Rees’ Pieces: A Whole Lotta Jam With David Allan

Posted: July 29, 2011 by delina17 in Interviews

Dave Allan working with students

Del Rees

When I first heard about the existence of Windsor’s very own “School of Rock” (officially named Jam Space Academy), I was very excited to do this interview.  Not only is there an extensive, vibrant local music scene, but the talent exists in some of our youngest citizens and is being brought to the surface and unleashed by local drummer and drums teacher, David Allan and his team at Jam Space.  He candidly shares his experiences teaching the fundamentals of band-building to local teens.  Wherever Dave is, there’s bound to be a “whole lotta jam!”

Rees:  Before we get started, tell me a little bit about yourself and some of the musical projects you are a part of in the local scene.

David Allan:  I’ve been playing in the Windsor music scene for almost ten years now and I currently play in 5 local bands. I play drums for Cellos, Explode When They Bloom, Poughboy, Area 51 and Which Witch on top of doing a bit of session work here and there for Brett Humber at the Sound Foundry Studio in Kingsville. I started teaching private drum lessons about 4 years ago in the county and have branched out in the last couple of years into the Windsor area.
Rees:  Now let’s talk about the program that you run.  What is the official name of the program, location and hours, what ages are enrolled, and what are the enrollment fees?
David Allan:  The Jam Space Academy takes place every Saturday at noon over at Jam Space on Ouellette Ave. (across from the Tepperman’s parking lot). The students that are enrolled right now range from the ages of 12 – 18 and they pay $30 every week for two and a half hours of lesson and jamming time. I have a lot of help with running the program from the most excellent Jay Testawich, Natalie Westfall and Richard Rogers who are all familiar faces in the Windsor music scene, performing with Luna Borealis. Jay plays keys in Surdaster as
well. The program would be nowhere without them.
Rees:  Can you give me a one sentence sort of description of what happens here at Jam Space every Saturday?

The first class debuted live at the Capitol Theatre, opening for StereoGoesStellar

David Allan:  Every Saturday, students are learning cover songs, writing and recording original material, preparing for upcoming shows, and learning about what goes into being in a

band or being a working musician.
Rees:  How did this program start?  Whose idea was it and how did the idea come to fruition?
David Allan:  We started shortly after Jam Space opened its doors. I was friends with Jay and Nat who were co-founders and I approached them with the idea of starting up a weekly rock music school. I had run similar programs in the county at a couple of music stores which ended up being very successful and the Jam Space facility was a perfect location to house it. We started in November of last year with only 3 students who came in every week and worked towards a first gig which ended up being at the Capitol Theatre in March. Since that show, the Academy has grown quickly and we look forward to having many more students through the doors.
Rees:   Is there a selection process or audition for students wishing to be part of the program?
David Allan:  There isn’t a selection or audition process for the students. Anyone is welcome to join, however, students definitely benefit from already being at an intermediate level of playing or singing. The program is also open to any and all instruments.
Rees:  How many students are enrolled in the program now, and what is the overall goal for enrollment?
David Allan:  We have about 20 students involved right now and anticipate another dozen or so joining in September when school starts up again. The format of the Academy allows for a large number of students to be involved so we hope to someday have hundreds of students coming in every week.
Rees:  Let’s talk more about goals.  Where do you see students in this program heading musically, and what do you hope to see them accomplish by being here?

David Allan:  The goal above all else, is to have fun while learning how to play music in a band setting. Many of the students were accomplished players before joining but when you have to worry about playing and working with other musicians, it’s a totally different ballgame. The students who are enrolled now are incredible. It’s actually pretty mind blowing to see some of these teens playing such difficult material at such a high level. Pushing their own personal skills is super important but I’ve really been trying to hammer home the idea that you don’t necessarily need to be a famous person or a rock star to make a living from music. These kids LOVE playing and there are many ways to make a career out of it without being Mick Jagger, though I feel many of these students have very bright futures ahead of them and the local, and even national, music scene is going to be in good shape for a while.
Rees:  Now, kids today can go to school and learn music there, or join concert band.  What makes this program different from what they teach in school?
David Allan:  I’m all about taking advantage of every opportunity possible when it comes to music education. Many of the students are a part of their concert bands in school, take private lessons or perform in plays and they benefit from all of it. We are offering the rock n’ roll side of things where anything goes and creativity is key. We try to work more on original music than anything else and give the students the opportunity to express their own ideas. They also get the chance to hear from guest speakers like working Windsor musicians, promoters, producers, etc., who have years and years of experience and advice to share.  Also, field trips to Dr. Disc, playing with active local bands at cool venues and having the chance to make some new, like-minded friends is icing on the cake.
Rees:   When I was in school I learned a lot of musical theory, how to read music, etc.  Is theory something that is incorporated into this program’s curriculum?  Explain.
David Allan:  As I said before, with their involvement in private lessons or school bands, a lot of the students are already well versed as far as theory goes. We definitely try to add to it by making sure they understand the whys and hows of playing music and pay close attention to the details going on underneath the surface. We also talk a lot about songwriting of all genres.
Rees:  Do you yourself have any formal teaching credentials, or do you feel that teaching is something you can do if you have enough experience and can relay it to others?
David Allan:  When I was first offered a job teaching drum lessons, I really had no idea what to expect. I was confident that I knew enough theory and had enough playing experience but I wasn’t sure how I’d be with translating the information. I was thrown into the fire with 30 students per week and found that I was able to get my students to pick up the material quickly and more importantly, get them excited about playing. Music to me is everything and I try to pass along my love of it however I can, whether it’s offering advice, teaching how to play, or letting students borrow records that they may not have heard yet. I do think that formal education can make some people better teachers but at the end of the day it’s more important that you are able to excite your students and keep them moving forward.
Rees:  Is this a very structured classroom curriculum, or is it sort of “anything goes?”
David Allan:  It’s all about having fun. We usually have a game plan that we decide upon with the students as far as what songs we’re learning or what we’re trying to achieve each week but there is also plenty of room for flexibility. For example, we just had a Beatles-themed week where all the groups learned a Beatles tune and we watched a couple of mini documentaries about their albums.
Rees:  In any group setting where kids are together, sometimes there’s misbehavior, fooling around, etc.  Do you have a way to deal with it?  What is your approach?
David Allan:  We’ve been pretty lucky so far as all the students have been very mature and super respectful of each other and the teachers. They also understand that while we are there to have fun, we also need to get things done for the upcoming shows or recordings.
Rees:  As a role model for these students, what other non-musical qualities are you hoping to instill in them?
David Allan:  As cheesy or cliched as it may sound, I hope they learn that with hard work and by building positive relationships with other musicians around them, they can achieve anything, in music or otherwise. It’s also important for them to understand the difference between being confident about their playing abilities and being arrogant. We feel that music is all about sharing and collaborating and being open minded to others’ ideas.
Rees:  Tell us about some of the students in the program… what makes them unique, or sets them apart from the average kid out there today?  Do you feel proud of the class?
David Allan:  I’m extremely proud of all of the students in the class. Every Saturday, even though I go in with big expectations for them, they always manage to surpass those and blow my mind with the songs they write or learn. Every week we see huge improvements from all of them and it’s been fun to watch their growth as players and songwriters. I find their energy and excitement towards learning, writing and creating to be inspiring and infectious for the teachers. I’m actually pretty jealous of some of the songs they’ve written and if this is just a glimpse of what’s to come from them, I can’t wait to see where they are in 5 years.
Rees:  What would you say to a parent of a musically inclined kid who is thinking of enrolling them here at Jam Space?  Where can they get in touch with you or find out more about the program?
David Allan:  I feel this program is beneficial for both the students and the local music scene. The sooner that young musicians start learning the “ins and outs” of being in a band, including meeting important local contacts and getting some stage experience, the quicker they can become comfortable with sharing their talent with everyone. The Jam Space facility is top-notch and very family friendly. Students are welcome, before or after class, to hang out with their friends, play Guitar Hero or put in some extra work with their music.
For anyone who wants to be a part of the Jam Academy, they can call Jam Space at 519 – 972 – 0008  or drop by for a visit!
For more info, search for the Jam Space fan page on FACEBOOK.
To get a glimpse of Jam Space Academy on video, follow this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUVRhWJ92qY
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