This class rocks.
It’s 9 a.m. on a school day and students in Troy Santillie’s Recording with Instruments, or rock band class, is electric with good vibes.
“Welcome to my garage band,” Santillie said, as H&N staffers file in to class Wednesday morning.
On one side of the old garage, converted to a band room, EagleRidge sophomore Jensen Duke plays drums with one of the class’s two bands – Awkwardly Standing.
On the other side, senior Damien King is picking on an electric guitar for the class’s other band – Suspicious Spinach.
“They named themselves,” Santillie said.
And students in Santillie’s class are doing well academically, many who might not otherwise.
“Every one of these guys, they’re always here on time, everybody shows up,” Santillie said. “It always makes it so much better when they want to be here, versus, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to school today.
“They have to audition to get in here,” Santillie added.
“There are no prima donnas – there’s nobody here that is better than anybody else. We’re all in it together and we’re all going to work together to have a good show.”
There are 14 students in the class, split between the two bands. Students help judge auditions and are involved in choosing prospective students, often looking to fill specific instrument slots.
“We get a lot of kids every semester auditioning and trying to get in,” Santillie said.
“We try to always make sure that everybody has a fair chance at doing what they do.”
In his third year teaching the course at EagleRidge, Santillie doesn’t try to over-teach on things like music theory.
Rather, he slips in lessons throughout, and allows them to select songs they want to play.
He also teaches students how to record their music, and he and students look songs up on YouTube as they are learning the melodies and rhythms.
‘Voice of choice’
“I’m really big on voice of choice,” Santillie said, who has an extensive music background.
“Why should I dictate what some old Bach or Beethoven song that they’ve never heard before and don’t like, I let them pick the songs that they play,” Santillie added. “I just make sure that they’re school-appropriate.
“By the time spring rolls around, they’ll have (learned) 15 songs in each band,” Santillie added.
Students singing vocals learn the songs as do those who play drums, bass and electric guitar, electric violin, and even ukelele.
Two years ago, Duke said she wouldn’t have thought she’d be so confident in front of people, let alone that she’d take on drums and guitar.
“I was a socially awkward eighth-grader,” Duke said. “I wouldn’t even talk in front of crowds let alone play drums.”
Duke got interested in rock band during a guitar class she took as a freshman, though she sought out a different instrument.
Santillie encouraged her to try the drums.
“I played clarinet from fifth grade up until eighth grade,” Duke said. “So this is my first year playing drums.
“It was a big transition,” she added.
At first, Duke wasn’t even sure how to hold her drum sticks.
“Being a drummer has definitely helped with mainly my fear of crowds,” Duke said, “because we perform in front of crowds a lot, and it’s started to help me with my self-confidence a little bit, because I have to get up there and just do it. I love it because not only do we learn just how to play the instrument, Mr. Santillie teaches us how to play it well, the good technical aspects of it, and we just overall learn how to work as a group really well.”
Now she’s playing drums for songs from Queen and Pink Floyd, and said her band adds hints of heavy metal sometimes, too. The class has also exposed Duke to all kinds of music. The band even blends jazz into classic rock tunes.
“We also put our own spin on it,” Duke said.
“We’ll take little aspects of each genre,” she added. “It’s really experimental.”
That’s exactly what Santillie not only encourages students to do, but he expects originality as part of their final grade.
“Make the song yours,” Santillie said.
“I really want them to show off their skills.”
Students will be writing an original song about EagleRidge High School before the class ends, and Duke is excited to do it.
She isn’t sure yet what her future holds as far as a career, but she knows wherever she goes and whatever she does, she’ll carry music with her.
“I’ll probably keep playing drums as I go through college and go through my career,” she said. “I really have a passion for it.”
Making the grades
Senior Damien King is one of the lead electric guitar players in Suspicious Spinach but at one time was painfully shy. Now, the 18-year-old is a natural lead guitarist and also teaches guitar at Denham Music.
“It feels a lot better now that I can actually talk to people,” King said.
“He’s got straight A’s right now,” Santillie added, who is also King’s foster dad.
“I’d say most of them have a B average. They’re a step up above a lot of the other students. I think it’s music, because it really relaxes the brain – it puts your brain at ease.”
By spring, each band will have learned 15 songs, prepping them for a showcase event open to the public at Mia and Pia’s Pizzeria and Brewhouse in May.
Santillie exudes excitement as he rocks out along with students, moving throughout the room to check on students as they play.
“In the world, we all have to work together,” Santillie said.
“I think this really teaches that camaraderie,” he added.
In addition, Santillie is hopeful they’ll carry the experiences playing music far beyond their time in high school.
“The nice thing about this is they’ll play music the rest of their lives,” Santillie said.