Photos by Caroline Brady

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Michael MacLennan hopes his new music school will be about the bands. He’s even thought about forcing his students to join them, but he might start with encouragement.

They’ll teach a range of instruments so he hopes the groups will form naturally, the pianist and singer-songwriter said recently, in one of the school’s new classrooms on Rathmines Road Upper, above Stevie Connolly’s Seafood.

“Music performance is top of the agenda,” says ace violinist Aisling Bridgeman, who’ll also be teaching at the school. “It will encourage people to play, instead of just focusing on exams.”

It’s all about making it fun and building confidence, she said.

And about giving students what they want, says MacLennan. If the goal is to play a show-band piece, they’ll work on that. If it’s to record a track, they’ll work on that too.

“I suppose we’re trying to put a little bit of contemporary slant on it,” he said.

A Modern Space

Inside, the Music Institute doesn’t look like your average music school. It’s bright and airy. There’s a kitchenette and three classrooms. It’s more modern than the Royal Irish Academy of Music, less cramped than your local piano teacher’s living room.

MacLennan wanted to create a space for all ages to enjoy, the kind of spot where you can grab a cup of coffee if you feel like it. “I had it in my head that I wanted somewhere quite small, where children and adults can feel comfortable,” he says.

It’s not quite all done yet.

The sign to announce the school’s arrival, one of the final touches before term starts later this month, is yet to arrive.

MacLennan’s classroom boasts a glossy new piano. He has been playing piano since the age of seven.

After studying for four years in the Royal College of Music in London and working as a musician around the UK, he came to Dublin four years ago.

“For me, it’s definitely the place I felt most comfortable in as a musician,” he said. “It’s a great environment to be a musician in.”

Having spent a lot of time in London and Edinburgh, he found Dublin different as soon as he arrived. “Its just really open to different musicians and there’s so many songwriters in the one place,” he says.

MacLennan says he found it very easy to get to know other musicians, writers and producers, giving the nod to well-established songwriter nights like the Zodiac Sessions and the Ruby Sessions, which have had Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan, Paolo Nutini and Ed Sheeran on stage.

For him, the abundance of musicians signals that Dublin can’t have too many music schools, and there’s plenty of room for his.

He’s had a busy year between recording and releasing his second studio album, Roaming Soul, and setting up the Music Institute since he found this premises in May.

“I’ve always had a real passion for teaching,” he says, with his raspy voice and strong Scottish accent – which is completely unaffected after four years here.

Though he taught in Walton’s and freelanced around Dublin, he got the idea to open his own school this time last year. “I just went for it,” he says.

MacLennan will teach piano. His three colleagues will teach guitar, bass guitar, vocals, violin, music theory, music appreciation, percussion and drums. There’s already been a request for bongo lessons.

MacLennan specialises in teaching song structure. Among his favourite musicians are Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams. Not to be confused with Bryan Adams, he stresses.

All the teachers play and perform regularly.

He believes it’s important for teachers to work in the industry. “You’re going to bring a certain, different discipline to the lessons and you’re looking at it from a different angle,” he said.

The school’s new guitar teacher, Scott Kohlmann, who also gigs across the city, agrees. “The goal of my teaching is to be able to inspire them enough so they go home and want to play.”

Looking Forward

Since coming to Ireland, MacLennan has played with musicians like Gavin James and Gavin Glass. For his future students, that’s a boon. He plans to have them run workshops.

It’s an idea right now. Perhaps, songwriting workshops where Glass, or someone else, helps a small group of students with songs they have written. Or a talk with a music manager to discuss the advantages and the pitfalls of the industry. “Mostly pitfalls,” he laughs.

He’s also been in touch with some producers about organising a production clinic to help people enhance their music on a laptop.

“There’s loads of studio trickery that I’d personally like to know,” he says. “I’ll be the first person to sign up to it.”

He might want to think about setting up an agency for all those bands while he’s at it.

Term starts this month at the Music Institute, Dublin on 135 Rathmines Road Upper, Dublin 6.

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