By Jeffrey Dallet, RMPBS | A year and a half ago, Rocky Mountain PBS visited Swallow Hill Music teacher and performer Chad “Chadzilla” Johnson. We learned of his unique teaching style and connections with his students.
As COVID-19 creeped in and gripped the world, Swallow Hill Music had to close its in-person school program and concerts, forcing the teachers to adapt and begin teaching remotely.
Chadzilla moved his teaching location to his recording studio, 25 BPM Studios, but teaching music virtually—especially drums—is not easy.
“It’s pretty hard,” Chadzilla says, “It’s been a strange transition playing drums with students over the internet, and really being able to convey ideas and share practice techniques.”
But the timing is just a little off.
“If we’re around 90 to 96 [beats per minute] I’m almost exactly one beat ahead of them and so it’s really trained my ears to be able to hear whether we’re actually playing together. I’ve had to learn how to live with latency,” he laughs.
Initially, the technical setup was the biggest issue.
“I think the toughest thing initially was just getting Zoom going, and for me to be able to hear,” Chadzilla says.
As a teacher, Chadzilla knows the students come first, and the struggles are worth it.
“I think a lot of Swallow Hill teachers struggled with that initially, but I felt like it’s our job as teachers to figure out the best way to help our students,” he says. “It was a great challenge and looking back now I’ve enjoyed taking that challenge on because we had nothing else.”
As a teacher, Chadzilla has adapted quite well, but as a performer and musician, it’s been dire straits.
“I’ve worked really hard for decades to build up a career in the music industry, kind of a three-tiered career: as a teacher, as a performer, and then as a recording studio, recording artist,” Chadzilla says.
“I played gigs on 325 days in the year 2005. I have played 15 gigs this year. That has been the craziest illumination of how quickly everything you’ve worked for can kind of come to a standstill.”
So how is he staying afloat?