Replay’s Dan Kleederman comes by his teaching philosophy honestly. As a young man his first encounter with musical instruction involved a troubling run in with classical piano. “I started playing piano in kindergarten and was taught basic classical, and I never practiced – like a lot of kids – and it was just something my parents had to hound me to do. It had nothing to do with the music I was listening to.”
The watershed moment for Kleederman came when he switched to guitar, fell in love with the blues, and found the right teacher to unlock the mysteries that lay before him. “I started taking lessons from someone who really understood me, and a light went off in my head. Suddenly I wanted to practice guitar all of the time, because I was connected to why I liked music in the first place and why I was inspired by it.”
Years later, that sentiment informs Kleederman’s teaching.
“That experience really stayed with me when I started at Replay. Especially with young students – I wanted to get to that connection between what you are hearing and what you’re doing.”
Replay prizes collaboration, and Kleederman has recently taken on a bigger role in putting together the diverse bands that populate its Rock School program. As anyone who knows the story of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones is aware, rock groups can notoriously be hothouses of dysfunction. Conflicting aesthetics and ambitions combined with personality differences and the inherent vulnerability of the creative process make for a minefield of potential hurt feelings. Kleederman agrees that this can create a tricky balance.
“I’m eager for our students to develop a sense of agency and a belief in their capacity to make decisions and trust their own instincts, without needing outside validation. At the same time, when disagreements occur, you need to handle them in a constructive manner. You need to be open to other opinions and you need to hear people out. As a Band Coach, I’m a facilitator for both of these things.”
The conflicting challenges can lead to charged, fraught moments and gratifying compromises. The overlap with other life and career circumstances is obvious.
Over time, Replay has increasingly encouraged its bands to concentrate on original composition in addition to learning their favorite classics or hits of the day. “No matter the age or skill level, we want kids to work on their own material. We want them to realize there is no special juncture when suddenly they are ‘good enough’ to write a song. Technical skill is not nearly as important as expressing a unique vision.”
That is not to suggest that Kleederman isn’t interested in seeing his students hone their chops. As both a personal instructor or within a band context, he places emphasis on small but meaningful moments of progress – a familiar riff mastered, or a moment of improvised inspiration – as signposts on the road to unlocking a student’s innate passion. While scales and theory are important, these are merely tools in the service of a larger spiritual and emotional connection to music itself.
“A lot of times I will point out the cool ideas that kids are bringing to the table without really knowing they are doing it – maybe playing with space or a unique voicing. It can be intimidating starting out, so I’ll often point out how much they are already doing right.”
One of Kleederman’s biggest surprises came in the form of eleven-year-old Evie Dolan, who arrived at Replay’s door last year looking for a bass lesson. Dolan was up for the role of Katie the bass guitarist in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical adaptation of the movie The School Of Rock. There were only two challenges the aspiring young actress faced – one, her audition was the following day, and two, she had never played the bass before.
Kleederman and Dolan sat down for a two-hour intensive lesson and within that time, she was able to pick up the fundamentals of bass playing and by the end of the lesson, she was able to play “Teacher’s Pet” from School Of Rock. She aced her audition and wound up booking the gig. “I remember the x-factor that I saw here was that although she couldn’t do something at the time, it was easy for her to believe in herself,” Kleederman recalls of Dolan, “She believed in her ability to learn. And that is hard to teach, but I do try to teach that.”
Dolan really responded to Kleederman’s approach to teaching. According to her mom Abbey, “Evie loved the way he wove music theory and practice together, and explained how the bass worked and chord progressions in a way she could easily understand. In one lesson with Dan, Evie learned the song – a testament to his incredible ability to instill confidence and impart skill and knowledge to an eleven-year-old.”
Dolan’s extraordinary trajectory is emblematic of Kleederman and Replay’s overall teaching philosophy: with an open mind and earnest passion, great things can happen before you even know it. “It’s most rewarding when the kids figure out that they can play things and achieve a sound that they didn’t quite realize was possible at first. And ultimately, that sense goes beyond music – it connects to any project that you take on – trusting that evolution and discovery will follow self-motivated risk-taking and perseverance in what inspires you.”