It’s easy to assume having kids is as un-hip as it gets. In the opening chapters of About a Boy, Nick Hornby says as much: Will (immortalized in the silver-screen version by Hugh Grant) is a dashing, independently wealthy, self-centered bachelor in his 30s. When two of his best friends ask him to take on godfather duties for their newborn, he realizes that he not only hates kids, but he also hates their parents for having them. They’re selfish, he tacitly posits.
Ironically, Hornby’s Will eventually becomes enamored with kids and their mothers, a turnabout not too far removed from reality. Parents don’t hate their old friends. They just have new friends. And if that means there’s limited time for the old friends, expendable hours for old habits are slim, too.
Enter the music teacher by day, rock musician by night: Most bands don’t break even, let alone make it rich, so they have to find some kind of gainful employment apart from bar stages and 15-passenger vans. So, many of them make their obsession their job, too, teaching people to play their instrument of choice. Instead of dragging kids to late-night, smoky rock shows, parents can drag those same musicians home sometime on a hot summer day to give the kids lessons.
Kyle Long fits the bill: He’s 22, the bassist for local rock band Early Morning Swim, and a fresh-faced graduate of Barton College with a degree in audio recording technology. He came to Raleigh because of his band and because he sees the Triangle’s music scene as a wealth of talent. He talks of capturing that potential in the studio of his dreams, but–for now–he needs two regular jobs to get by.
Long splits his time between a position in a pizza kitchen and as the office manager at Progressive Music Center in Wake Forest. At Progressive, he was quickly made an auxiliary instructor, picking up about 10 half-hour slots a week with students learning bass or guitar. Long says he tailors his lessons to the interests of each student, noting that he’s now teaching his oldest student–a 30-year-old bassist who can play but can’t read music–about scales, charts and progressions. He’s teaching a 14-year-old guitar student, though, about Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bright Eyes.
Fellow Progressive employee Joe Westerlund, the drummer for Raleigh quartet DeYarmond Edison, agrees with Long’s teaching philosophy. As a kid, he hated practicing prescribed drum lessons, but he loved just playing. He sees it as his pedagogical duty to uncover how to make each student want to take lessons.
“I kind of put my own aesthetic judgments aside. I mean, I don’t listen to Blink-182 or Green Day anymore, but that’s what they want to play and learn. So we do,” he says. “It’s my teaching philosophy that the only time I need to be in control is when the student is taking control.”
Westerlund, 25, has been playing in bands since sixth grade and teaching since he was an 18-year-old music major in Wisconsin. He’s studied with free jazz giant Milford Graves at Wesleyan College in Vermont. But Westerlund says he learns something about drumming from every student.
“I’ve definitely gotten ideas from watching students pick things up differently,” he says. “I’ve even told some before, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. I’m totally going to steal it from you.’”
Jane Francis–a classically trained winds player who eventually gravitated toward playing bass in rock bands like Velvet–even took lessons from another bass instructor to improve her slap-bass playing. One of her students at Carrboro Music Studios had asked about the thumb-and-palm style, popularized by the funk-rock fusing Red Hot Chili Peppers. Her slapping skills had atrophied from lack of practice, so she called former Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge and signed up for a lesson.
“I went through all my tricks and still didn’t have it right,” says Francis, who has been spending time learning more about guitar since she became a teacher last September. “I though it was kind of interesting and that I’d like to expand on it. So Robert taught me and filmed the lesson.”
Just because a teacher is in a cool rock band, though, they’re not always willing to forsake their own training for more peer-appropriate approaches. Lawson Taylor Bennett–who played with the Durham Symphony Orchestra at the Carolina Theatre at age 17, eventually winning the Young Concerto Competition–says he teaches his students by the book, so that, eventually, they’ll need to unlearn the rigors of academia in order to develop their own style. As soon as he realized he was in the top tier of young pianists, he realized he didn’t want to be there forever. He turned to rock ‘n’ roll.
“I couldn’t see wanting to spend my life playing in Carnegie Hall and places like that,” says Bennett, a member of rock band Nathan Asher & The Infantry. “But I had to develop my own style.”
For more on Progressive Music Center, call 453-1688. For the Carrboro Music Studios, call 967-3878. To reach Lawson Bennett, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.