Mark Graham already has a full plate as the director of the music ministry of First Christian Church of Denton.
But the Denton native made room for one more project: a new music school.
“Always in the back of my mind, even back in my college days, was the idea of this music community or school,” Graham said. “Or even a summer camp. I always thought about building a music community. There was always this institution with my own twist on it.”
The director and musician is opening the school he’s dreamed of. Denton Music School opens on Wednesday. Graham is teaching private piano lessons and Alissa Taylor, who leads the soprano section of the First Christian Church choir, will teach voice.
The two will teach all levels — from beginners to advanced and established musicians who want to polish their technique or broaden their artistry. Lessons are offered after the end of the public school day.
Graham said piano students will get a program designed for them.
“What you’re going to find is that a lesson at Denton School of Music will involve as many disciplines as the students need,” he said. “Of course students are going to learn about the instrument, sitting at the piano. But if we need to take a different approach to teach a student a concept, that will happen.
“I’m aware of our ever-morphing culture. I think there can be just as much homework for the teacher as there is for the student.”
Graham gave examples of teaching tools that he’s able to use to teach everything from finger placement on the keyboard to music theory. If a student gets frustrated at the keyboard, that same student might work a puzzle, take a turn with some drums or play a computer game to understand concepts.
Graham grew up in Denton, and in First Christian Church. He attended the University of North Texas and ended up in New York City, where he built a career performing in the pit on Broadway musicals and with national Broadway touring companies. He retired from the show business life and went into information technology.
Graham came back to Denton and music about nine years ago to lead music at his old church.
“Between every program like this and reality stands one obstacle,” he said. “And that’s real estate.”
The congregation and pastor, the Rev. John Burton, are letting Graham use the church for the school.
“This is a private-run business, and the church is allowing me to use the space, which is really amazing. The acoustics here are amazing, and the piano here is wonderful,” Graham said.
The second critical step for Graham to open the school was to get at least one other teacher.
“My relationship with Alissa Taylor turned out to be perfect,” he said. He witnessed her work ethic and expertise as the soprano section leader.
“She shares my passion for music and for teaching,” he said. “And like me, Alissa has had experiences with music teachers that have been absolutely transformative. When you connect with a teacher and have a solid relationship with them, it impacts every aspect of your life. We’ve both had that experience, and we share a passion for making that happen for other students. I still remember my first lesson, when I was 8.”
The school has been three years in the making, and Graham and Taylor are already teaching. Graham said the youngest student is 7 years old and the oldest is 67.
Graham approaches piano instruction from what he calls a “traditional, Western European perspective.” That means piano students should expect to learn music from the classical canon. Graham said the instruction won’t exclude other kinds of music, but he teaches from a classical foundation. The literature, philosophy and techniques are based in classical concepts.
“I look at it this way. If you can play classical music, you can play anything,” Graham said. “Classical literature, classical music, is a great foundation to have as a musician.”
The school is still developing its website, but prospective students can get the contracts and policies on the site. Instruction costs $25 for every half-hour of instruction. There is ample parking, plus a playground for children to use while parents or guardians wait for young students to finish a lesson. In addition to studying on the church’s piano, students will have access to a harpsichord, drums and electronic instruments.
The school isn’t affiliated with the church, and the school will not proselytize to music students.
“This past year has been the best of my life,” Graham said. “This is so much of a culmination of all I’ve been and everything I’ve done. I feel this is the perfect time for me to channel all of that with Alissa so we can take students as far as they want to go — and further than some of them might ever imagine — with music.
“I know this will be life-changing for me. I hope that, now, I can change someone else’s life.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.