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Guelph music teacher celebrated for creatively keeping music alive during pandemic

Jamming With The Pros allows professional musicians and students to create music together remotely

Prior to the pandemic, recording music with a musician miles away was unheard of for a GCVI music teacher, but now it is something he is being celebrated for. 

Dan Austin is being recognized by Toronto Downtown Jazz for the creative ways he has kept music alive during the pandemic.

Austin recently created Jamming With The Pros, a collaboration project which allows students and professional musicians across Canada to record themselves playing music which is then meshed together to create a beautiful video and audio composition.

The recognition was part of  Toronto Downtown Jazz’s initiative in recognizing the teaching efforts of teachers during the pandemic. 

“It’s just amazing that the Toronto Jazz Festival recognized this,” said Austin adding that for the young musicians, it's huge. 

“It’s so cool to have that happening.”

So far, two students from Guelph have participated in two separate music renditions of Autumn leaves by Johnny Mercer. One includes 18-year-old Jakob Durst — a saxophone player who often plays at Manhattans with his own band— and second is 20-year-old vocalist, trumpet and violin player Bridget Walsh, a former student of Austin.

“I reached out to the two of them because I knew they were incredible young musicians and we sort of wanted to make a couple of really good ones to show people." 

Austin said he's currently working with a school in Ottawa, British Columbia and a couple in Toronto to create similar collaborations. 

He said he got the idea for this project from a Facebook where music educators were looking for ideas. And so he came up with the idea to collaborate virtually with Amanda Tosoff, a pianist in Toronto who then brought the musicians together.

“We just came up with this idea that we can have all these musicians from coast to coast play together and then we can have the kids record along with them,” said Austin of the videos that show students with Tosoff on the piano, Mike Rud on the guitar, Dan McCarthy on vibraphone, Jodi Proznick on bass and Ernesto Cervini on the drums. 

“We wanted to try this out as a trial to see if it would work and it worked really well.”

Austin said it was important for the group to have a  mix of male and female musicians. 

“Jazz music is predominantly a male profession traditionally. We wanted the students to be able to see male and female artists performing that kind of stuff,” said Austin.

To create this collaborative work of music, Austin composes the final product by sending music recordings as a guide to the participants of Jamming With The Pros. They then listen to music through headphones and play and record along with it. 

The recorded performances are then pieced together so seamlessly, you wouldn't even know the musicians were miles away from one another.  

“Jazz music is an improvised art form so they’re doing a lot of improvising while they're doing it. There are a set of instructions as a guide but most of what you hear, they are creating,” said Austin. 

He said he plans to continue Jamming With The Pros as long as he possibly can, also looking into collaborations between students in the near future.

“So if we could have a kid from BC and a kid like Jakob play together, that would be awesome too,” said Austin. 

He said prior to the pandemic, musicians didn’t collaborate remotely with each other from miles away and so it opened the doors to collaborate creatively. 

“It’s actually one of the best things to come from this,” said Austin. “We’ve never done this collaborative recording project before the pandemic.”

Currently, he said the choir at GCVI is working on a piece from Hamilton, the musical and will work with the performer who has been playing Hamilton himself in Ed Mirvish Theatre. 

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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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