The Music Station
PUBLISHED: 11:03 17 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:03 17 March 2014
Learn to play your favourite music in Tonbridge
Behind the unassuming Victorian façade in Tonbridge’s Bank Street (formerly Workhouse Lane because its main building was the town’s Poor House up to the 1830s) lies a state-of-the-art music centre whose influence is extending way beyond its colourful soundproofed internal walls.
It’s run by James Sedge and Julie Parker, who got together when they both taught at K College (then West Kent College) at the other end of Tonbridge in 1999, but left when the takeover happened four years ago.
Through teaching brothers Jack and Tom Clark, they’d become friends with the boys’ father Rod, a local businessman who had acquired No. 3 Bank Street and its neighbour with a view to build flats.
That deal fell through and Rod was left with an empty space, but one full of possibilities. “I said to James and Julie, wouldn’t it be great to have another type of music venue in Tonbridge and asked if they’d be interested to have a look,” he says.
They certainly were. “When you’ve worked for an institution for many years and have loads of experience, there comes a time when you want to do things your own way. To be trusted is wonderful. We were so ready!” says Julie.
James agrees: “Our requests when we first started talking about it with Rod were quite extreme and very, very expensive, but it wasn’t going to work without that level of investment to create what we have now – something that is unique.”
About 10 months later the building was gutted and refurbished back to its shell. What you can’t see, however, is what lies behind the walls – miles of complex cabling: it’s ‘future-proofed’, Rod tells me.
Like the Tardis it’s also much bigger than you’d think on the inside, especially when you realise how much less space is needed when digital technology is involved.
Now a state-of-the art facility with an air-conditioned, sound-proofed studio served by a control room that doubles as the reception area, its modern teaching rooms have all the latest Roland musical equipment, 50in plasma screens, Apple iMacs and iPads and CCTV.
Specialising in rock and pop music, James and Julie both used to teach to degree level at the University of Kent and are supported by five other tutors (one, just 19, is an ex-degree student of theirs).
All seven are not only skilled teachers but also successful working musicians, which means they can structure the teaching of popular music step by step, from beginner to advanced, bringing their industry knowledge as well as innovative teaching methods into every single session.
For example, one of the bands James drums for, David Migden and the Twisted Roots, will represent the UK in Latvia this month in the European Blues Challenge. These teachers really do know their stuff.
But as a pupil you can come here at any level and with any kind of wishlist. That might be wanting vocal and instrumental lessons, in groups or one-to-one, taking grade exams, enjoying supervised band workshops, pop choir and other ensembles, experiencing superb recording facilities or getting expert tuition in music theory, song writing and music technology.
Or just pop in for a chat, as many do. Flexibility is the watchword. If you’re not quite sure where your musical direction lies, you can take a free trial lesson on any instrument you like – or any number – to find ‘your’ own instrument.
“That way you stick with it, because you’ve chosen it,” says James. “We had one family come in and dad was on sax, mum on vocals, one son was on drums the other on guitar, with daughter on the piano.
“Playing in a band is really powerful, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before. It’s on everyone’s bucket list.”
Julie adds: “We’re offering a different sort of music and a different style of teaching, but it’s all still music. I am finding a lot of disillusioned students who basically have been forced to learn classical music, particularly the piano, didn’t want to, but that’s all they can get from their teacher.”
James agrees: “Even the really top schools with great music facilities tend to focus on classical music, which we don’t. The kids can come here and have a different experience, still study music seriously but it just happens to be popular music, because that’s what they enjoy.”
Julie adds: “We change the curriculum and lessons to suit the individual. So I might be doing Glenn Miller’s In the Mood with two pensioners, then Burn by Ellie Goulding with a 12-year-old girl, Prokofiev with a classical student I have, then some boogie-woogie with a 30-year-old social worker from London and ending up with children’s songs with a five year old.”
James: “That’s what separates us out, it’s a lot more work but we don’t want to just teach from the book, as it used to be done. No one is a no-hoper, everyone can sing. Your relationship to music is unique, it’s yours and no one else’s, so never tell anyone they’re never going to make it. We’ve had students who were told that 30 years ago and simply gave up.”
Currently at nearly 100 students, 25 of whom are adults, most come from local schools such as Judd, Slade, Tonbridge Grammar, Fosse Bank, Weald of Kent, Summerhill, Sackville, Hayesbrook, Hilden Grange and Hilden Oaks.
Their youngest pupil is five, the oldest pupil is a very fit and sprightly 90-year-old drummer, whose 10-piece jazz band has just booked to do a recording in the studio. “We played at his 90th birthday party,” says Julie. “A lady friend of his, 96, was the piano player; she had some chops on her!”
With Tonbridge’s proximity to London and the possibility of extending into next door and adding accommodation, on the cards is attracting students from further afield and offering residential courses.
As Rod says: “The foundations are laid now, and they’re strong foundations, which is what I wanted to see from my side of the project. While the facility isn’t particularly big, it’s expandable and versatile and now that it’s set up we can take it anywhere. We want to see it grow into a model that can be taken into other areas of Kent next.”
James adds: “This place is going to generate such a great local scene that’s just going to flow out from Tonbridge. Just imagine what these nine year-olds we’re teaching will be like when they’re 16!” n
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