Where I work: Institute of Musical Arts

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As the school day draws to a close in elementary and middle schools across the city, our day at institute of musical arts is just beginning. I greet the students and their parents as they enter the school, which is nestled between two busy streets a few blocks from the southern tip of Hardberger Park. Soon. Soon, music begins to pour out of every brightly painted room and down the hallway, mingled with words of instruction and praise from the teachers inside.

Many of our students are only a few years older than me when I discovered my love for music. I was barely four years old when my parents took me to a restaurant that had live music. There was a guitarist that I particularly admired and I went upstairs and sat as close as I could to watch him play. My parents bought me a toy guitar so I could “play” and then eventually a real one so I could learn.

I then 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 realized that it was difficult to make the of them. Music studies required many hours in and out of the classroom, but that was what I loved. After earning 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 the University of Texas at San Antonio in Matthew Dunne’s studio.

Since then, I’ve led bands like Viatorumwho plays world music and makes regular appearances at venues around San Antonio and the surrounding area, wrote a book titled Classical Guitar Fundamentalswho has been a resource for students since 2020, has released collaborative and solo albums, most recently road trip in 2021 with Grammy-winning drummer Mark Walker, and was recently invited to serve on the jury of the prestigious Southwest Guitar Symposium.

Berk Agar, a musician and music teacher, discusses a song with a student during a guitar lesson on Thursday. Credit: Nick Wagner/San Antonio Report

While I was doing all of this, teaching was central to my work. I started teaching during my freshman year of college to supplement my income and then ran the UTSA String project as part of my master’s assistantship program. I enjoy teaching students what I consider a life skill. And I particularly appreciate being able to forget the stress of school and work thanks to music.

I acquired the Institute of Musical Arts in 2018 and along with my wife Eymen, a talented pianist, have harnessed local talent by building a dynamic team of young instructors, many of whom are graduates of San Antonio music programs .

IOFMA offers guitar, piano, vocal and ukulele lessons for students of all ages. Our youngest student is currently seven years old and our eldest is 70 years old. Our courses are individual so that everyone can learn at their own pace. With beginners, I start by teaching them to read music, then we progress to arpeggios and chords. Once we have a solid foundation, we move on to playing music that interests the student, be it classical, pop, or anything in between.

We were able to not only survive the pandemic, but also retain the majority of instructors by moving to online classes. Now that classes are back in person, the music school is poised for growth and ready to welcome new students.

After learning to play the guitar, I felt that 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 balance in our lives that we can feel all the different moods just by playing an instrument. I want to continue sharing this gift with my students for a long time.