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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

My Class is a Punk Show

Last weekend I was at the Bronson Centre (in Ottawa) to see one of my top three favorite bands, Less Than Jake. But one of the opening acts was legendary punk band Strung Out. During their set there was a moment I hope I never forget when I was able to take a step back from the mosh pit, and recognized that the singer wasn't singing every note pitch perfect. The harmonies weren't perfect either. The drummer missed a beat or two here and there and the guitar players sometimes strummed the wrong chord. But the show was amazing!

That was when I realized that that is exactly how I want my students to feel in my classroom. It's not about the notes that we play. It's not about the chords, or even the songs. It's about the whole performance. I just want my students to leave my course at the end of the semester thinking "That was awesome!"

I want them to be able to express themselves, and to be able to see themselves in the work that they do. I want them to feel like we're all here for the same reasons and because of that we're going to help each other out!

When a person falls in the mosh pit, and it happens often, the people around will stop dancing to help their fallen compatriot get back on their feet again. If someone loses a shoe it the pit, which also happens often, someone picks it up and moshes while holding it up in the air until the rightful owner can take their shoe back (before going into a mosh pit, make sure your shoes are tied on tight because moshing in sock feet hurts!). This is the same feeling I want to create in my classroom. When someone falls, they don't get left behind, when someone drops something, their classmates help them pick it up.

At a punk show, total strangers can be seen giving each other high fives, and putting their arms around each other, and singing and dancing together. Language, even culture barriers fade (they don't completely disappear), because the music brings us together.

There is also an understanding between the bands and the fans. The fans are there for the bands and the bands are there for the fans. Everyone knows that we all have to be there in the same place at the same time for the magic to happen. The beauty is, it's not the size of the crowd that matters, it's the energy they bring. But on the other hand, the energy the bands bring to the venue is equally important. Everyone needs to bring their best selves to the show to bring out the best selves of the people around them. And everyone knows it. And it's the same in my least I hope it is.

After the show my buddy and I were waiting for the coat check line to shorten and we were standing around looking at the merch when I noticed the bass player for Strung Out just standing around. I went over to him and told him it was my first Strung Out show and thanked him for his performance. We shook hands and just chatted in the lobby for ten or fifteen minutes just talking punk music, it was so cool!

Punk bands are (usually) so much more accessible than mainstream bands. They just have a different relationship with their fans. They care more about them. They want to interact with their fans. They'll hang out in the lobby just chatting, and building relationships with their fans, for the simple purpose of building relationships...nothing more, no ulterior motives, just trying to enhance the experience of the punk show. And that's what I try to do in my classes.

But I need to talk about Less Than Jake for a minute too. Their live show is second to none. When they're on stage, you can just tell they've been doing it a long time, and their performance just seems effortless. Having played in my own ska band for a number of years, I know how much work goes into the songwriting and the performance aspect of a live show, and while it may look effortless, it's because the guys put in so much work before actually hitting the stage. That's my life as a teacher...or at least it's what I'm going for.

Less Than Jake knows, inherently it seems (but probably took a lot of work), how to build relationships with their crowd during the show. They know just what to say to make every fan feel like they're talking right to them, and they use just enough self-deprecating humour to be relatable without taking anything away from themselves. You can tell that they're having fun, and that they're thankful to be where they are. They've been playing for more than thirty years and they're still giving it everything they've got while they're on stage. And that's how I try to show up in my classroom.

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