Alumna creates studio to help students make music they love

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A woman plays piano while a student sings standing beside her with arms outstretched.
Christin Coffee Rondeau works with a voice student at Sand Dollar Music. Photo courtesy Christin Coffee Rondeau

A School of Music alumna is helping develop the talents of budding musicians through her own successful studio. Christin Coffee Rondeau, who earned a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance at Mercer University in 2007, is the co-owner of Sand Dollar Music in Dayton, Ohio. 

Coffee Rondeau, from Barnesville, Georgia, grew up hearing about Mercer. Her father is an alumnus, and her parents lived in the married student residence halls on the Macon campus in the 1980s. Coffee Rondeau wanted to go to college somewhere other than where her dad went, but she agreed to tour Mercer.

As a prospective vocal performance major, her visit started out with an audition at Fickling Hall. 

“I had never sung in a space like that. Dr. Carol Goff was the pianist. I had never had an experience like that, singing with a pianist like that, in a space that beautiful,” she said. 

A woman plays piano.
Christin Coffee Rondeau at Sand Dollar Music. Photo courtesy Christin Coffee Rondeau

Coffee Rondeau spent the night in one of Mercer’s residence halls and ended up getting sick while she was there. She was scheduled to attend an 8 a.m. music theory class the next morning.

“I was so sick, but I really loved it there, and I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “I dragged myself off of that floor with strep throat for that music theory class. Everything changed for me in that 24 hours I was there. I told my parents that’s exactly where I want to be. A few hours on that campus, and it was home.”

There were so many people at Mercer who had an impact on Coffee Rondeau, including School of Music Associate Dean Dr. Stanley Roberts, whom she called a “servant leader in the most wonderful way.” 

In addition, she would not have met her husband if not for the late Dr. Robert Parris, a music history and organ professor. Dr. Parris was the choir director at Christ Episcopal Church in Macon and hired her to be a section leader. One Sunday, he introduced her to Chris Rondeau, an airman who had been attending the church while stationed at Robins Air Force Base. When they later got married, Dr. Parris played the music for the ceremony. Coffee Rondeau and her husband now have two daughters, ages 9 and 11.

“I’m proud to be a Mercer grad,” said Coffee Rondeau, who also holds a master’s degree in vocal performance from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “I think it’s an excellent institution. I’m so thankful for what I learned there and for the people I met along the way. My time at Mercer really set the trajectory for my life.”

Her husband’s work in the Air Force caused the couple to move often in the early years of their marriage. He was stationed in New Mexico, Las Vegas, Southern California and twice in Ohio. Coffee Rondeau taught voice and piano lessons out of her home or at music schools and took advantage of opportunities to perform in the community.

In 2017, Coffee Rondeau and friend Sarah Robertson decided to start their own music studio in Dayton. They named it Sand Dollar Music in reference to a powerful experience that Coffee Rondeau had in California a few years prior. 

Coffee Rondeau said the area where she was living then had no artistic opportunities. She missed singing and teaching and was feeling overwhelmed, lonely and sad. While at the beach one day, she began walking along the water and praying.

“I heard an audible voice behind me say, ‘Ask me for something.’ I kept walking, and I heard it again. So I said, ‘Lord, if I’m ever going to have music in my life again, let me find a sand dollar.’ I walked and my toe hit something. I leaned down, and it was the biggest sand dollar I’d ever seen.”

Coffee Rondeau brushed it off as a coincidence, until she began stepping on a new sand dollar with each additional step she took. 

Chris and Christin Rondeau with their two daughters.
Christin Coffee Rondeau with her husband, Chris, and two daughters. Photo courtesy Christin Coffee Rondeau.

“It was the most incredible moment of my life. It was a reminder that there is a much bigger plan for all of us,” she said.

Coffee Rondeau would later meet and bond with Robertson, a professional flutist and flute teacher, while teaching as independent contractors at a Dayton music school, and before long, they founded Sand Dollar Music.

“We were both in different transition periods in our life. We wanted to build the kind of music studio we wish we had had when we were kids,” Coffee Rondeau said. 

Sand Dollar Music started out with Coffee Rondeau and Robertson teaching lessons out of their homes, and it has grown to 17 instructors offering training in voice, piano, winds, brass, percussion, strings and more in a 2,600-square-foot building. The team serves about 120 musicians per week from elementary school age to adults.

“Our team of teachers is so hungry and so highly motivated to be really excellent at their work. Everybody on our teaching staff is regularly performing, doing auditions, doing the things our students are doing,” said Coffee Rondeau, who sings often with local symphonies and concert bands. “It keeps us from being too detached from what our students are experiencing. That’s super fun, to make music and teach music in the community.”

Sand Dollar teaches the traditional Western classical methodology as well as genres like musical theater, rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. The studio hosts regular recitals and events like open mic nights and keyboard karaoke to get students comfortable performing in a variety of capacities. 

“Our thing is we give you the skills you need to make the music you love. The goal is not fame. The goal is a lifetime of making music,” Coffee Rondeau said. “It’s a really vulnerable thing to take voice lessons or piano lessons. To be invited into that process and to be trusted with their anxieties around that and their hopes, I love being a part of that.”

Mercer often comes to Coffee Rondeau’s mind as she works with students and instructors at Sand Dollar. When faced with a leadership question, she asks herself, “What would Dr. Roberts do?” 

“Mercer was the first place I experienced music-making in a community,” Coffee Rondeau said. “When I was there, it was a really beautiful and respectful community. As I run my own studio, I think about that a lot. Also, there was just always this genuine sense of care about the well-being of students. I have certainly carried that with me.”

A man conducts an orchestra, while a woman besides him sings.
Christin Coffee Rondeau sings at a concert with Mercer alumnus and conductor Keitaro Harada. Photo courtesy Christin Coffee Rondeau

 

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