Ten years ago, Clara D’Onofrio came to Brookfield with a simple vision — introducing young children and their families to the joy of music through whimsical songs and interactive programming.
Originally a one-woman traveling act, “Miss Clara” D’Onofrio hopped from location to location throughout the area, hosting classes at the Hollywood Community House, Brookfield Public Library and local park districts.
“It’s always been really important to me to make sure my business is a community,” she said. “I really love that my classes foster friendships — especially for young families who may have just moved to Brookfield.”
A decade later, D’Onofrio is celebrating with a slight rebranding of her business, now named Brookfield Academy for Mini Musicians.
Pre-pandemic, D’Onofrio, the daughter of two symphony musicians who has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Northwestern University, created a solid business model teaching children from infants through age 5 the fundamentals of music concepts like rhythm, pitch and singing.
But, as the pandemic upended lives and business models two years ago, D’Onofrio’s pivoted overnight from an in-person music school to one entirely dependent on technology for parents to keep their kids engaged in learning activities.
“The last day I was open in-person was March 17, 2020,” she said. “I ended up painting the studio, adding a green screen, and doing Facebook Live and YouTube videos. Luckily, I had thousands of views on my videos, with the highest on YouTube with over 93,000 views.”
At first, she said, seeing the high numbers of virtual engagement was encouraging.
“In the beginning, it was fun and exhilarating, but then everyone else in the entire world started doing online videos,” D’Onofrio said. “As beneficial as they were to some degree, most young children are not really loving virtual classes.”
The pandemic also affected D’Onofrio’s family life, when her husband, Dennis, was laid off from his job. After finishing classes in spring 2020 session virtually, D’Onofrio and her husband took advantage of their newfound free time traveling cross-country during the summer of 2020 in their RV.
Later that summer, her husband ended up reconnecting with an old friend in Indiana, who was able to help him network and find a new job out-of-state.
With that new opportunity, the D’Onofrios packed their bags and moved from Brookfield to Indianapolis. Since then, D’Onofrio has been running her business from 190 miles away.
“It’s certainly been tricky, because I know so much of my business has always been about the personal connection I’ve had with my families and the students, so I’m just doing everything I can to maintain that connection,” D’Onofrio said.
As health measures changed last year, D’Onofrio began traveling back and forth from Indianapolis to Brookfield, adding outdoor classes throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2021. She kept the class structure virtually the same as before the pandemic, with families enrolling in either six-, seven- or eight-week long sessions.
However, she said, outdoor classes in area parks were tricky because they were totally weather dependent.
But, as people became more comfortable with once again meeting in-person indoors, D’Onofrio decided there was no better time to reimagine her business model and reintroduce her business to the community.
Though D’Onofrio no longer lives in Brookfield, something compelled her to continue operating her business in town.
“I spent 10 years growing this business — I feel very connected to it,” she said. “I haven’t yet started anything in Indianapolis, but that’s on the radar. [The Brookfield business] just kind of feels like my baby, and it would feel really strange to just up and walk away and try somewhere else.”
Rebranded the Brookfield Academy for Mini Musicians, 9213 Broadway Ave., school is back in session full swing, with four new teachers all trained by D’Onofrio to lead instruction and with credentials including degrees in theater performance, music therapy and early childhood education.
Though D’Onofrio is no longer around every day to teach classes, she says personalized education and curriculum remains at the forefront.
“My thumbprint is still very much in my business. I’m still invested and very much still a part of things,” she said.
D’Onofrio was back in town in mid-February, hosting in-person demo classes for new families to prepare for a full grand-reopening on March 1. She also aims to return to Brookfield the first week of every month for classes and to reconnect with area families.
Because many of D’Onofrio’s former students have aged out of the program since 2020, she hopes new families will check out the music school to see why the personalized classes are different from other children’s music offerings.
“Each child is going to get such a personalized experience, not only from a music and movement perspective, but making connections with the other children and families in the class, and making connections with the teachers,” she said. “This really is a program that grows with you.”
While D’Onofrio may no longer have a home in Brookfield, she says she is still proud to call it home for her business.
“Brookfield is such a wonderful town with so much to offer, and it often feels like we are one of the best kept secrets of the western suburbs,” she said.
For more information about Brookfield Academy for Mini Musicians, visit brookfieldminimusicians.com.