Putting the Magic Into Teaching

By Shannon Williams

When I was in third grade, my class was constantly seated in front of this program called “The Magic School Bus” in which Ms. Frizzle’s class constantly defied space and time on outlandish field trips in the name of science. If you were anything like me in third grade, you might have been completely jealous of Phoebe and Max, for none of my field trips could have matched that splendor.

At Utopiafest I managed to find a bit of magic through a few guys playing in their very own tricked out school bus.

utopiafest
Utopia Fest is located at the Four Sisters Ranch in Utopia, TX.

If kids aren’t still watching “The Magic School Bus,” I think I know why—it’s because the magic of teaching now comes from the totally down-to-earth music teachers, like Nathan Anderson and Robert Slangin. Together the duo teaches music lessons with their own curriculum, their own method and under their own terms. For any parents listening- the two definitely have a better sense of danger than the incessantly jubilant Ms. Frizzle had on “The Magic School Bus.”

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The result of Anderson and Slangin’s efforts: the Magic Bus.

“The bus is laid out with wooden floors, Anderson says. “It’s got a drum set and a piano; the ceiling is painted like a mural of a sky and the stairs are piano keys. Coming into the bus right off the bat makes a student feel really good. It’s refreshing that there are no black or white boards — we just write right on the windows.”

Anderson and Slangin came to this idea after working for other music schools. They grew tired of the stale approach to teaching and thought this idea just might be crazy enough to work. During the summer of 2011, the bus was born and the first classes started that October. Working out of a school bus gives Anderson and Slangin the ability to travel to the student, in what doubles as a giant billboard — showing off the school wherever they teach. In finding students, Anderson says they only have one priority: there’s an age restriction – students must be ages five to 100. Anderson and Slangin are willing to teach anybody that wants to learn music.

 Following classical training and a formal music education, the team moved to Austin to pursue the success of their jam band. With these influences, they found it restrictive to teach music under more traditional guidelines. Having their own mobile studio affords them the freedom to teach under their terms.

“We don’t want them to just play the instrument and play to the wall,” Slangin says.

“We want to make sure that they’re getting out there, that they’re jamming with others, that they have performance opportunities. The rock method is great I think because it excites them. Even though it’s songs maybe that they have never heard before, when they get into it they’re like, oh, this is awesome. From that we work and tie the theory into it. We don’t want them to just regurgitate it but to know it and understand it and to train them to be a real future musician.”
– Robert Slangin

Right now it’s all about giving high quality one-on-one lessons on the bus. However, when the teachers aren’t scooting around town in a school bus turned studio, they travel to festivals, such as Utopia Fest to spread their work and perform as musicians themselves.

“I’ll show them videos of ourselves when we’re out playing shows and they’re like, woah, that’s my teacher,” Anderson says. “We make them feel the music and really groove with it before. You make them enjoy it so they want to learn everything about it later on.

 Down the road, Anderson and Slangin see their business expanding, with plans for a separate tour bus and their own original theory books to expand their unique style of teaching.

“It’s a great mix between the theory, the classical stuff, and just the improvisation,” Slangin says. “Feeling that out and grooving on it. A lot of times you teach a kid you …get creative… learn new things on top of that. It really encourages what they are doing.”

One of their unique buses may come your way as the two pursue their goals and passions. Until then, the two plan to keep encouraging their current students to get passionate about music.

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