In the vibrant city of Dublin, where culture and creativity converge, a wonderful opportunity awaits young music enthusiasts. Rockjam is an exciting new music school that provides young people aged 7 to 17 with the opportunity to form their rock bands, learn new musical instruments and compose their music.
Founded in 2014, Rockjam has rapidly expanded from a single band to 30 bands by 2023, with five locations across Dublin. This has resulted in a vibrant music community, featuring professional musicians from some of Ireland’s most successful bands, working with students to create a more enjoyable and rewarding music education experience. In partnership with Music Generation, Rockjam is providing ukulele and percussion lessons, as well as guitar lessons, to five schools in South Dublin. Additionally, their summer camps provide a unique opportunity for young musicians to connect with Ireland’s best-performing musicians.
Today, we are in a conversation with Baz Rycraft, the founder and managing director of Rockjam, Dublin narrating how his brainchild came into being.
Music from an early age
Our conversation began with Baz retracing his musical journey. Brought up in a working-class household, there was hardly any music in his roots but that all changed upon the arrival of a local musician in his school. 6-year-old Baz was now receiving quality music lessons which unknowingly marked the first step in his journey of being the musical guru to children all over Ireland.
His degree in Jazz performance introduced him to the world of ensembles, as he says, “Rather than studying music notations it was more about being in a room with other musicians and experimenting and trying different things out”. He continues, “and I felt that this type of teaching would be very beneficial to young children as well, give them a chance to express themselves, be creative and I guess just enjoy music as a form of play rather than something that you study”.[sic]
He beautifully articulated how everyone was a musician in their childhood. We banged objects with whatever we can get our hands on and sometimes even with our bare hands. This is the purpose of Rockjam: to create an environment where students can awaken their inner maestro and play anything and everything that fancies them. When asked about jazz music and the theory that goes behind it, he says, “The great jazz musicians didn’t study theory so why should we have to?”
Image via Twitter/rockjamireland
Formation of Rockjam
Reminiscing on his childhood jamming days and lamenting about the present, he talked about his tale of hopping buses to play across town and meeting new people on the way which unfortunately is vanishing with COVID-19 making it worse. The lack of social interaction among teenagers concerned him, telling, “They weren’t meeting with other students and getting together and forming bands which is what I did when I was their age”.
This prompted him to take matters into his own hands and create a space for these teenagers to meet and socialise in the backdrop of their shared interest in music. In 2013, with a handful of his guitar students and a colleague, the seed was planted which now has sprouted into the beautiful, creative, inclusive and talented community it is now.
As we moved on to talking about the students a little deeper, Baz described the different dynamics and expectations they encounter. The younglings (age group 7-10 years) want to experiment and try everything, and have fun while doing it; teenagers (age group 14 -17 years) mostly are a mixed bunch, with a few dipping their feet in the ocean and some perfecting their surf on the waves to say metaphorically. Tween (age group 11- 13 years) being the most versatile of them all packs everything from novices to advanced.
Image via Facebook/alexandracollegedublin
Talking about the style of teaching at RockJam, he emphasised performing, getting students on stage and letting them play for others. The act of performing your music for others provides one’s meaning beyond the music sheet, theory and exam. It becomes an act of sharing oneself, one’s personality, what they care about and no matter how the gig went it sets them free as their fear now has been conquered and they get to be the lucky few who showcased their talent to the world.
He further elaborated upon our inquiry about the anxious, stage-shy kids and the methods to familiarise them and overcome their hesitance. “The biggest tool we have to get over people’s anxiety is to get them on stage so the more times you do it the easier it becomes”. Classical music training engraves in the child’s head that precision is everything, making performing more daunting than it already is but he believes that is a wrong attitude to possess. “Everybody makes [mistakes] and you keep getting them wrong and you just learn to hide your mistakes better”.
For him, participation and having fun should take centre stage. He advises students to not let mistakes be hindrances, it’s a part of the process. As he eloquently puts it, “You shouldn’t suffer until you have to….get up on stage, make a lot of mistakes, have lots of fun and laugh about it”.
Dr. Kayla Rush’s involvement and the Fountain of Youth project
The Fountain of Youth project was formed as a collaboration between the Rock Jam team and Dr Kayla Rush, an American academic who edged into music research. It involved several bands writing original music and more than 600 songs produced over the 10 years they have been doing Rockjam. Dr Rush’s research and the clout gathered by her observation resulted in an ample amount of funding, used to pick some of their favourite songs and put them in the studio with professional musicians to record them. This project aims to address the lack of funding for popular and contemporary music in Ireland due to its bad history and reputation.
The original writers of this music, the children, will be involved in the project and will showcase the quality of their songwriting. “They’re listening to this music and absorbing it all the time, and now we have all the building blocks, they know what sounds good, they have lesser limitations to their creativity as well, so they’re much freer and they create this beautiful, raw piece of art, but they don’t have a benefit of time, they don’t have time to rehearse this, what we do is very quick, they don’t have the necessary skills, mixing sounds like professionals, so we added those things to the mix and we brought some amazing songs that we can’t wait to share with the people.”[sic]
These songs will be recorded and mixed and released in the next year. Rock Jam has a huge following and has managed to make it to the top 20 of the Irish charts twice in the years they’ve been playing. Access to funding and being able to spend some time in the studio has made all the difference to them and they’re hoping to do the same again in the upcoming years with some new songs.
Baz, Kayla and Jen. Image via rockjam.ie
The Rockjam team
Rockjam focuses on contemporary music, which as Baz states, “is the music of today’s people”. There are no boundaries for anyone from any background.
Newpark Music Centre where Baz and his colleagues studied trained a lot of Irish jazz musicians. It also has a lot of international students, which means that you can learn music from anywhere in the world. Of course, jazz comes from America and other countries, but they also learnt South Indian classical music and music from Africa and South America.
The majority of the crowd involved in Rockjam are those whom Baz has worked with, as well as several university mates and friends. Not all of them are from his educational institution, however, as the group has grown, they have begun to attract individuals from other educational backgrounds, such as those from BIMM, a modern music college which has a large number of young students graduating each year, Trinity Music School, and DCU, which offers a new course in jazz music that Newpark relocated to, as well as musicians from the local scene. He comments on how Rockjam makes way for individuals who are both musicians and educators.
The team. Image via rockjam.ie
DCU Jazz and Music Project
Rockjam has a long-standing partnership, an All-Star Band with Dublin City University and Berklee College of Music in the United States. What was done was for Berklee to come to Dublin City University and bring their faculty with them, while Rockjam provided students with the opportunity to work on complex contemporary music. This was done for a few years, and after the onset of the pandemic, Rockjam sought to collaborate with DCU and Cormac O’Brien, the Head of the Jazz and Contemporary Music Course, to select some of the most talented musicians at Rockjam and bring them together to practise more complex music, arrange and improvise.
Over the past year, Rockjam has worked with these young musicians aged 11 to 17, providing them with the opportunity to learn more complex music, improvise, and arrange music, in a bit more advanced setting for them. “Sky’s the limit for that, yeah and they’re brilliant.”[sic]
All-Star Band, D.C.U./ Rockjam. Image via rockjam.ie
Setting balance and having fun!
As stated by the Rockjam team, it’s important to understand what the student is interested in and what their level of interest is, and to be able to share ideas and new concepts in an easy-to-understand and timely way. The group is building on the music they already know and understand and making it gradually more complex. They don’t give them any music sheets to learn, but instead, they talk about how they can change it and they come up with ideas. This includes extended sections where they can work, intros and outros, interludes, and concepts that come naturally to anyone who listens to music.
The concept of “I can change music into anything that I want to” is the first thing that the students learn, and the fact that they can improvise, which is not just taking a crazy solo on their guitar, but saying that every single part of this music can be changed and I can change it at the moment as I feel like it. The progress has been great, and the group is going to extend it next year and have many more musicians in the picture.
Image via rockjam.ie
Rockjam Dublin provides a nurturing and inspiring environment for children to explore their musical abilities, build friendships, and develop essential life skills. By immersing themselves in the world of music and connecting with fellow musicians, children can unlock their potential and create memories that will last a lifetime. So, if your child has a passion for music, consider enrolling them at Rockjam Dublin, where their love for music can flourish, and their dreams can take flight.