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Our spotlight series explores the musical stories and experiences that first bring people to music and what it is that inspires a lifelong love of music and the drive to share that through teaching music to others.
Jason Holmes is a professional DJ and Creative Technology and Music Teacher at Doveton College, Victoria. For the last year he has led on developing workshops and resources for Musical Futures Studio developed in partnership between Musical Futures International and Soundtrap, designed to support creativity and collaboration through cloud-based and accessible music technology . In this article he shares his musical story and some of the experiences he has had with using Musical Futures in his teaching.
Tell us your musical story
When I was four years old, I used to pretend to play the violin to classical music while my mum would play records. We lived next door to a brilliant piano teacher, so I started getting lessons in violin and piano. I was always terrible at practising, I just wanted to play, not get bogged down with theory. In my teens, I was more attracted to what was cool at the time - so I taught myself to play Nirvana, Metallica and Hendrix on guitar and bass. I learned quickly but was still terrible at practising, the art of slowing things down and learning the rules eluded me.
My brother exposed me to Electronic Music and Hip Hop with the likes of Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Public Enemy. The floodgates were opened and soon after we bought some turntables, with the intent to become famous DJs! The problem was, at that time there was no YouTube, nor the abundance of information available online like there is today, so we had to practice. We made mistakes and we slowly learned from them, but it took a lot of time. This led to collecting equipment for making our own music, and from there recording equipment and software.
What do you do in music outside the classroom?
I’ve been DJing for more than twenty years now, holding residencies around Melbourne and travelling interstate to perform live shows. For the past 7 years, I’ve performed with Seth Sentry, one of Australia’s most highly regarded names in Hip Hop. We’ve toured extensively internationally and nationally, performing at festivals and sell out shows, most notably appearing on The Jimmy Kimmel Show live to more than 3 million viewers. Producing and remixing Hip Hop and Electronic Music is an ongoing fascination.
What do you love about music?
Music is a puzzle, music is beautiful maths. Music challenges you to find harmony as well as discord. The process of expression can take you down all sorts of rabbit holes. For me, learning to practice meant learning to accept repetition. With repetition comes a sort of meditation, and I find that meditation in the music I make - which can be satisfying or the most frustrating thing at times. It also fascinates me that you can express an emotion or a message, or perhaps experiment with a scientific idea or concept. It’s very powerful, I’ve discovered an appreciation of science, language and maths I’d never expected through music.
How has Musical Futures influenced what you do in the classroom?
One important and consistent element of my classroom is that I like to show something that inspires, the students usually in the form of a video or recording, then have every student say something about it. The rule is that you don’t have to like it, but everyone has to say something. This has created the most amazing result and after a few lessons beginning like this, the students fall naturally into a conversation with each other. It encourages them to think critically and be able to communicate ideas, which transfers to their work and collaborations.
Using a lot of modern technology in my classes, informal learning is something of a must. When you are creating music with modern tools and software, you can approach it from so many angles, so the idea to do what works for you really is the only way forward. Something that struck me early on with Musical Futures was the concept of “just play,” it reminded me of where I came from as a musician. Even if you are banging a tin can with a stick, the feeling of being involved in the music is so important. That feeling of inclusion is what will lead you to the next stage as a musician.
What impact has Musical Futures had for the students you work with?
The first time seeing a group of students with virtually zero musical literacy put together a chord progression, then tentatively add a melody and some percussion, slowly piecing it all together until they had written a whole song blew me away. The look on their faces was almost disbelief at what they were hearing, as though someone else must have created it! They had experimented their way through and polished it with the tools available to them. I proudly play that song to teachers in every PD I run.
Musical Futures is focussed on maximum engagement with students, which can’t happen unless you have maximum engagement from the people leading the students. I was a musician before I was a teacher, and I find it essential to tap into that passion and share it with the class. Passion for music is always where the best results originate.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.