A school administrator AND a gigging musician?
This guy is great, I thought to myself, standing there in the searing heat, knowing that I couldn't leave before complementing him and introducing myself.
Needless to say, I was shocked and delighted to find out that in addition to being a very busy gigging musician at local pubs and bars, he is also a Vice Principal at Westwood Community High School. It almost didn't compute: this long-haired musician dude is an administrator? But as we talked, and as he shared his passions for teaching, playing, and administrating, I started to feel exceptionally good about the fact my son Dylan had just decided to transfer up there starting this fall.
I was struck by Danny on many levels, and requested an email interview for a future YMMARTS column. His wonderful answers are too fascinating to trim - as I have a word limit for my weekly arts article - so I shall share the entire email dialogue here, and submit a truncated version for publication in a couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy it. By the way, if you want to read more about Danny, his website is at http://dantulk.ca/.
Email interview with Danny Tulk
A Vice Principal of a high school and a full-time gigging musician? How is that possible?
This is a great question, and one I get often. Not just due to my gigging but my general demeanour in life. I’ll admit that a long-haired musician is not your historical idea of a school administrator. Even the term "Vice Principal" seems to evoke images of hard nosed elderly disciplinarians that are the fodder for nightmares. However, schools have come a long way and administrators have as well. The school, staff, and district are awash with staff who follow endeavours outside of school.
The logistics are actually fantastic for my situation. I am at the school for the workday and weekday evenings; weekend mornings are available for family, school functions, etc. I typically spend my weekend evenings, and scattered weekday evenings, as a gigging musician. I am also the guitar teacher at Westwood Community High School, which allows me to work with students and help them hone their craft while I hone mine as well. Honestly, the two complement each other very well. I can help students understand the music industry, not just as a teacher, but as an active professional performer. Also, the building of my show and my lessons allow me to bring the newest songs and a wide array of techniques to my students. Honestly, they also offer me priceless insight to new music and styles of playing that I might not hear otherwise.
Tell me about your musical roots. How far back do they go? What's your earliest memory of making music?
I’ve been a music fan for as long as I can remember and always have had an affinity for music. However, it was when I was 10 or 11 when my father purchased a cheap guitar to learn on. This gave me access to the instrument and I soon usurped the guitar and began trying to play along with my CDs. A friend showed me a few chords (“Smoke on the Water”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, CCR, Nirvana, Oasis, Bush, Pearl Jam) and the guitar and I became inseparable. My parents set me up with a local teenager who played guitar and I soaked up everything I could. I think I spent months trying to play along with Nirvana Unplugged. My poor mother had to endure that and the caterwauling that came from the house.
For my 12th birthday I received my first electric guitar and started my first band with junior high school friends. We were a basic cover band and played at school and community functions. By the time we were 16, we were playing dances and nightclubs in an around the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland.
At 18, I moved to Corner Brook for college and took a job as a guitar teacher at Village Music, under the tutelage of Lloyd Bartlett. He is an amazing guitarist and opened my mind to so many new techniques and styles, such as Larry Carleton, Acoustic Alchemy, and many Jazz artists. His mentorship and first hand experience in the music industry made me the guitarist and performer I am today. I had the pleasure of playing with Lloyd and performing with him on a few occasions and larger shows. It was this teaching and playing experience that made me realize that I wanted to teach and play music for my living. 3 years later, after business school and brief stint at a car dealership, my wife and I relocated to St. John’s to pursue our education degrees.
During my time in St.John’s, I reconnected with members of my high school bands and new friends who turned out to be fantastic musicians in their own right. Exposed to a completely different style of music and playing. I played in and around St.John’s for the next few years.
After a few brief stints in the UK, I found myself on a plane to Fort McMurray in 2007 to work with the Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD). I came on the one-year plan like many, but immediately fell in love with this town. My connection with FMPSD and the city only solidified when I was offered the chance to teach the guitar classes at Westwood. The soon to retire teacher, Mike Eddy, was a great inspiration and fostered my idea of performing in the region, as he was also an active musician in the city. After playing open mics for a couple years and doing some impromptu gigs with friends, I began to miss performing (it has been part of me since I was 12) and approached a few pubs do a gig every now and then to keep my skill and scratch the itch.
Well, that was 2009 and it has been an amazing experience. Shortly after I started, the phone began to ring and people wanted to book me more and more and one venue turned to three, and three to five, and so on. The rest is history, I now play most venues in town and am loving every minute of it. Fort McMurray is an amazing place and really loves live music. The people here are so appreciative and I have met amazing musicians and some of the most incredible people while playing here.
Who has been your biggest influence and/or mentor in pursing a life of music?
I think I talked about this a little above, but here we go.
People I know:
Lloyd Bartlett is likely the most influential musician I have ever learned from and helped me become that musician I am. But, the list in inexhaustible; each musician and student I come into contact with gives me something I hadn’t experienced prior.
Bands and artist that influence my sounds. I have always been a 90’s rock guy. Pearl jam, Nirvana, Oasis, Bush, Foo Fighters are still in my play lists, but it is important to be as well rounded as possible, during college and to this day. I find that the Beatles are my favourite band and impress me with every listen. This, combined with my love for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Son House, Dylan, Van Morrison, Donovan, among others, keeps me on my toes. As a teacher and performer I try and be versed in as many types of music as I can. I try and pull whatever I can from as many musicians as I can. That being said, the Beatles are always in a place of reverence to me. My daughter Abbey (after Abbey Road) could attest to that, (but she’s 2 LOL). The writing on the White Album still resonates with me as one of the best-written albums ever.
You are playing consistently in Fort McMurray, in a multitude of clubs and pubs; what is your motivational driver for playing in front of people?
It’s a feeling that I cannot explain. I think performers are inherently drawn to the stage. The connection to feel with people as they are singing, dancing, listening, is so complex. I’d like to say it’s altruistic, but the reality is, it has a selfish element, I feed off playing and it invigorates me. I love the coffee shop, small pub, soulful performances that create an intimate connection with you and the audience and I equally adore the loud, fast paced, rock and roll dance nights that make you feel 20 again. I won’t lie and say that it’s all easy. Sometimes after a long day, I want to crash and loading gear at 2 am in minus 30-degree weather isn’t a great experience. But, the music and playing make up for it. It’s very hard to explain; it has just been part of me since I was kid and will continue to be for a long time.
What role has the music side of your brain had on your career as a teacher and administrator?
The roles work very well together. Being a teacher has helped me be organized and prioritize how I work with my music. It helps me interact with others.
But, the artist in me has immensely helped me as a teacher and administrator. First, It provides me a way to connect to people and the community. But, most importantly, I learn and practice my material all the time, however in performances you need to read the audience and adjust the songs / show accordingly, my performances adapt and evolve each night. Perhaps it’s a country crowd; well, think on your feet and play and give them the night they want. This applies in teaching so much, I make a plan for the class, the day, the month. But external factors always pop up and I need to be improvising and alter my plan on the fly. Also, with my students , performance provides me with a little more reality and practical experience on how to communicate with them.
So, I guess each helps me be better at the other and it is the combination of the two that make me who I am and helped me find success in both places.
In what sense has Fort McMurray enabled you to do what other communities might not?
Fort McMurray is the land of opportunity. We’ve all heard this is in relation to earning potential. But, as an educator and musician, I attest it is also the land of opportunity for the arts and learning. This place has given me the opportunity to become a guitar teacher, history teacher, and school administrator in a relatively short time. The Public School District is so supportive and has provided me with development and opportunities like no other. They find the talent / strength in each staff member and help them foster that and bring it to the district. I am currently writing a song for the district and literally doing my dream job (half-time admin, half-time guitar teacher).
The region is also so helpful. It attracts people from all over the world and these people help develop a rich musical culture. Not to mention the fact that as this town grows it needs performers and being available to the people has allowed me to grow the demand for what I do.
Do you have a 5-year-plan for your music? In other words, are their plans to record, tour, etc.?
Well, my family and the teaching are my main priorities and passions. I have no intention to stop playing in the region anytime soon. I am currently working on an album that I hope will be ready for release by early 2015 and am always exploring new venues and playing arrangements with other musicians. I currently have no plans to tour. As I mentioned, I lived a blessed life in which I have a dream job in the day and a dream job on the weekend with plenty of time for family. I’m not saying that I haven’t had fantasies of being swept off to Nashville as the next big thing. But, the reality is that I am in music for myself and the local performances keep my skills sharp and allow me to explore and develop that part of me. That being said, who knows where life will take us and what opportunities may arise; I always have to be ready to transpose or alter the song.