NEW PORT RICHEY — While Eric Mullins' mom worked as a lifeguard when he was a kid, she couldn't afford the cost of music instruction for him. So she struck a deal with a pianist.
The woman provided "piano lessons for my mom's kid, and my mom gave her kids swimming lessons," said Mullins, 37, now a music teacher at Genesis Preparatory School and co-owner of a music school called Mullins Music.
If the pianist hadn't agreed to barter, "I wouldn't have been able to take piano lessons," Mullins said.
He doesn't want Pasco kids whose parents struggle financially to miss out on music lessons, either. So Mullins Music, which has been in business since 2007, is in the process of incorporating as a nonprofit — a decision inspired by his belief in the importance of music, and his knowledge of the plight of parents who can't afford their kids' music instruction.
"My mom was a single parent," he said. "We never had money growing up."
So his grandfather bought Mullins his first saxophone. He was bored with it by eighth grade — until he took lessons outside of school. At that point, he began to flourish.
As a young adult, Mullins studied music for a year at the University of Louisville and played sax for in the school's jazz band. He later played with the Bobby "Blue" Bland Band and earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the New School in New York City.
He met his wife, Marina Mullins, 38, a jazz pianist, in Memphis, where he grew up. At the church they attended there, they hosted a music camp for kids.
"It was really fun," he said.
So after they moved to Florida, they discussed starting their own music school, then made the decision.
"Let's do this," Mullins said.
The school, which has no building but uses space at Genesis Prep, has four instructors year-round, and others who teach during summer camp season.
The school offers lessons in drums, saxophone, guitar, bass guitar, voice and clarinet — $20 a half hour or $30 an hour. It also has a rock ensemble class called Rock Band during the school year, and summer camps including Rock Week, which took place last month, and Rock Studio, which will start Monday.
The best part of Mullins' job is getting to do what he loves.
"That's a real blessing for me," he said.
When Mullins Music receives its nonprofit status, Mullins hopes it will be a blessing for his students.
"We'll be able to write grants and solicit more donations, to offer reduced or free lessons and instruments, especially for kids," he said. "It can give them a whole lifetime of enjoyment."
For information about Mullins Music or its upcoming Rock Studio camp, during which teen participants will be divided into rock bands and record albums, call (727) 856-0263 or visit mullinsmusic.org.