Profile by Jane Ledwell
Pick a month and play a game: How many listings in The Buzz include drummer Alan Dowling? “In the course of a year, I play with at least a dozen totally different groups,” he says. It’s a steady, hectic rhythm: “In a one-month period, I might do country, rock, jazz, blues, and drumline (marching drums). That might be a typical month.”
Alan loves variety. “I love to be hired for one-off things, when I can’t commit to a regular band. I love the fact that I do get called for everything from jazz to out-and-out country,” he says. “I think it keeps me fresh and young. I don’t want to be one of those people who get too comfortable in one style and don’t want to do something new.”
Variety is a philosophy Alan Dowling hands on to his students in Holland College’s Music Performance program, part of the still-freshly-minted School of Performing Arts: “The more styles you can play, the more chance you will be hired,” he states. A long-time IT instructor at Holland College, Dowling was given a chance at the School of Performing Arts to return to teaching music—a return to a career he started when he first gave drum lessons at age 16. “IT work has overlapped with music: planning, analysis, doing things step by step… It’s the same process—just the outcomes are different,” he laughs.
He has had the chance to lead the work on designing everything from the curriculum to the facilities for the Music Performance program, transforming a heritage building in Charlottetown into a high-tech space with teaching space, ensemble space, and soundproofed practice rooms for music performance. “It’s very satisfying. It has been a busy few years getting it off the ground.”
At Holland College, “the focus is on contemporary music. Most universities that have a music program focus on classical; fewer focus on jazz… A lot of people want to continue on and study music, and in the Maritimes they have been limited in the paths they could go, when maybe they really wanted to be a rock player. Maybe they really wanted to be a metal player. We wanted to give another option.” Holland College covers rock and country, R&B and pop, Celtic and world music, jazz and Latin, on a curriculum exclusively licensed from Alan’s alma mater, Berklee School of Music in Boston. “We want to open their ears, make them willing to hear anything,” he says.
“The last piece we do,” Alan says, “which is hardly seen in any program, is the music business side. These are skills you need them today, and they are not taught anywhere.”
A major recent honour is that Holland College is the first North American college or university in 20 years invited to be part of the Berklee International Network. Berklee auditions 8,000 hopefuls around the world each year, and some high achievers may be directed to Holland College.
He says, “The people from Berklee were blown away by the music community here. We’re used to it and think it’s part of the way of life here. They look at the arts coverage in The Buzz and the listings of what’s going on and literally say, ‘how big is this place?… We don’t know we have it so good.”
As a recruiter, Alan’s message is that “You should be in this program if you can’t picture yourself doing anything else but music… You’ll have to work hard, but you’ll bring a lot of joy into your life.”
He says, “The last three years, that’s been my world,” designing and building the Music Performance program, “but the last thing I want to do is be someone who only talks about music in the classroom and never does it.
“Even here, doing the administration of the music program, teaching, hiring… drumming is still my greatest satisfaction… I still get the most fulfillment from actually playing. If there are not enough gigs on my calendar, I’ll create some,” he says—a promise to continue to give The Buzz music listings a strong backbeat.