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Teacher Feature: Kevin S.

This month we had the pleasure of interviewing our exceptionally accomplished drum, piano, and voice teacher, Kevin S. as our Teacher Feature. As a performer, Kevin has worked with Blue Man Group, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and many other high-profile music groups. Be sure to check out his own bands, the Zoo Human Project and Kirk Out as well! As a teacher, Kevin has taught for both Molly’s Music and our nonprofit, the Molly’s Music Foundation–where he focused on Brazilian music and was a hit with his students. He’s even the drummer for our Pop Star Camp and our brand new Recital Band. We’re incredibly lucky to have Kevin on our team!

MM: Which instruments do you play, how did you get started on each one, and how long have you played them? Do you have a favorite?

KS: I play the piano and the drums, which includes drum set, classical music, and Afro-Latin percussion. I started taking piano lessons when I was five years old, and at the time, my older brother was taking drum lessons. I remember we used to jam together, and I started learning some basic drum beats from him. When I was in middle school, my friend roped me into playing drums, and I started playing in the school marching band, concert band and jazz band. I kept playing both instruments and eventually earned my degree in music performance. It’s hard to pick a favorite instrument as there are so many facets of these instruments. I really enjoy playing samba music because the energy that comes from 100 people playing drums together is electrifying. As I’ve been teaching lots of piano lately, I’m really getting into learning more advanced piano music from the likes of Beethoven and Schumann. I will always have a special place in my heart for the orchestra though, as the sheer force of a large orchestra can literally take your breath away.

MM: Who has inspired you musically?

KS: My musical inspirations come from so many different places. I grew up listening to lots of rock and Latin music, so I really got into music from bands like Sublime and Dave Matthews, and also the older groups like Santana and Tower of Power. I also find inspiration from modern classical composers like John Cage and John Luther Adams, who write some really interesting and unique music. Most of all, I would have to say that my teachers over the years have inspired me to better myself musically. I was blessed to have been taught by many diverse musicians that were true virtuosi in their craft.

MM: What are your favorite musical genres, and why?

KS: It’s hard to name favorites when it comes to musical genres. I’m really into Brazilian music though, from samba drumming to composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. His Ciclo Brasileiro is a current dorky classical music favorite of mine. I can enjoy anything that has a good groove to it, whether it be show tunes, 90s rock or the latest hip hop tune on the radio.

MM: What are your current musical projects?

KS: I just started playing with a band called Kirk Out with a friend from college. The band has been around for a while, but I just jumped in and played my first show with them after only one rehearsal! That’s fun because I get to rock out on the drum set and improvise a lot. I also freelance, playing classical music and whatever else comes my way. So if anyone needs a drummer…

MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?

KS: Practicing is obviously a really important part of being a musician, because we continue learning throughout our whole lives. We constantly strive to get better at our craft, which makes music and the performing arts unique from other fields. But in our busy lives, and especially in students’ lives, with their many extracurricular activities, practicing efficiently is important. Most importantly, I try to practice every day, even if that means a short session of playing through a couple tunes or learning eight bars of a new piece. This requires lots of focus, so I have a quiet practice space with little to no distractions. With my students, we actually spend a fair amount of time in lessons talking about how to practice, so they can be prepared for lessons and eventually recitals. Repetition is definitely the key, and I tell my students to learn something by playing it really slow, then speeding it up. Setting goals is important too, so that we are striving for something little by little. There are a million other tips and tricks I can give about practicing effectively, but perhaps I’ll save that boring stuff for my students…

MM: You’ve done group classes for our nonprofit: tell us about group classes/ensembles you’ve taught. It seems like you run the gamut from West African band drums to kits and more.

KS: I’ve taught drum classes with the nonprofit, focusing on Brazilian music. The kids absolutely love it, I mean who doesn’t like banging on stuff? It’s great drumming with kids because just seeing drums makes them excited, and they learn so quickly. We can be learning and jamming on a song the very first day of class. In my group classes, we also talk about different genres of music from around the world, from Europe to Africa to Asia and the Middle East. This is a win-win, because the kids are eager to learn about different cultures and their musical histories, and I get to talk about dorky things that nobody else finds interesting!

MM: Tell us a little bit about the Zoo Human Project.

KS: The Zoo Human Project is a band that I’ve been playing in for almost a decade now. It’s a trio consisting of me playing hand drums and singing background vocals and two other guitarists/singers. The music is awesome, groovy and funky but relaxed. We’ve toured a lot, traveling across the country from LA to New York for months at a time with the three of us and our gear in a single SUV. Being on the road for months at a time has made us like family. It was also a great experience to travel and go to places I probably would never have visited alone. Check us out online…

MM: If you were stranded on an island and could only have one album with you, what would it be?

KS: Wow, that’s a tough question! I might just have to bring a Zoo Human Project album. That would probably keep me from going crazy by keeping me connected to memories of the outside world.

MM: Anything else you feel like mentioning?

KS: I guess I should use this space for a shameless plug: Ask for me if you’re signing up for piano or drum lessons. Check out my bands The Zoo Human Project and Kirk Out, online, on CD or mp3, and in concert. Also, remember the importance of the arts. Music is everywhere, and today’s music student might be tomorrow’s John Lennon or John Williams (the composer of the Star Wars soundtrack.) Music defines our culture and our species.

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