Music Educators chose their profession for a variety of reasons — but at the root of each is a love of music. And when you combine that love of music with a strong desire to pass that love on to others, you get an extraordinary educator. These are just the qualities you’ll find encompass the faculty at Fullerton College where the desire to be the best of the best has led them to incorporate an all-new Roland V- Drums Classroom and Lab into their current programs.
Set to be unveiled when school begins in the fall, this state-of-the-art Electronic Percussion Lab will no doubt add to the distinguished reputation Fullerton College already has of being a model music program that is in front of the technological curve. Fullerton College in located in Southern California (neighboring Anaheim, the home of Disneyland) and is the oldest continuously operating community college in California. Since the late 1960s, Fullerton College’s music department has provided a strong performance/career track emphasis and today, boasts the largest music department in the California community college system with over 8,500 enrollments per year.
The addition of the V-Drums Lab into the curriculum at Fullerton was the brainchild of Mr. Matt Johnson, Adjunct Drum Set Instructor at the college. In his 18th year at Fullerton, Matt teaches both drum set class, as well as private lessons to career path percussionists in the school’s Applied Music Program. And, he is very excited about incorporating the new Roland V-Drum lab into his drum set class. Matt feels the lab, consisting of eight TD-9KX2 sets for the students and a TD-9KX2 set for the teacher, as well as a GLC-1C Lab Conferencing System, will make a tremendous difference in the learning environment of his students. “Prior to the introduction of our new multi-station electronic drum set lab, teaching in a group setting had its challenges. Primarily, trying to keep the entire class engaged while one student performs. In a one-drum set classroom I would begin each class period one of two ways: By either listening to one student at a time perform last week’s assignment, or by demonstrating a new concept to the class, then listening, one-by-one, to each student take a stab at performing it — requiring varying degrees of assistance from me. In both instances, the remaining students have to wait their turn to play. Sometimes, due to time constraints, a student might not get a turn at all. I would try to keep the students engaged by soliciting constructive feedback for the drummer-of-the-moment. But the bottom-line was always the same, even if everyone was engaged with the lesson; you still only have one student playing at a time.”
Matt adds, “By incorporating the Roland V-Drums kits and GLC-1C Lab Controller in the classroom, we immediately solved the biggest challenge of teaching in a group setting. Now, after I present a new concept, each student can get right to work — virtually silently. Not disturbing their neighbor or neighboring classroom (impossible with acoustic drums).
Not having begun teaching in his new V-Drums Lab yet, Matt can only speculate about how much of an impact having a multi-station lab will make on the progress of his students. But he feels the extra per-student drumming time can only help accelerate the curriculum and he plans on taking advantage of what he feels is the lab’s greatest tool — the GLC-1C Conferencing System. “With two-way headphone communication with all of the students, the Controller allows me to check in and work with the individual student of my choice, without disturbing the others. I can give individual instruction or speak to any combination of students at a time, if they happen to be struggling with the same challenge. All without disturbing the rest of the students. Moreover, if I feel a particular student is doing an exceptional job, I can broadcast that student’s performance to the rest of the class and we can engage in constructive peer-feedback that I’ve found to be a very positive tool in the classroom.”
It seems that all of the experiences of Matt’s life have played a part in preparing him for this moment in his career. “As it turns out, I did not set out to become a music educator. I was drawn to performance (on the drums, specifically) at a very early age after watching my father play drums on weekends with his Dixieland band, as well as my older brothers, in their jr. high marching band, in the ’60s. At age 10, I joined the Squires Drum and Bugle Corps — the then-feeder Corps for the very popular Velvet Knights — where I was officially bitten by the performance bug and my fate as an entertainer was seemingly sealed. In high school, marching band and jazz band dominated my life and, in the summer of my senior year, I toured the U.S. and Canada with the Velvet Knights — all the way to the DCI semi-finals.
Every year, my high school jazz band would participate in the annual Fullerton College Jazz Festival. We always did well and had a ball in the process, so it seemed natural to me that FC is where I would study music.” Matt spent much of his early career as a touring musician (and to this day he maintains a fulltime freelance drumming career), but as fate would have it he found his way back to Fullerton College at just the right time. “Fifteen years after leaving FC, I received a phone call from my former jazz band director, Terry Blackley. He had seen me on a recent TV variety show. Terry had gone on to become the Dean of Fine Arts at FC and asked if I would be interested in taking a teaching position that had just opened up. Little did he know that my wife and I were expecting our first child and that I had been looking for a way to get back in town to stay. So, I took the job.
At that time, FC did not offer a specific drum set class. Terry allowed me to write the curriculum for a drum set class, which is what I teach today, along with private lessons to Applied Music students. I also coordinate the Fullerton Collage High School Jazz Outreach Program and am a member of the FC Jazz Festival Advisory Board. My teaching colleague in the percussion department is Erik Leckrone — a second-generation music educator. Erik teaches beginning and advanced percussion, as well as our percussion ensemble. Erik and I have worked together for the past 10 years and he is equally excited about integrating our new Lab into his curriculum.” Matt is also looking forward to the impact the V-Drums will have on his curriculum. “With the seemingly endless programmability, on-board songs, loops and quick record capabilities of the TD-9 modules, I plan to add a few V-drums-specific concepts to the curriculum and I look forward to seeing the students’ response to those challenges as well.”
A progressive program like the new V-Drums program at Fullerton College can be a draw to prospective students. But it takes a collaborative effort to make that happen. Matt credits the Dean of Fine Arts at Fullerton College, Mr. Robert Jensen, with creating the proper environment for growth. Says Mr. Jensen, “I have promised the Fine Arts faculty at Fullerton College that, if they collaborate and craft strategic plans for their programs, I will come up alongside them and help them find the funding to realize those strategic objectives. The percussion studies digital studio is the latest example of forward thinking faculty placing training and rehearsal needs of our music majors first. I am proud to play a very small role in the success of the emerging and exciting percussion studies program at Fullerton College.”
Knowing that he had options when choosing the instruments for his new percussion lab, I asked Matt why he chose Roland V-Drums. “When I began researching electronic drum sets for our lab, I was immediately drawn to the Roland product line. First, because of the company’s history as an industry leader of electronic musical instruments and ultimately, because of the very personal commitment the Roland team made to this project. Having spent many years as a freelance artist, I understand the invaluable collaborative relationship between professional musicians, music manufacturers and the music education arena. At last year’s NAMM Show, I met Steve Fisher. An outstanding professional drummer in his own right, Steve has been with Roland since the V-Drums’ inception and he instantly understood my vision and impressed me with his desire to personally make our dream a reality. Steve has been an important partner in realizing our goal.
When asked what his goal for the V-Drums Lab at Fullerton College might be, Matt tells me “My ultimate goal for our Drum Lab is to expand the number of times we offer drum set instruction during the week and continue to use the non-class time for practice lab and rehearsal purposes.” In other words, reach more students and infuse them with his love and passion for playing the drums. To pass on the gift of music — the sign of an extraordinary educator!
For more info on Fullerton College and their music programs, please visit www.fullcoll.edu.