Go ahead and holster your witty comparisons to Jack Black and the movie School of Rock when you are around James Hughes — he’s heard them before.
It’s a fair go-to joke, though, because Hughes and his fellow co-founders run Triumph Music Academy in Grand Rapids, which offers musicians of every experience level so much more than traditional, bland music lessons.
“Our whole thing is bridging the gap between just taking lessons and playing with each other,” said Hughes, who started the school in 2011 along with friends and music school brethren Jeremy Verwys, Kyle Thompson and Matthew Gruppen.
“We remove the element of simulation," he added. "We teach them how to play together, how to put together sets, how to book gigs, how to collect ticket money, what to do with that ticket money. ... We just remove the academic feel to it.”
This progressive take on lessons and theory has sparked significant growth for Triumph in just its few years in business. The school occupies space in two stories of a non-descript building, located at 949 Wealthy Str. SE. Upstairs, the crew administers lessons for individual instruments while offering full band practices in a concrete bunker of a basement.
Finding the place for the first time can be a bit tricky, but this lack of visibility hasn’t hurt Triumph a bit.
“We were the first to do year-round rock band classes and some other people are trying to jump on that bandwagon,” Hughes said. “Our artist development and things like that are kind of a game changer in town. So, I guess what we're doing is working.”
Armed with a staff of 11, Triumph offers instruction on everything from guitar, bass, banjo and ukulele to songwriting, recording and DJing.
There is no cookie-cutter curriculum at Triumph, either. The staff gauges the needs and desires of each student and sets up a program accordingly. Do you dig Norwegian death metal? Hughes vows that his team could cook up a program based around it.
As for recitals?
“That's lame, dude,” Hughes said. “Go play a show! Go out there and do it.”
Triumph does put its students on display, though, with annual showcases. These started in the live room at Guitar Center before moving to the music school at Grand Rapids Community College, and, most recently, Wealthy Theatre.
From the outside looking in, the boom in popularity for Triumph might seem a bit surprising, especially in a day and age where musicians can jump online to download music or watch instructional videos on YouTube. According to Hughes, the effect is actually quite the opposite.
“Things like YouTube and Rocksmith and all that have been good for us,” Hughes said. “It captures people’s interest. You can watch a video, but you cant ask a video questions and you can only mimic so much."
On the heels of releasing its most recent single, "Chicago," Grand Rapids-based rock 'n' roll duo Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish will be holding an album release show on Aug. 8 at the Pyramid Scheme. Joined by The Sailor Kicks and Fathom 19, the show is going down on Aug. 8 with doors opening at 8:30 p.m. Pre-sale tickets cost $6.
Kalamazoo bluegrass outfit Greensky Bluegrass has a busy couple of months ahead of it. The band will play two headlining slots during Hoxeyville, which will be held in Wellston, Mich. on Aug. 15-17. This will be the band's last Michigan performance dates for the rest of the summer. In early September, the group will drop its new album, If Sorrows Swim, distributed nationally by Nashville-based Thirty Tigers.
Fat Guy Fest descends on Kalamazoo for three straight nights, featuring bands of all different genres, hailing everywhere from West Michigan to France. The 21+ event will feature more than 40 bands and will take place on Aug. 8-10 at Shakespeare's Lower Level, featuring such local acts as Bike Tuff, The Reptilian, ProConPro, Natural Disasters, Knives Are Quiet and more. Portions of the proceeds will go to help Eden Reforestation Projects, which helps reduce poverty and restore forests in Haiti, Ethiopia and Madagascar.
Let your freak flag fly at Digital Damnation, a new cyber-goth industrial event in Grand Rapids featuring DJs, artists and all things damned. Mulligan's Pub already hosted two installments and will continue holding the monthly event throughout the rest of 2014. The next one is slated for Aug. 9, with the theme of glow sticks, neon and blood.