The West Music Company History

West Music Company's continued growth and success has, as its foundation, a rich history of providing quality service and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to play now, play for life.

West Music has several regional locations in eastern Iowa and western Illinois providing instrument and print music sales, repair, lessons, and music therapy services. The company also serves customers nationally, and even internationally, though its multiple e-commerce websites and catalog departments.

West Music Founding and Early Years: 1914 - 1960

West Music's founder, Pearl West, was born in 1914 to a very musical family. When the Great Depression negatively impacted farming, the family turned to playing music to survive. Pearl toured and played throughout southern Iowa and northern Missouri in his youth.

In 1931, Pearl moved to Centerville, Iowa to finish high school and pursue his interest in music and ability for instrument repair with the director of Centerville High School, William Gower. When Gower was hired as the high school band director at City High in Iowa City, he encouraged Pearl to move to Iowa City as well and enroll at the university. While attending the UI in pursuit of a music education degree, Pearl repaired university instruments and played in a number of big bands. In 1939, prior to receiving his degree, Pearl moved to Des Moines to work as a repairman for the Paul Wendel Music Company. There he met Eleanor Bosworth; they were married on March 15, 1940. Following their marriage, the Wests returned to Iowa City for Pearl to complete his college degree.

On July 1st, 1941, Chris P. Peterson and Pearl L. West established an equal partnership. They opened Peterson-West Music Company, a music retail and repair shop, on 24½ South Clinton Street in Iowa City, Iowa, above the current the Airliner Restaurant/Bar. A mere five months after establishing the new music company, World War II was declared. The partnership continued, though availability of instruments and accessories became more and more difficult. To save money the partnership closed their first location and moved shop to the back of Huyett Music Company at 110 Iowa Avenue in the summer of 1942. In April 26, 1943, the partnership was dissolved, Pearl West returned to teaching woodwinds at City High School, in Iowa City during the day, and at night, continued the repair business in the back of Huyett Music. Chris Peterson continued to play extensively in touring dance bands for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Pearl West again established a storefront for the retail sale of musical instruments and repairs, West Music Company. Pearl West purchased the musical instrument and Charlie Eble purchased the print music inventory from Huyett Music. A new location was established with West Music selling musical instruments and repairs on the first floor at 14 South Dubuque Street and Eble Music on the second floor, selling print music.

During the early 1950's, Pearl and Eleanor continued to operate West Music, with Eleanor serving as the office bookkeeper while raising their two children, Shari and Steve. Pearl designed and built the first Westwind flute (later called the P.L. West Flute) in the basement of their home. West Music's inventory expanded to include not only band instruments and pianos, but guitars, drums, percussion, and amplifiers.

Growth and Expansion: 1960-2000

Steve West joined the company in 1969, after graduating from the University of Iowa. He was named Sales Manager in 1971. Shortly after, a second West Music location was opened in east Iowa City. In 1973, the downtown Iowa City location moved to its current location in Coralville. The move allowed for greater expansion of all departments, including guitars, keyboard, and lesson studios.

In 1977 West Music was awarded the exclusive distribution rights of Miyazawa Flutes from Japan to the United States; the original relationship with Miyazawa began primarily thanks to Pearl's expertise in flute design and production. A new division of West Music, Miyazawa Flutes USA, was established to distribute this outstanding professional flute on a national level. Pearl discontinued the limited production of P.L. West flutes, and all flute manufacturing was transferred to Japan.

Steve West's passion for elementary music education led to the formation of the West Music Music Education Catalog Department in 1980. What began as a 12-page black-and-white catalog evolved into the current full color, 200-plus page catalog that is sent to elementary schools, universities, and churches throughout the United States and abroad. Also, in 1980, Pearl West stepped down as President of West Music. He retained his position as Chairman of the Board of Directors and devoted his time to the development of Miyazawa Flutes USA. Steve West was named CEO of West Music.

In 1984, West Music expanded operations to Cedar Rapids. In 1988, Westco, a separate import/export wholesale company was created to help establish a dealer organization on a national level. In addition to the importation of flutes from Japan, West Music and Westco began importing and distributing professional piccolos from Germany, guitars from Spain, percussion instruments from Mexico, China, and Germany, and ethnic instruments from Africa.

Westco was greatly expanded with the launch of a new web site and catalog in 2011. Westco Educational Products is dedicated to providing quality, safe, and affordable musical and movement products designed to encourage and enhance a fun education experience.

Over the next 25 years, new locations were opened throughout Iowa and Illinois, including locations in Coralville, Cedar Rapids/Marion, Cedar Falls, and Moline. Customer service was further enhanced through remodeling and relocation of these facilities.

1995 saw the beginning of West Music Music Therapy Services, a division of West Music focused on using music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. A strong partnership with the University of Iowa Music Therapy program allowed West Music to develop a program that has expanded to 14 therapists. This program has also further fulfilled West Music's mission of encouraging people of all ages and abilities to play now, play for life.

The West Music website launch in 1996 coincided with extensive technology upgrades, linking stores together online and greatly enhancing efficiency and communication. West Music continued to expand with the establishment of Percussion Source in 1996, providing products for symphonic and concert percussionists nationwide.

Sadly, on January 27, 1999, company founder Pearl West passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. His vision for creating an outstanding, reliable music store, repair center, lesson studio, and international instrument distributor continued under the leadership of his son, Stephen West.

Present Day and Beyond: 2000 and into the Future

In 2005, utilizing experiences in early childhood education, West Music introduced a new line of children's exploratory instruments, Sounds Like Fun. In 2006, a 40,000-square foot fulfillment center was built in west Coralville. The fulfillment center has been a major pillar in the continued growth and development of West Music's local, national, and international business, providing a central hub where West Music can continue to offer customers enhanced care and delivery service. 2006 also saw further emphasis on branding and customer experience, with many of the regional stores remodeling to reflect West Music's focus on customers experiencing the power of making music.

2008 was a year of change. Sadly, on June 1, 2008 company co-founder Eleanor West, wife of Pearl and mother to Stephen passed away. Her well-organized efforts as company bookkeeper and mother were important in helping build the family business. In later years, she and Pearl traveled extensively, partly for business, but mostly for their shared pleasure.

On June 1, 2008, Steve West retired as president of West Music and was named Chairman of the Board. On that same day, the Board of Directors named Robin Walenta, who joined the company in 1982, as the new President. A third generation was brought on to the West Music executive team as Ryan West, son of Steve and Victoria West, joined the company as Senior Vice President. Ryan joined the company to take on management of the IT and web development teams as well as continued development of international partnerships, and currently oversees management of all retail stores.

In 2010, in a natural progression from the company's beginning as manufacturer of P.L. West Flutes, West Music became the North American distributor of Trevor James Flutes. The Trevor James line was complementary to West Music's background in flutes and provided a strong intermediate flute to North and South America. West Music also became the North America distributor of Sankyo Flutes in 2013. Collectively, the flute distribution and repair department became known as Flute Authority.

Westco was greatly expanded with the launch of a new web site and catalog in 2011. Westco Educational Products is dedicated to providing quality, safe, and affordable musical and movement products designed to encourage and enhance a fun education experience.

Ryan West was elevated to the role of President in the spring of 2020. Ryan is the third generation of the West family to hold the title of President.  Prior to this role, Ryan West occupied the positions of Senior and Executive Vice Presidents, overseeing the marketing, e-commerce, and other sales divisions. Robin Walenta, who held the position of President for 12 years, remains at West Music as CEO. Together Ryan and Robin are working to continue moving the company forward into future decades.

Over the years, West Music has expanded to include virtually all types of musical instruments, including pianos and keyboards, band and orchestra instruments, guitars and amplifiers, drums and percussion, software, elementary general music materials, early childhood instruments, and music therapy products. West Music is also proud to provide a full array of services with repair technicians, delivery crew, music therapists, lesson teachers, school music representatives, classroom consultants, and customer service consultants, in addition to the sales and administrative staff.

West Music celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2021 and looks forward to the upcoming years as a further opportunity to encourage people of all ages and abilities to play now, play for life!