Musicians Are Educating By Example
Whether it's by choice or by accident, some music stars are building a second career that's rather academic.
After spending decades recording albums, staging tours and learning the ropes of the music industry, established musicians are taking their experience and applying it to the classroom, obtaining positions as chairs, fellows, professors, instructors, and lecturers at colleges, universities and other academic institutions.
"I've just finished my second year and it's been fantastic!" enthuses GRAMMY winner Melissa Manchester, who is an adjunct professor teaching voice and songwriting at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music.
"I hadn't really thought about doing it since I'd never gone to much of college, but I was invited to teach a master class at [USC and] we had a rockin' time — and then I was brought in to cover a class called Writing For Musical Theatre For Pop Students.
"My students created a musical that was just fantastic, and then Chris Sampson, associate dean [and director] of the Popular Music [Program], invited me back to teach individual instruction for what I call the Art Of Conversational Singing. It's thrilling."
Manchester isn't the only renowned artist teaching at Thornton: the faculty also includes noted GRAMMY-nominated trombonist Bill Watrous, Yellowjackets co-founder and GRAMMY-winning pianist Russell Ferrante, and veteran GRAMMY-winning jazz drummer Peter Erskine. Meanwhile, classic rocker Steve Miller, eminent GRAMMY-winning songwriter Lamont Dozier and GRAMMY-nominated jazz pianist Patrice Rushen have all fulfilled appointments as USC artists-in-residence.
Meanwhile, at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music — where well-known instructors include bluegrass fiddler Darol Anger, hit songwriter Kara DioGuardi and GRAMMY-winning bass player John Patitucci — Professor Terri Lyne Carrington says that her career as a celebrated jazz drummer works as an invaluable teaching tool for those desiring an insider's view of the business.
"We're currently doing the things that most students want to do," says 2011 GRAMMY winner Carrington, whose rhythmic skills earned her a full Berklee College of Music scholarship at age 11, and an honorary doctorate in 2003.
"There's something about learning from somebody [who] has the experience that you're trying to have that's different than from somebody [who] has dedicated their whole life to teaching. You need both, actually, because educators [who] have dedicated their lives to mostly educating and maybe not touring and playing as much, have methods and ways of teaching that have been honed, specialized and worked out to their maximum abilities.
"Berklee is cool because it has both elements. My students see me juggling my career and my teaching schedule while trying to make sure they get all their lessons in and it inspires them, because that's what they want to be doing."
A few scholars have even gone beyond music to channel their inner educator: Bad Religion singer and co-founder Greg Graffin, Ph.D., currently lectures in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, while Brian Cox, ex-keyboardist with '90s Irish dance pop band D:Ream, is a professor at the University of Manchester. Cox made headlines as an English particle physicist while working on experiments involving the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland.
And in 2010, GRAMMY winner Wyclef Jean was appointed a visiting fellow at Rhode Island-based Brown University's Department of Africana Studies, taking part in Haiti-related lectures, classes and faculty conversations.
But for the most part, musicians have stuck to either their own fields, or ones that bear an immediate association. For example, Mark Volman, co-founder of '60s pop band the Turtles, doesn't teach performance. As chair of Entertainment Industry Studies and assistant professor at Belmont University's Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business, he does offer a practical curriculum involving the business itself.
"You're either in my class because you're interested in the business of music and would like to be on the business side — the record company, the management, publishing and so forth — or you're a musician — a singer, an artist, a creator — looking to be smart enough to go in with a good manager or attorney and ask the questions necessary to negotiate the best deals for yourself as you become better known and more successful," says Volman.
Volman is a latecomer to the academic world. Now 66, he was 45 when he first attended Los Angeles' Loyola Marymount University to obtain his undergraduate degree in communications.
He graduated as class valedictorian with a bachelor's degree in 1997 and eventually earned his master's degree in Fine Arts at Loyola in 1999.
Volman says he's found personal fulfillment through teaching on a number of levels.
"It's the fulfillment of realizing that you're being looked to and trusted for what I'm doing in terms of helping them get to the point where I'm at now: a 50-year career still making a living at what I left high school to do.
"We now license our [Turtles] music to iTunes. We own our master recordings. We own the concert business. Everything of value is coming back to us. So now I can teach students how to do that, and I really get a lot of satisfaction helping students get to that point."
There's maybe another benefit to teaching younger generations. Carrington, who began her teaching career at USC before moving back to Boston to be closer to her parents, says her students keep her contemporary.
"I'm inspired by my students," she notes. "A lot of them have a zest, a drive, and they're trying to do something different.
"My playing has also gotten a lot better after teaching. And I get to stay current and know what the heck is going on with new music, what they’re listening to and rhythms all over the world. There's a lot of mutual inspiration."
(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board's music industry documentary Dream Machine.)