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As the school day ends in elementary and middle schools around the city, our day at the Institute of Musical Arts is just beginning. I greet students and their parents as they walk into the school, which is nestled between two busy streets just blocks from the southern tip of Hardberger Park. Soon, music starts pouring out of each brightly painted room and into the hallway, mingled with words of instruction and praise from the teachers within.
Many of our students are just a few years older than I was when I first discovered my love for music. I was just 4 years old when my parents would take me to a restaurant that featured live music. There was a guitar player I especially admired and I would go up and sit as close as I could to watch him play. My parents got me a toy guitar so I could “play” along and then eventually a real one so I could learn.
I later came to the United States from Izmir, Turkey, as a student in 2004. The original plan was to study business and music, but I soon learned that it was difficult to do both. Music studies required many hours in and out of the classroom, but it was what I loved. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance from Texas A&M University, I continued my studies with a master’s degree in guitar performance at UTSA in the studio of Matthew Dunne.
I’ve since led bands like Viatorum, which plays world music and makes regular appearances in venues around San Antonio and the surrounding areas; written a book called Fundamentals of Classical Guitar, which has been a resource for students since 2020; released both collaborative and solo albums, most recently Road Trip in 2021 with Grammy-winning drummer Mark Walker, and was recently invited to be a jury member at the prestigious Southwest Guitar Symposium.
While I was doing all this, teaching was central to my work. I started teaching during my junior year of college as a way to supplement my income and later led the UTSA String Project as part of my master’s program assistantship. I enjoy teaching students what I consider to be a life skill. And I especially enjoy being able to take their minds off of the stress of school and work through music.
I acquired the Institute of Musical Arts in 2018 and, along with my wife Eymen, a talented pianist, I’ve harnessed local talent by putting together a dynamic team of young instructors, many of whom are graduates of San Antonio music programs.
IOFMA offers lessons in guitar, piano, voice and ukulele to students of all ages. Our youngest student currently is 7 years old and our oldest is in her 70s. Our lessons are one-on-one so everyone can learn at their own pace. With beginners, I start with teaching them how to read music, then we progress into arpeggios and chords. Once we have a solid foundation, we move into playing music that interests the student, whether it’s classical, pop, or anything in between.
We’ve managed to not only survive the pandemic but retain a majority of instructors by pivoting to online lessons. Now that classes are once again in-person, the music school is poised for growth and ready to welcome new students.
After learning how to play the guitar, I felt like this instrument became my lifelong friend. Music is a great gift that we learn as a life skill, and it changes our lives forever. It creates such a balance in our lives that we can feel all different moods just playing an instrument. I want to continue sharing that gift with my students for a long time.