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Patricia Bartell '00

  • Whitworth Majors: Music – Accordion Performance and Music Education
  • CEO and Owner of Bartell Music Academy; Professional Musician; Business Coach
  • Residence: Spokane

'God kept me strong inside'

I'm originally from Bolivia. I was adopted at age 5 into a family in Montana, and I'm one of 18 in the family. My adopted family was more like a children's home than a family. There were 12 of us that were adopted, and out of the 12, I felt like the "black sheep" of the family and didn't really grasp until later the extensive abuse I had gone through. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but I am grateful for the strength and resilience I learned because it made me who I am today.

We all played music in some form. I did piano for about six months and then everyday it became, "Can I play the accordion?" because my brother did it and it looked like so much fun. My parents finally said OK. My brother and I did some duets together, but I continued going forward – I fell in love with the music and the sound.

Music was a life support for me. And because of all the abuse, I would hide in my music. The accordion is a physical instrument – you really feel the nuance of the music. When a child isn't allowed or encouraged to voice their thoughts, opinions or viewpoints, their voice is taken from them. Music and the accordion became my voice until I discovered and could use my own voice.

I wanted to get my degree in accordion, and I applied to Whitworth and was initially turned down because they didn't have an accordion program. I called the music department chair who said, "I'll tell you what – if you can find someone who can teach you at that college level, then we'll take it into consideration." I knew just the teacher. He lived in Spokane, I competed against his students at international competitions, and he was good. The next thing I knew, I got a call [from Whitworth] to audition, and I was accepted. They said they would make accordion performance a degree, and they hired the teacher just to teach me. I was so grateful their decision was unanimous and that they realized the accordion was capable of playing classical music and required advanced music skills. Whitworth bent over backward to provide me that support.

I paid my own way through college. There were months when it was difficult, and during those months, miraculously, the phone would ring and someone would say, "Can you play at this wedding, can you play at this event?'' Or the registrar's office would call and say, "You've been awarded a scholarship," and I was like, "What did I do?" Whitworth looked out for me, and I made it through.

So many people [at Whitworth] played such a beautiful part in my journey. That was the first four years of freedom I had ever experienced, the first four years of feeling love and acceptance, from the staff, the teachers and my friends. Whitworth holds a very, very dear place in my heart.

After I graduated, my teacher was ready to retire. I took over the studio he had built, and he transferred his students to me. A couple years later he sold the studio. I decided to ask the new owners if I could try my own wings and start my own studio. And so I did. I started my own studio called Able to Play, and a couple of years later it became Able to Play Music. Another company let me use a room as my studio. I had a good amount of students and had outgrown the room – it was maybe 15 feet by 20 feet. It had two pianos in it, a drum set, and I would run band rehearsals and give private lessons. Then some of my students asked me to teach them how to teach music. I did, and they became teachers for me. 

In 2012 I was hosting the world championship for accordions – it was the first time the competition was coming to the United States – and during the middle of that, someone said, "I'd like you to meet a friend of ours. He's got a bigger building downtown that might work for your studio." The building was 4,000 square feet. So we rolled up our sleeves, got new construction done inside and painted, and from there the phone began to ring from teachers asking if they could come teach for me.

I didn't know how to run a business – my degree was in music, not marketing. At first there were four or five teachers, and then I made a bad hire, trying to grow the business, and that nearly ran my business into the ground. For seven months I wondered how I was going to keep the doors open. I was finally able to go to business training with Tony Robbins. I applied some of the principles I learned, and that turned my business around. I was able to hire more teachers – the right kind of teachers – and my business went from a little studio to an academy. We began teaching drums, guitar and voice along with piano and accordion. In 2018, we did a complete rebranding and as soon as we did, the business grew. We now have over 200 students who are strong, dedicated students. I love that we can offer students the band experience, because I believe kids need community, they need those relationships.

For a lot of my students, music is their only voice. Allowing them to learn to express themselves through music and break that barrier to where they can learn to put words to their emotions and be able to confidently expressive themselves verbally, is transformational. I love helping them develop their own sound and their confidence. They know my teaching room is a safe place where they have the freedom to be heard and to process a lot of healing and growth. I see that transformation over the years as they mature. Some of those students are now teaching for me, and I'm so proud of them.

When I perform, I want to be there to serve my audience. When we set our intention and focus, amazing things really happen. My intention has always been to be a shining light and an inspiration. I have had a lot of interesting things happen after concerts as people come up to me and say, "I came in completely depressed, and in the middle of you playing I felt something break off of me. I feel so free." I allow God to use me and my music to serve his people, and those are very powerful moments.

If I could give advice to my younger self, I would say keep going after your dreams and keep asking yourself every day what is it that you really want. Knowing what you really want gives you a clear direction. One thing I wish I had been told was that I will make mistakes but it's going to be okay, because they're really steppingstones to get where I need to be.

I learned to have a hunger for more in life. First, it was to have a hunger for a deeper relationship with God and who he was. I didn't have a deep relationship with God, and that pursuit is the first thing that radically changed my life. I wanted to know who he really was because of a major encounter I had with him that I couldn't explain. Who is this entity, this person who really loves me? I didn't know at that time what love really was.

I know the questions to ask myself now in hard situations, and the No. 1 question is: What is the gift in this? My thoughts before were: Why is this happening? What's wrong with me? When you ask good questions – like "What is the gift in this?" or "How can I better serve these people through the circumstances and challenges?" – then you get better answers.

I create the life I want now. For so long I didn't know I had that option. Serving people, serving my clients, serving my students or my employees, this is just the beginning. I can feel the infrastructure being built. Business will play a huge role in my dreams of building schools and orphanages across the world and in my home country. I have a great big vision and I get to make more of it happen every day.

God kept me strong inside while I slowly discovered my voice and my true identity. I learned the tools to get from where I was to where I am today. It's those tools that I want to share, to help people know that there's more in life. They can decide to make life beautiful, to make life abundant, and to have a life of freedom. Freedom doesn't always mean financial freedom, but freedom from the prisons that we sometimes build inside our minds. I hope that my voice will be heard by millions of people, to bring them healing and to know that they are worth so much. And they are so loved.