1st Weeks Teaching
Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 6:00PM
Trey Gunn in coaching, teaching, teaching

I have begun teaching in a fairly substantial way lately, and I love it. I have had a few private students over the last few years although no one has hung around for terribly long. Either their interest in studying with me was a ruse in order to meet me, and once they did the process was complete. Or, they had come to learn how to play a touchstyle instrument (Warr Guitar or Stick or that style adapted to guitar or bass). But once I showed them the work involved they quickly vanished! Who knows? Most likely it wasn’t time for me to be giving instructions. So I answered their questions and they mostly moved on.

But something has changed in the last six months. I have gotten many, many inquiries for help in furthering people’s musical/creative processes. Some are local and some are very far away. I am compelled to figure out a good iChat/Skype system so that I can do instruction remotely. I think this may be as simple as running my instrument and a talk-back mic through a small mixer board before sending it to the online chat system. It may mean hooking up my nicer video camera. I don’t know yet. But there seems to a be a need here, so I am answering.

I have, also, begun teaching at a local middle & high school here in Seattle. Puget Sound Community School. This totally caught me by surprise, as I would have never pursued such a thing. I was invited to a meeting for this school where community members pitch classes to the students. It sounded curious to me so I went.

It turns out this school is very unusual in that the curriculum is completely student driven. The philosophy is that if the teachers bring what are their true passions to the table and just make them available to the students, then you get a stronger synergy between the three. The three being: student/instructor/material. The students are not required to do anything. The only main requirement is you must be at the school during school hours. What you choose to do with you time there is up to you. If you want to sit around and play video games all day, then that seems to be a choice that is supported. But here’s the wild thing: they don’t. They get caught up in all the cool things that are going on and choose to participate. Languages, physics, math, tons of music, art, social sciences… it’s all going on.

Anyway, the meeting went quite well and there were very, interesting folks there. One guy was going to pitch a class in dance improvisation and Brazilian Capoirera. Another was going to be working through Hamlet with the students reading the parts out loud and discussing it in depth. Another was pitching a physics class on space and time. And about half-way through the meeting Michael Shrieve showed up! For those who don’t know the name, Michael is local Seattlite who played drums on the first six Santana records. He was at Woodstock and has played with Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend and many, many others. In all the years that I have been here in Seattle I had never met Michael. Who would know that this would be the context?

By “pitching a class” I mean that there is one morning set aside for everyone to “sell” their classes to the students – you have the floor and tell everyone what class you are offering and why you are excited about the subject. Then the students spend the next two days negotiating amongst themselves to figure out what classes are going to be put into the schedule and what time that will happen. This is some serious negotiating as the class you really want may not make it into the schedule. I watched some of this take place and I can attest that these types of compassionate negotiating skills are key to how this planet will work in the near future. Everyone make their cases for what they want very clearly and then EVERYONE works to get EVERYONE’s needs met. It wasn’t a case of who has the most power gets to bully others into getting their way. Of course everyone doesn’t get everything they want, but seeing this process unfold gave me some real hope for this planet.

As soon as I got home I knew what I would offer: one class in ear training and one in odd-times and polyrhythms. I wrote up a synopsis, sent it and went to pitch my class. This was quite fun because you got to hear all the instructors tell a bit about themselves and what drives them. Then you get to hear about their class. I went near the very end and it was terribly amusing to me. This was a general group of American teenagers ranging from 12 up to 18. So there was a spectrum from high energy enthusiasm through to drooling malaise. When I began to speak and talk about who I am and what I have done there started to be some small level of interest. Then I begun to list off a few of the people I had played with. I began going down the shortlist and there was still only general interest. But when I said the “Tool” if was like an electric charge went off in the room. One kid practically has a seizure in his chair!

Afterwards one of the other potential instructors (she wasn’t pitching a class this quarter but just observing the process) told me that she figured out the secret to making her class work: you just put the word “tool” into your pitch. For example. “I going to be teaching a class on puppet-making. And we are going to make puppets of the guys from Tool!”

Next up, after me, was Michael Shrieve. He has a very humble manner which is in total contrast to the folks he has worked with -- Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Andy Summers, film composer Mark Isham, John Mclaughlin, Klaus Schulze, Freddie Hubbard, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Horvitz, Bill Frisell, Zakir Hussain, Airto Moriera and Amon Tobin – the list is crazy. One kid was so excited that he asked Michael, during his pitch, if he could hug him. And he did.

Who doesn’t want to go to this school?

There was strong enough interest in my two classes that both made it into the schedule. Now I am two weeks in and it is going quite well. I am quite stunned with how strong the basic skills are with these students. In odd-times they were playing 5 against 7 within the first hour. In ear training they were singing major and minor seconds right away. I had them singing long tones in two groups, with both groups only a minor 2nd apart singing at the same time! What a sound!

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