Recent jazz grad Madeleine Elkins is already back in the classroom – this time, as the teacher
Madeleine Elkins was 12 years old when she first realized her love for the guitar, but her initial inspiration couldn’t be further from the sound she wound up pursuing. “I was super into pop punk music,” she said. Although she laughs it off now, she openly admits that the main reason she wanted to take up the instrument was because of her love for Green Day. “I just wanted to rock out and shred like Green Day, which is funny now because I definitely don’t listen to them anymore. In hindsight, maybe they aren’t the most accomplished musicians or songwriters, but that was super popular at the time and that’s really what inspired me to play guitar.”
Today, Elkins’ style and sound is primarily rooted from the philosophies of contemporary jazz. She’s also dabbled in the world of folk and bluegrass, among others.
After graduating from Capilano University’s Jazz Studies program last December, Elkins quickly found her way back to an educational environment, teaching private guitar lessons to a wide range of students at the Neil Douglas Guitar Shop in New Westminster. For Elkins, working at the studio has become much more than just a job. It not only provides her with another platform to share the breadth of knowledge she’s learned from school, but seeing her students achieve their goals is a fulfilling experience that encapsulates the very spirit of music. “If you’re teaching 40 different people, you’re seeing all the different types of learning processes and some of them pick things up in completely different ways than others,” she explained. “It’s really showed me the diversity of pedagogy that exists.”
Just like the classrooms she grew up in, Elkins can face unruly and uncooperative behaviour from the students she teaches, especially from youth. Giving her students incentives has been a useful tactic for Elkins, whether it’s a simple sticker, or allowing them to try one of her instruments. Yet the most powerful tool she has is the very music she’s teaching. She exposes her students to music they may have never heard of before – a strategy that she hopes could kindle a genuine interest among them, since some of her students are taking lessons on their parents’ accord. “I’m trying to get the kids more inspired and interested music on their own.”
While teaching offers Elkins an outlet for the technical and educational aspect of music, freelancing gives her the opportunity to embrace her creative side. One of the elements of the music industry that Elkins had to adapt to was her membership to the Musicians’ Union, an organization that helps artists secure workers’ rights and equal pay. “It’s obviously to protect musicians and you’re supposed to file things through them,” she said.
She has also found work with the Arts Club, even performing as part of their production of Bittergirl: The Musical, a show that will return to the stage this summer.
Through a network of friends and colleagues she’s met in her time at CapU, Elkins has found a way to maintain a relatively consistent stream of gigs around Vancouver. On Mar. 5, Elkins performed at the Hycroft Manor’s Full Moon and Empty Arms show, a celebration of big band love songs from the 30s and 40s. On Mar. 28, she’ll be performing at The Main and will be playing a show at The Blue Martini at the end of April. Although playing with strangers is nothing new for Elkins, she does point out the challenge in adapting to someone else’s style of play. “The hardest thing is trying to play with someone who is so wrapped around what they’re doing that they’re not aware of their surroundings and what the people around them are playing,” she confessed. “It sounds cliché but music is pretty much another language… and it just depends on how they play,”
For now, Elkins is enjoying the rewarding elements of teaching. She hopes to one day continue her studies in education and pedagogy – and also to gain some momentum with her own songwriting. “I’m kind of interested where this music takes me,” she said. “I’m interested to see more work like this for sure.”
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