If you were to press your ear to the door marked "200" on the second floor of the Business Structure at 949 Wealthy St. SE in Grand Rapids, you would likely hear a wealth of sounds, both familiar and obscure, from rock and classical staple instruments like guitar and piano and the less mainstream instruments such as the ukulele. Probably intermixed into these sounds, you would hear the laughter of the rarely serious Triumph Music Academy teaching staff.
"We're like a band," says Triumph Music Academy owner James Hughes of his six-person teaching staff. "We all have our quirks … but we all have a really good idea of what we do in the group. In the most talented bands or acts, everyone knows their part."
"The Academy," as Hughes refers to it, has been in operation for almost a year and approximately 80 students currently attend. Every instructor has a college education in addition to previous teaching experience. Most of them also perform in bands, musicals or write for various forms of media. According to staff instructor Jeremy Verwys, the eclectic blend of musical influence and experience at The Academy allow them to teach any genre of music.
"We're very non-discriminatory," Verwys says. "The thing I find weird about music education is that in high school, it's either band or orchestra. Then in college, it's either classical or jazz. I think, in my mind, that no music is any more important than any other music. We tend to teach it all."
But Verwys adds that the instructors are very sure, no matter the genre being covered, to assure that the students also grasp the fundamentals behind the music.
"We're able to help them learn in a way that makes them want to learn," Verwys says. "But we don't just say 'hey, here's a Green Day song, now play it.' We teach students why these chords are being played and how they relate to each other."
As The Academy gains speed in the Grand Rapids area, the staff is busy building relationships with local and regional businesses. Both Guitar Center and Aaron's Instruments are currently in talks with Hughes about discounts for students, and the 28th St. Guitar Center has even opened its doors for a student showcase on July 24. They're also busy notifying high schools of their presence, something Hughes explains will benefit students hoping to major in music when they reach college.
"When I went to Grand Rapids Community College, I had learned by ear," Hughes says. "I didn't know how to read music, so my first years were extremely daunting. If I were any less tenacious, I probably would have quit. If I'd had the opportunity to go somewhere else that would prepare me for freshman year, it would've been much easier."
But there's something more than tutoring and college prep in the works at Triumph Music Academy. From the beginning, Hughes and his team have planned to use The Academy to tighten the bonds between local musicians and to provide free music education for underprivileged children by means of a community music center.
"It's the big dream we have," Hughes says. "It'd be like the UICA but for music. It's the thing that brought us together… There's no reason it can't happen in Grand Rapids because of all the stuff that's going on with art. Art and music in history are usually pretty synonymous. "
Hughes's vision includes expanding The Academy to include practice spaces for local artists, percussion studios, string studios and perhaps even a cooperative recording studio. Eventually, they hope to include free education for underprivileged children from inner city neighborhoods -- something that most of the staff, including Verwys, are vocally passionate about.
"We want to make sure that music is accessible to everybody, no matter what," Verwys explains. "Music has affected all of our lives in such a positive way that the idea of someone not having the access to it is just … it's not acceptable."
While the idea of a community music center is ambitious and expensive, Hughes is absolutely positive that it will come to full fruition. He's already talked to several local philanthropists about donations.
"Time is not a concern for us," Hughes says. "It's going to happen. We made [Triumph Music Academy] happen in a year. Well, this idea is going to happen too. There are enough musicians in Grand Rapids and enough people who care about things like this that it won't be that hard. And even if no one were to get involved, we still have measures in place to make it happen on our own."
Triumph Music Academy is currently accepting new students. Those interested should contact the studio at 616-454-2943 or pay a visit to the studio at 949 Wealthy St. SE in Grand Rapids.