It’s easy to miss The Mark Music Studio. The most prominent sound on 9th Avenue between Irving and Judah is the low roar of the N-Judah and automobiles, but behind an unassuming storefront, a musician has carved out a space for prospective Chopins and Chers in the Inner Sunset.
“When I got the space three-and-a-half years ago, it was right before the rent situation in the city went crazy,” said Andrew Cohen, The Mark's owner and founder. “I shared this space with Craigslist originally. I met Craig a few times.” Craigslist has since moved downtown, but The Mark continues to serve the community’s musical needs.
Three small rooms cater to roughly one hundred clients each week, ranging from young kids who come for piano lessons to a professional opera singer who uses the space to rehearse. A mural of an old-school marching band with a psychedelic backdrop adorns one wall; a chalkboard with colorful notes covers another. The common area, filled with couches and folding chairs, doubles as a recital space.
Before Cohen opened The Mark, he supported himself by giving private lessons at homes around the city, an endeavor that left him spending as much time in his car as at the piano.
“You can only make so much money when you’re driving from place to place, and you reach capacity pretty quickly,” he said, sitting at a desk flanked by a piano, tuba, snare drum, and accordion. Eventually, Cohen saved enough to open The Mark, which gave him a flexible schedule to cater to more students, but business didn’t crescendo immediately. “For the first six months, it was just me and the piano.”
Originally from Norton, a small town south of Boston, Cohen started playing saxophone at age six before focusing on piano and tuba. He went on to study classical music and music education at The Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduation, he taught music at an inner-city elementary school.
Seeking more control over his schedule and curriculum, he moved to San Francisco based on the city’s cultural landscape, not specific job prospects. The breadth of musical talent around the city has permitted him to expand the business, hiring a handful of instructors for guitar, violin, voice, clarinet and cello. The growth is good, but Cohen makes sure the teachers match his philosophy of combining musical chops with people skills.
“There are lots of musicians who are fantastic in this city. I interviewed people here with PhDs, people who can open a Rachmaninoff book and, just, boom, play it through perfectly. But that personality test of being good with kids, being able to manage expectations, that’s a huge thing," said Cohen.
Although he's taught students who have gone on to prestigious music schools and beyond, Cohen would rather nurture students' love of music than churn out high-level technicians. “As a classical musician, you feel like music works in this certain way, and it’s your job to make the student feel the same way about music, but I feel you should show kids, or even adults, how cool music is,” he explained. “Someone’s own natural wanting is going to get them way further than making it about rules.”
Cohen plans to add a fourth room in the near future and, in the meantime, has expanded his own musicianship. After an existential crisis over classical piano, he heeded advice from fellow musicians and picked up the accordion, gigging with Balkan and Eastern European folk bands in his spare time and performs at Revolution Cafe in the Mission on Sunday evenings.
The Mark Studio (415-297-2535) is located at 1383 9th Ave. The first lesson is free; subsequent lessons are $60 per hour, $45 for 45 minutes, or $30 for 30 minutes.
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