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Arts & Entertainment

To Grow In 2018, Take Lessons From These Artists

Learn drums from a player St. Vincent trusts. Finish stalled projects. Or simply manage stress.
Andi Harman

Whether you have a skill you hope to refine, or you’re starting from scratch, these artists active on Dallas-area stages and beyond come highly recommended by their peers and students.


Sarah Alexander, voice and piano, torch-bearer for improv, experimental music and free jazz, who studied with Meredith Monk and was schooled in voice and composition at UNT. Project credits: They Say The Wind Made Them Crazy, Cerulean Giallo, Unconscious Collective, Problem Dogg, and others.

Who she teaches: a five-year-old who could compose songs in distinct “rock” or “pop” styles on cue, a nun in her mid-70s who wanted to take better care of her voice for singing in church; guitar majors who need to learn sight-singing while in the midst of intimidating opera majors, students auditioning for Booker T, which, she especially likes, as the tryout specs allow for some improvisation. Also: Alexander will teach karaoke pre-partiers at Barbara’s Pavilion on Thursday 2/22 at 7:30 p.m. 

Who taught her: “One of my favorite memories of UNT is one of my voice professors coaching me. In an effort to get me to give more energy she said, ‘Balls to the wall, Sarah.  You’re in a grunge band, right?  C’mon!’ I was never in a grunge band, so I really thought that was funny — but I knew what she meant, where she was trying to take me.”

If a student doesn’t plan to perform, what does learning to sing do for them? “Music can be a form of meditation and ritual.  I used to really look forward to practicing piano scales when I was preparing for my piano proficiency exam at UNT, which may seem like such a mundane and boring thing, but it just felt good, like a form of meditation I could really embrace.  Everything you do to take care of your voice is just plain good for your body, being hydrated and having good posture, for example.  Sometimes when I feel a migraine coming on, I can sing high notes and ward it off-it’s real!  Your personal music practice is time set aside for yourself, ritual.  For me, it feels really cleansing.”

What can you do with your voice that you’re most proud of? “I can scream!  I can scream long phrases.  It is athletic to sing long phrases in any range, but the screams require more focus and energy.  I can also sing whistle tones, though I embrace that via screams as of late.  That’s my cathartic space.  I think screams are beautiful.  I like the feel of those high tones in my head, resonating.  I can scream a migraine away sometimes, that’s a thing!”


Jeff Ryan, drums, who’s recorded and toured with the likes of St. Vincent, the War on Drugs, Sarah Jaffe, and the Baptist Generals, and also writes columns for Modern Drummer. Here’s a standout video and feature from that trove.

Who he teaches:  students aged 7 to 42, preparing for a performance, readying themselves for music school or, sometimes, getting their feet wet before joining local programs that group students in rock bands. His teaching space is known as The Shed.

What it took for him to get confident enough to play a range of styles and be spontaneous: “Putting in a few years with [Dallas band] Pleasant Grove. That band is very unique because we don’t really belong to any one genre at all. Depending on which writer brought in an idea, it could be Americana, rock, Latin or electronic, it’s all over the place. I still have to really listen to a lot of different music and woodshed on a few different styles of drumming to be prepared for whatever they brought in. I’m actually currently working on a piece for the education section of Modern Drummer magazine, explaining a pattern that’s on a record that came out a few years ago and how I have implemented that as warmup pattern for when I sit down at the kit.”

Who taught him: “Well, everyone who’s played with me or I’ve spent time with in the studio or wherever knows that I’m basically self-taught. I did take a few lessons in college, but that was mainly on my own. So, I never really had any formal teachers, but all the years reading drum magazines and watching interviews and concerts, I would say the best quality that was shared to me would be honesty, to play with your heart not your mind. If you have passion for something, your mind will eventually catch up. But, passion isn’t something that can be taught. You have to want to do it.”


Besides giving new writers an outlet for performance and publication, Spiderweb Salon in Denton adds workshop elements to many of their events. With poet Courtney Marie at the helm, ‘zine workshops and huddles are a given, and she says collaborative instruction will be a larger component this spring. The key is to become a member of the collective so you can have first dibs on opportunities.  Already there’s a watercolor workshop planned for late next month. That’s relevant to this thread, still; in the words of DIY idealist Kimya Dawson: “writing, writing, keep on writing / just make sure your life’s exciting.”

Blake Kimzey offers a cross-genre seminar on self-editing this Sunday, Jan. 21. He teaches Creative Writing at UT Dallas and has been published in outlets to reach for like Tin House and The Los Angeles Review.

Poet Joe Milazzo offers a free entry-level workshop at The Writer’s Garret on March 25 called “How Not To Be Intimidated By Poetry (and Perhaps Write Some of Your Own).” He organizes events regularly like the communal reading series Other People’s Poetry that de-academicize the form and expose broader groups to local poets who serve as readers.

Other writers to follow who’ve been known to teach, lead, or organize workshops regularly: Fatima Hirsi,  Tamitha Curiel.


Internationally exhibited artist Juan Negroni teaches painting at Creative Arts Center in Dallas. A wide range of classes can be found there at all levels from foundational practice to advanced metalsmithing. CAC’s talked up by the likes of popular Dallas wedding photographer Taylor Lord and former KERA reporter Lauren Silverman, who quietly harbors a real talent for drawing.

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