COLUMBIA CITY — Bill Dittlinger is bringing music education with a twist to Whitley County with his business Music Encounters LLC, in Columbia City’s Linvil Center.

Dittlinger comes from a background of 30 years in worship music, and his business is as much a ministry as it is educational.

“There’s so much negativity in the world, so I’m wanting to bring the idea that my main job is not to teach them notes and music; my main job is to tell them that they can,” he said.

Dittliniger (right) and student Ethan Garcia celebrate the completion of a piano lesson book.

As a mentor, Dittlinger focuses on building confidence and self-esteem with his clients.

“They like the fact that they are feeling good when they leave and they like that all the stresses and pressures that happen to you don’t happen here,” he said. “Yes, you’re supposed to practice, but the kids know that the worst-case scenario is that I’m going to give them a new date on their assignment.”

The students thrive in the judgment-free environment. Through his encouragement, they grow not only as musicians but as individuals.

“My singers get bigger and my piano players get more creative,” he said. “And then I like to motivate them: ‘What do you want to do with this talent? Where do you want to use it, how do you want to affect other people positively?’ It just keeps going and going.”

Music Encounters began in January 2016 as a one-on-one tutoring business run out of Dittlinger’s home on Crooked Lake.

“I started off with just the idea, and my wife said, ‘Hey, you need 12 students for us to meet the bills,’” he said. “I went to my praise team and asked for prayers, and within two weeks I got 12 students, which is a big deal.”

As a relative newcomer to the area, he felt the need to build trust and a good reputation throughout the community. As this trust grew, so too did the business.

“Within six months I hit 18 students but I had been putting some feelers out with home schools and private schools,” he said. “I went from 18 to 40 within a few weeks (due to those feelers). Today, I’m standing at about 55 students.”

At 55 students, Dittlinger is maxed out and cannot personally take more students. He plans to take advantage of the opportunity given to him to positively affect as many lives as possible.

His business recently added a piano and guitar tutor, who Dittlinger himself teaches and mentors so they can keep his original mentality flowing to their students.

In the future, he plans to expand and have numerous tutors on a variety of instruments, with welcoming and mentoring teachers for curious students.

“It’s not a thing where I’m trying to book lessons all the time to meet some criteria trying to make this much money,” he said. “I’m doing it because my heart is in it.”