Instructor of Voice, Guitar, Audio and Music Production, Songwriting and Composition, and Music Theory
How long have you been teaching?
On and off for 30 years. Never full-time. I started with Opus in August of 2020.
Which Opus Music Academy locations do you work? Do you have your own studio? If so, where is it located? Do you offer in-home lessons?
I am currently teaching in students’ homes or virtually. I do own a full recording studio in my Maple Grove, MN home and will offer in-home lessons once the COVID vaccine establishes herd immunity.
What do you teach? Anything else you teach?
Voice, guitar, songwriting, and production.
What is your studio story? How did you get to where you are now?
I was a self-taught, ear-centric musician until I went to college where I learned theory, sight reading, and all the formalities that accompany a B.A. in Music (guitar and voice performance from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN). I released my first album of original songs in college at the ripe age of 19. I have since released 7 more, and many albums that I have produced for other bands and artists. Immediately upon college graduation, I was hired as Music Director at a large church in Brooklyn Park, MN. With a very flexible schedule, I was able to perform the duties of that job while pursuing a completely separate career path as an original singer/songwriter playing clubs and recording with my band.
Growing up, I had zero ambition to be a church MD, but it was full-time salary with benefits so I thought I would do that for a year or so, until I became a rock star. 26 years later, as if on cue, I left that job. This coincided with my professional evolution to touring full time with my corporate entertainment act, SongBlast. More happened in those 26 years than would be appropriate to include in this short form interview, but suffice it to say that I have paid every bill and expense in my adult life with money I earned as a professional musician. A professional musician who always had multiple sources of revenue, because the professional musician who has but a single source of revenue is a failure that just hasn’t yet happened. The COVID virus has proven this in very cruel and sobering fashion. After leaving that first church MD job in 2013, I became increasingly, naggingly nervous about the precariousness of my single-revenue lifestyle of touring on the road. A voice injury. A hand injury. An ankle injury. Our booking agency goes under. My business partner gets sick…..all of these real world potential scenarios kept gurgling up to my conscious thoughts on a daily basis. So, in 2015, I decided to take a part-time MD job at a smaller church. I would perform a certain number of Sundays relative to my touring schedule. This decision turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life, as this job has carried me through the COVID economic disaster since March (I am the primary bread winner, married with 3 children).
If I hadn’t been off the road, I would not have learned about Opus, and I wouldn’t be teaching here right now. Life is crazy; it can change very quickly, and few professions demand adaptability in order to survive than does Music.
What is one thing you think you do really well as a teacher?
I think I have the ability to create high expectations in my students. Not authoritarian expectations but, rather, self-inspiring expectations. I tend to push students toward audacious results in rather quick fashion. I also believe it is important to be able to, as a teacher, demonstrate your techniques by doing them in front of your students – as an actual performer. I guess I expect my students to be bold in their goals, and they seem to rise to the challenge more often than not.
What is one thing you really struggle with as a teacher?
Keeping track of communications and changes in the schedules of the various students’ lesson times (how Kathy keeps track of every student lesson and every teacher calendar is some kind of cosmic mystery – I am but one teacher with one roster, yet she manages all of us!) . I always have numerous, ongoing studio production projects in the queue, and other professional obligations I am fulfilling, so I struggle to stay on top of my broad, divergent professional calendar.
A funny student story:
I was recently leaving an adult student’s home after a lesson, when he asked me if I liked Scotch whiskey. I replied that there is nary a whiskey I did not like. He stated that Total Wine had mistakenly delivered an additional, free bottle of Scotch to his house but that he no longer drank Scotch, and would I be interested in inheriting the bottle as a gift. With humble, sacrificial teamsmanship, I accepted.
What do you do to retain your students?
I believe that a teacher needs to provide and present the proper amount of ‘new’ and ‘ familiar’ to a student, in order to create a strong base for workout. This is what will keep any human engaged in a new-ish activity or endeavor (unlike a fad diet or miracle cure). All of music is an athletic workout; if you are constantly repeating the same workout, you will grow bored and will stop getting fitter. If you are constantly engaging in unfamiliar techniques, you will flounder in indecision and never lock down your improvements. We humans need both the familiar and the new, and it is the job of the teacher to know when to apply which to each individual student at the right time.
What is your niche? What sets you apart from other teachers?
I have no idea.
What is your favorite band, artist, or composer? Why?
Queen. Beatles. Billy Joel. Sting. Peter Gabriel. Tom Waits. Bach. Mozart. Tchaikovsky.
Why? Music. Lyrics. Emotional and intellectual genius. Gigantic melodies and ear-opening harmonies – and timeless, human truth.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I am a hopelessly curious geek who watches more documentaries than that of a healthy, adjusted individual.
Let’s say you’re having coffee with a brand new teacher. What’s one piece of advice you wish you would have known when you started.
Teaching a 6 year old is light years away from teaching a 78 year old. You better get your game on with regard to executing completely different approaches to the same instrument, relative to the age and experience of your student. Oh, and always maintain a very resilient sense of humor, especially while teaching.
Let’s say you’re visiting with a teacher who is feeling burned out. What advice would you give to them to give life to their studio?
I would gently and humbly remind them of life before COVID. Or a potential reality whereby any impending influence could hijack their professional independence. I would juxtapose this to a life in which they had no relationship to music or teaching others to engage with it. I would then buy them a movie ticket to go see “Godfather 1”, knowing that the experience of watching that movie will bring them back to a place of centered-ness in both their professional and private lives.
We’ve all had that one student or parent that drives us crazy. What do you do with that student or family?
Buy them a ticket to go see “Godfather 1”.
What is your craziest idea? What is something you would do if money, time, and space weren’t an issue?
Build a movie/tv empire that would compete with Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and Hollywood.
If you weren’t a music instructor, what else would you do with your life?
My family derisively mocks me for this, as they believe it represents delusion on my part, but I pine for an alternate reality in which I am creating a vast garden and/or vineyard in the Tuscany region of Italy. Working with the earth in order to create something humans essentially want and need. That appeals to me.
Or, maybe launch a boutique electric guitar manufacturing business, producing the finest of guitars.
It would have to be something where I am creating or building stuff, because that’s what gets me off.