Ex-Cryptopsy Teacher Feature: A Seminar With Two Dans (Mongrain and Greening)

We swear this is the last time.  After running interviews with Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates, Mike Armine of Rosetta and Mike Score of All Out War – and each one of them about splitting time working as an active metal musician and a classroom teacher – you might have begun thinking Decibel had tripped headlong into nerd territory… Ha!  Just kidding!  We know you’ve thought that for a long time – did you see that we keep putting books on the market?  Books!  Like you have enough attention to make it past 140 characters.

In our final metal teacher installment, we bring you two men who hold down less traditional teaching positions:  Voivod’s Dan Mongrain, who teaches music at the college level; and Rage Nucléaire’s Lord Worm (Dan Greening), who teaches English language skills to business people who have left behind the traditional classroom setting.  Their perspectives, while familiar, are certainly different from the voices we’ve heard so far in the metal/education field.  Canada, get your geek on.

Interview with Dan Mongrain of Voivod

What classes have you taught?

I actually teach Jazz-Pop music at Cegep de Joliette in Quebec Canada.  Cegep is the equivalent of college.  I teach 17- to 21-year-old students, preparing them to go on with their study at university.  I teach a bunch of different classes. I teach electric guitar on six different levels on a 3-year program.  I teach Jazz-Pop Combo which consists of coaching a 4- to 7-piece band, usually drums, bass, guitars, keyboard, horns and vocals.  I teach them to play together, read music lead sheets, play in many different styles, from blues, jazz, funk, rock, reggae, progressive, pop, country, etc… I also teach a University-level harmony theory class which consists of learning how the tonal system is functioning, how to analyze and compose a chord progression and the mechanism of tonal, modal, symmetric and non-functional harmony.  I also have a class where I teach how to organize and write a  music lead sheet, form an audio support only from hearing it and writing down the form, the chords, and all the elements necessary for a band to play it.  And I also have guitar laboratories where I can go deeper into guitar techniques, sight-reading ,exercises and many other things.

How long have you been a teacher, in a formal capacity?  How did you get started?

I had the opportunity to have a job interview 8 years ago.  I met a bass player on a progressive rock gig in 2004.  I was replacing the guitar player for some gigs and was also studying jazz music at University of Montreal at the time.  He liked my playing and attitude and he happened to be the coordinator of the music department of Cegep de Joliette (and still is).  He asked me if I was planning to get my bachelor degree and if so, if I would be interested in teaching.  I didn’t plan to do this. I went study for personal purposes at first.  I wanted to learn more after years of playing gigs as a freelancer in many different styles and as a band leader in Martyr and playing in other metal bands (Cryptopsy, Gorguts, Capharnaum).  I went for it and got the job.  For me it was a big deal because I paid my entire studies, rent, food etc. by playing gigs.  I had soo little money…I played as many gigs as I could, going on tour, studying in the van…playing in any kind of gigs…for me it didn’t matter ‘cause I was playing music.  I was earning barely enough to eat but I was doing what I love!  So I started teaching with the promises of getting my degree.  I had to study one more year after I started teaching at Cegep de Joliette.  I also Taught Gina Gleason (Gtr) At Cirque du Soleil in Montreal to coach her for the Las Vegas official Micheal Jackson Tribute show “One.”  But first I started teaching guitar lessons to some friends when I was around 14 years old.  I learned a lot about teaching then….always having to find different ways to explain the same concepts to different people, because everybody’s perception is different.  It is sometimes very challenging but always a learning experience for both the teacher and the student.

In what environment do you teach?

Depends on the course.  Electric Guitar courses are in small room with 2 small amps and a computer as well as a sound system.  My Harmony Theory class is in a bigger room with electric pianos for each students.  My Music Sheet class is in a laboratory with Macs, working on Sibelius software to write music with MIDI keyboards. and Combos are in the college recording studio with drums, amps, microphones, preamps, mixing board, monitors, headphones, etc.

Do you have some very memorable teaching/student encounters you’ve had that you could tell us about?

Well, too many to remember really, but what I can say is I always appreciate the moment, the split second where I can see and feel the sparkle in the eyes that confirms when a student just caught something after lots of work and effort.  That’s the ultimate reward for me as a teacher.

How many of your students know about your metal life?  What reactions have you gotten from people who know or find out?

Sometimes they know about it before going to our college – some ask to have me as their teacher thinking I’m the metal guy…but realize soon that that’s not what we’re going into.  In the guitar courses. other students don’t have  a clue and I leave it that way.  At some point they find about it or they ask about what I do as a musician.  Then I can talk about my experiences – touring, studio recording – if it is pertinent and interesting for the students.  It think it is important that they know that it is possible to tour, teach, record and make a living with music if they work really hard.  It can also be a source of  mockery when they found out that their teacher is headbanging onstage doing weird faces playing metal …I mean…damn YouTube!

Can you pinpoint any areas in which your experience with heavy music has influenced your choices as a teacher, or vice versa?

Not really.  I’ve always played many kinds of styles of music since I play the guitar.  So for me, it’s all music. It’s only a medium to express emotions through a certain level of knowledge and vocabulary.

Do you feel like your teacher persona and your metal persona are completely separate lives, or are they related facets of your personality?

Where I am in my life now, I try to be the same person in whatever I do and it feels just right.  It’s as simple as that.

Do you feel that music and teaching are both personally fulfilling?  In different or similar ways?

Yes, to me it is fulfilling; they complement each other.  I have a hard time imagining my life without playing music, and without sharing my knowledge by teaching.  I’ve been doing both since I was 14 years old.  Having said that, I think it is also a good thing to have more than one option in a career.  It takes usually 3 major things to make a living being a musician:  writing music, playing music and teaching music.  I would certainly not be able to only do one of those 3 things without going nuts.  I need to play, create and teach.  Also, from a financial point of view, playing in a band – touring in a van eight months a year, playing the same songs or so every night – can be fun for a time…but I would go nuts doing only that after a while too.  Balance is the key.

Interview with Lord Worm of Rage Nucléaire

What do you teach?

I teach only English as a Second Language, and this only to francophone (French-speaking) business people. A lot of it is proper grammar – “I have gone” instead of “I have went,” for instance – but mostly, what’s needed is conversational English, to better function in the Montreal business community. Also, a lot of these people need to improve their pronunciation; in Quebec, the letter “H” is especially problematic. 

How long have you been a teacher?  How did you get started?

I’ve been at it since late 2000. The gig came about when, in 1998-99, I had been helping my friend with her university term papers. She would scribble them long-hand (complete with arrows, asterisks and differently-coloured Hi-Liter strokes) and get me to type them up. If I felt that something needed tightening up or if I found any mistakes, the job description included “perfection.” One of her teachers was so impressed with her work, that he showed it to his lady friend. This “lady friend” is the director of a language center, and she hired my friend to teach ESL part-time. My friend soon became the center’s “star teacher” (I’m not surprised – she’s like that) and the director asked her where she got her expertise, considering her youth. My friend replied: “My boyfriend taught me.” The director asked: “Is he looking for a job?” Long story short: I was hired sight-unseen.

In what environment do you teach? 

Most of my contracts have been in conference rooms in banks and government offices, with a few insurance companies and random businesses thrown in. Courses are either first thing in the morning, or at lunch time or, more rarely, just after work hours. The rest of my time is filled with travel and paperwork.

How many of your students or their families know about your musical life? What reactions have you gotten from people who know or find out?

Happily, over the years, I’ve managed to keep that a “state secret” (so far as I know). Fewer than half a dozen students have ever told me that they’d Googled me and found out I make “bookworm” mean a whole new thing. They’re always fascinated, even slightly amused, and want to know more. The trouble with that is, if they concentrate on me, they neglect to concentrate on their work. What I wind up doing in these cases is to bring the music thing into our end-of-class discussion, a sort of Q&A session for the final 10-15 minutes of the class. That way, they still get to practice their conversational English, with ready-made subject matter right at hand.  

Can you pinpoint any areas in which your experience with heavy music has influenced your choices as a teacher, or vice versa?

I’ve compartmentalized to the extent that there is no overflow; Hyde is only comfortable in the shadows.

Do you feel like your teacher persona and your musical persona are completely separate lives, or are they related facets of your personality?

To be honest, I’ve kept those kids apart. The teaching has made me more patient, and my music “career” has put me more at ease when speaking before groups, but on the whole, the two are entirely separate entities.

Do you see any connection between your attraction to heavy music and your choice to teach?

Again, no influence in either direction. I got the teaching gig by accident, as it were, and it only means more money. The fact that I’m actually good at it is just another happy accident. The fact that I advocate the whole “stay in school” thing just happens to be one of life’s little coincidences.

Do you feel that music and teaching are both personally fulfilling? In different or similar ways?

The fulfilling part of teaching, the rewarding part, comes when my students actually become comfortable enough with the lingo that they themselves notice the difference. Music, however, is not fulfilling. It’s something I need to do, much like scratching an itch; if I don’t, life becomes literally intolerable. I need my outlet.