Have Learned, Learning, Will Learn
I was very young when I started learning music. My household was a musical one, with my mother playing piano and grandmother and great-aunt being being piano teachers. Growing up, I had 3 hour piano lessons every day, which I rarely enjoyed. I did not look forward to the lessons because music was a chore, it was something I had to do. It wasn’t until I picked up the guitar as a teenager and started developing a personal relationship with music, that it became something I wanted to do.
I then embarked on multiple (at the time unrelated) strands of learning music. I carried on with classical piano, solfege, and 4-part writing through university, while playing guitar, bass, and drums in all kinds of bands. Previously, I had learned to work with wood and metal in shop class, and later learned to solder and make my own guitar pedals. I didn’t know it at the time, but these unrelated strands of my life would eventually come crashing together.
I have recently completed a PhD in music composition from the University of Huddersfield. The experience was life changing in many ways and I am thankful to all the people that were there for me along the way. Through the PhD (and thesis) I developed and refined my thoughts on composition, improvisation, memory, interaction, mapping, and openness/sharing. You can read about all of this in my thesis which exists as a dynamic web-thesis (I am very proud of the thesis, and consider it to be an art object in and of itself).
I began teaching when I was still in high school. My music teachers gave me lots of opportunities, so in my final year I had a piano to myself for a class and another that was just my rock band rehearsals(!), which was very unusual at the time. Towards the end of the year there was late addition to the group piano class so the teacher asked me if I could give them some one-to-one lessons to catch them up with the rest of the class. This was my first private student.
After high school I taught piano, guitar, and bass privately for many years. I was still developing my voice as a teacher, but I knew I wanted to make music something enjoyable, something that people could engage with, something fun. I likely wasn’t creating future concert pianists but I was teaching my students that music could be something that they engaged with on their own terms. If students didn’t do their homework, I was ok with that. They get what they put in, and I was merely there to guide them along the way.
Fast forward 20 years and I am the Deputy Head of Popular Music at the Royal Northern College of Music, where I have taught for the last 6 years. Since the course is centered around “popular music” (essentially meaning anything except classical music), it is somewhat close to what I do in my own creative life. It’s a job I love, and feel lucky to have. I teach theory, improv, songwriting, composition, arranging, and music technology to incredibly talented musicians every day. The students also seem to enjoy my approach to teaching.
Since the introduction of the Student Led Teaching awards 5 years ago, I have been been nominated for a teaching award every year (except one!), and lucky enough to win awards for Positive Impact, Innovative Teaching, and Outstanding Teaching. It means a lot to win these awards, not because teaching is about winning awards, but because I have been able to have an impact on these students’ lives.
I started thinking, towards the end of my PhD, that as much as I love making art, that a big part of what I do in my life is help people, often to make art of their own. And that act of helping is just as important as making art itself. This has been a part of philosophical/intellectual realignment, which I’ll expand on in an upcoming blog post of its own, that sees art and creativity not as something you personally create but something you assist into being.
I also realised that I took a weird path to get here. I have an unusual intersection of knowledge and experiences that could be useful to other [creative] people. Even though I’m quite active in several onlinecommunities I wanted to apply this idea in a more open and direct way, that was also freer from the context and subject area that formed those communities.
So I decided to start offering free lessons/conversations/consultations/mentoring/time/support in what I call Gib Gab sessions. The idea is that through helping people in this way, I can help bring more art into the world. This, coupled with my thoughts on sharing, means it is also important that I do this for free. Up to now I have primarily shared this via word of mouth, but having finished my PhD, I now have more time to dedicate to this.
I also like how Gib Gab sessions fit into education in general, as the transfer of knowledge goes both ways. I help the people I am gib gabbing with, but at the same time, I am thinking about things that I would not have otherwise thought. Each time I have gib gabbed with someone I have learned something new. As such, gib gabbing is part of my own continued learning. Something that started when I was very young. Something that I hope to make a bigger part of my life, and have big plans for in the future.