Cover image: Niki, second from right, pauses for a photo with students at her studio. Photo courtesy of Niki Weidner, used by permission.

Young Niki Weidner climbed under the church pews at the end of service one day to watch the organist play the postlude. Niki grew up in a musical family, and the talented organist was her grandmother. “How does she do that?” Niki thought to herself.

She asked her mom for piano lessons, and the rest was history. In junior high, after six and a half years of piano lessons, she switched to guitar, then in middle and high school learned the trombone. Music was in her blood.

As a child, Niki attended public school for a year and a half—until her parents learned she was teaching her 1st grade classmates how to read. The superintendent told her parents they could either assign Niki more homework or homeschool her.

“My mom tells me regularly that she couldn't believe the superintendent actually said that,” Niki said. Her parents chose to homeschool.

The transition to homeschooling didn’t faze Niki. She treated it as a bragging right that while her peers went off to school all day, she got to do school at home. As she grew older, Niki dedicated time to her community by volunteering at food shelters and family resource centers. “We got to meet different people from all different backgrounds,” Niki said.

While homeschooling allowed her the flexibility to volunteer, it also gave her the freedom to pursue music. “To constantly have a creative output and be able to do what I’m passionate about was super huge for me,” Niki said.

The ability to learn at her own pace relieved her of the exhaustion she had felt in public school. In junior high and high school, she joined a regional orchestra, started trombone lessons, took dance classes, and played with ensembles.

At times, Niki found it difficult to keep herself motivated. Her parents used a lot of worksheets and traditional teaching styles that reminded her of public school, which didn’t intrigue her.

However, she soon realized that even though her parents ensured her work got done, the actual process of learning depended on her. “That sticks with me to this day,” she said. “You have the responsibility for your own learning.”

By 7th grade, Niki knew she wanted to open her own business and teach the arts. After graduating from high school, she pursued degrees in psychology, music, and education.

During graduate school, Niki’s mental health began to suffer. But this wasn’t entirely new.

Niki had long noticed she had a tic. It had started in preschool and followed her through her adolescence, but she hid these symptoms from people out of fear of being sent to a doctor for tests. She had always blamed it on her anxiety.

By college, her anger issues intensified. “It just felt like I could go from 0 to 100 in like a split second,” she said. “And I'm like, ‘what is going on?’”

She added: “I was breaking off friendships at that point and I was at my wit's end.”

She realized that perhaps her behavior wasn’t entirely her fault—maybe it was neurological. For years, she had noticed that her symptoms matched with Tourette Syndrome. So she visited several doctors and was officially diagnosed at age 23.

Though a proper diagnosis brought clarity to her condition, it was discouraging, too. Her tics grew in severity, and she didn’t know if her aspirations were still attainable. She considered giving up on a musical career.

Around this time, she joined a support group with the Tourette Association of America, where she expressed her discouragement. “I just don't want to do this anymore,” Niki shared with the group. That’s when someone told her: “I believe you can make this work. You have a purpose.”

The timing of it all surprised her. Opening a studio was something she had dreamed of since she was young. But it didn’t seem feasible, since she had just graduated and had student loans to pay.

However, as all the other jobs she applied for fell through, she began to pray. “God, what do you want me to do?” she asked.

The answer was clear. “You need to start your own studio.”

She garnered some teaching experience at a local music school and began building her studio from the ground up in 2020. It started with two online students during COVID-19, then grew to a 300-square-foot space. Today, she teaches about 50 students down the road at a studio twice the size of her first.

“Entrepreneurship is the scariest thing I've ever done, because you feel like you're out in open waters,” Niki said.

Her students encourage and inspire her to continually show up and teach the thing she loves so much. She enjoys giving her students the ability to pour into something they're passionate about and develop their skill and talent.

The thing that almost held Niki back now helps her connect with some of her students who face similar challenges. Several of them have Tourette Syndrome or ADHD and autism, both of which are commonly linked with Tourette Syndrome.

“There's something really special and something that really boosts your self-esteem when you're able to say, ‘I can play an instrument and I can play it pretty good,’” she said. “I feel like I can really pour into these kids especially and say: ‘Hey, you can do this. It's okay.’”