“What really differentiates us from somebody else is that our teachers are highly qualified, and not only that, they’re really good at working with kids. To me, that was extremely important,” Pavlovic said.

Nearly 300 faculty members with instrument-specific degrees teach musicians of all ages, from preschool through adulthood. Instrument lessons span cello, drums, flute, clarinet, violin and voice.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, these teachers helped the academy shift to online and in-person classes and performances, allowing families to log in and connect with their children from anywhere in the world.

“As a musician, to see a complete beginner come who has never touched an instrument and see them within a year play in a recital, that’s really beautiful,” Pavlovic said.