Triumph Music Academy scales enrollment 250 percent


Grand Rapids-based Triumph Music Academy is a music school that offers private instruction for all ages, in any genre, for a variety of instruments. Photo via

To call Triumph Music Academy ambitious might be selling its quartet of co-founders short.

Guitar and . . .

Professional musicians James Forrest Hughes, Jeremy Verwys, Kyle Thompson and Matthew Gruppen began with the simple goal of opening a guitar school to provide private lessons that would bridge the gap between the lessons offered at guitar stores around town and school music programs.

Today, the co-founders’ mission has evolved into meeting the music demands of the community — whatever they may be — and they hope to evolve their program even further by creating a community music center sometime in the future.

“Guitar is pretty popular in Grand Rapids, especially because all of the main universities have a guitar program here. . . . but it was all in the colleges. That’s where we figured our niche would be,” Hughes said of the school’s genesis.

“We had the foresight to name it Triumph Music Academy, instead of Triumph Guitar School, because we had an inkling that maybe it will be something different. We want to be malleable," Hughes said. "When we opened, we started getting calls immediately for piano, drums and voice, and within a year of opening, we had expanded into doing drum and voice lessons.”


The music school celebrated its second anniversary this past spring.

In addition to adding instruments and lessons, the school also has doubled its staff, going from four to eight instructors, and its students increased from 80 to 200.

The school also has doubled its footprint in the Bazzani building located on the corner of Wealthy Street and Diamond Avenue SE.

The school now offers various services, from private 30-, 45- or 60-minute music lessons for guitar, bass, drums, piano, voice, ukulele, songwriting, theory and music composition to specialized tutoring and even weekly college prep courses.

Hughes is especially proud of the physical expansion of the program given that initially nobody wanted to lease the academy space in their building due to an expectation of noise.

“Our expansion is due to both the needs of the community and Guy Bazzani allowing us to be a music school in his building,” Hughes said.

Hughes said that the organization has received referrals from Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University and Guitar Center, which has endorsed the school as the best place to go in town for private music lessons, as well as offered its students a discount on instrument purchases.

Students range in age from 5 to 73 and are there for a variety of reasons, including enjoying music as a hobby, as well as fostering an interest in pursuing a music career.

"Playing in a band"

For career-minded musicians, Triumph offers the unique bonus of mentorship to its students.

Hughes said his mentorship of clients has included showing clients the ropes, bringing them along to gigs and having them sit in, and he noted the other instructors all offer their own style of mentorship as well.

Instructors pair up students who are excelling with one another to form bands, so that they can play together.

“Right now, we have four bands that are in classes and performing,” he said. “One of them is a student rock cover band. Basically, they learn the ins and outs of playing in a band and how to book and promote their own gigs.”

All four of the academy’s co-founders have experienced the struggle to maintain careers as professional musicians, but have carved out a place for themselves in their chosen field, and they want to help others be able to do the same.

Instructors "in the scene"

Providing professional, working musicians is another factor that sets Triumph Music Academy apart from other private-lesson offerings.

“We want to offer premium instruction. . . . Above all else, they have to be a performing musician, somebody who is current in the scene, either touring or recording or composing or something,” Hughes said of the school’s instructors. “Secondary to that, we prefer to hire those that have music education, that have been to college or a university or that have been to a conservatory.”

Hughes pointed out that Triumph academy music instructors are the highest paid extracurricular music instructors in Grand Rapids.

“How that works is that everybody pays a monthly tuition and only a third of that tuition goes to the school itself," he said. "So we are investing in the people that teach here. We are making the instructors the academy.”

Music for all

Hughes hopes that Triumph will one day be able to offer even more students access to a music education.

He pointed out that despite trying to keep its rates low, his partners and him are aware that some students still can’t afford a music education, and for many of those students, music isn’t available in their schools either. So their goal is to make it possible for more students to be exposed to music.

“I would love to see Triumph Music Academy be the number-one place for alternate music education in West Michigan,” he said.

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