James Forrest Hughes poured out his blood, sweat and tears to start Triumph Music Academy in 2011. Literally.
“I gave plasma to make this place a reality,” Hughes said, laughing.
The Business Journal featured Triumph after its second year in business in 2013, when the school had grown from four to eight instructors and from 80 to 200 students.
Almost four years later, the music school is thriving, having doubled its space inside a leased building owned by Bazzani Associates at 949 Wealthy St. SE, Suite 200.
It now has 15 instructors and around 200 students.
Hughes is most proud of the various new projects that make Triumph more than just a place for music lessons.
“Triumph is a lesson studio, a performance school, an artist development facility and a place where real music is made,” he said. “This is my life’s work, and I love it so much.”
Since 2013, Triumph has added the following offerings:
- A hip-hop lyricism program, led by Rick Chyme, in which students write spoken-word poetry and rap music and perform at events, such as a Spoken Word + Music concert at the Wealthy Theatre Annex in December.
- A full strings department with upright bass, cello, viola and violin taught by three local professional musicians, Karisa Wilson, Geoff Kartes and Ian Thompson.
- Mandolin, banjo, synthesizer and percussion lessons.
- Audition coaching, student bands, ensembles, ear training, DJ/electronic dance music production and music arranging.
- A recording program through River City Studios in which students can learn about engineering and other aspects of recording.
- An artist development program in which professional musicians mentor those who want to pursue music vocationally.
- A teaching partnership with Joyful Sounds Music Studio, a children’s music education center at 959 Lake Drive SE in Grand Rapids.
- Partnerships with The Creative Youth Center and GirlsRock! Grand Rapids.
- Music lessons on YouTube and Facebook filed under the hashtag #FreeLessonFridays.
- Social marketing on Snapchat.
When it comes to music education, Hughes said the students set their own direction.
“We do everything on an individual level,” he said. “A prospective musician would say, ‘I’m really into punk rock or 1960s minimalism like Philip Glass or Steve Reich,’ and we gear the education toward that. We teach them music through the things they’re interested in.
“We’re able to follow through with that a lot more now because we’ve expanded our programs.”
Hughes said Triumph’s students range from children 8 and up to teens to adults to senior citizens.
“We do 30 percent seniors,” Hughes said. “Our oldest student is 72.”
Triumph’s students, especially the ones from Skype, come from all over the country. At the Wealthy studio, the students represent a diverse mix of ethnicities and backgrounds.
“At the studio, we’ve had people who are exchange students, from places like Germany or China,” Hughes said. “We have students from various backgrounds — both cultural and socioeconomic. We have a student with Chilean descent, some who are South American, African. There’s a lot of diverse representation amongst our staff and student body.”
Hughes said the students, though diverse, are united by a single thread.
“People love the magic of creating something and having it recorded and played back for them or creating with other people,” he said. “A huge thing I’ve been doing is getting adults to play with each other. I’ll say, ‘We’ll meet after class on Tuesday, and we’re going to play a song I’ve been working on.’ They’re nervous, and yet we do it, and they have fun.
“The big trend at Triumph is challenging people’s comfort zones. Education has to involve a lot of growth, not just knowledge, but personal growth.
“In every department, there is that trend of expanding people’s comfort zones as well as their knowledge.”
Hughes said the place is for everyone, whether their dream is to be a worldwide touring artist or to learn how to play “one song on the guitar.” But the students have to want it, he said.
“The reason I named the school Triumph was because if you want to be an individual and do something with your life, when you’re met with adversity, you’ve just got to push through it. That’s why we named the school Triumph.”