The Marion Star
June 1, 2008
By John Jarvis
MARION – Installing a window in the building he’s converted to a music school as he spoke about his life as a professional drummer, Jason Gittinger didn’t miss a beat.
“I have never known anything but (playing the drums),” said the 1995 Harding High School graduate whose parents Del and Nadine were professional musicians. “I remember being 3 years old and playing at Kiwanis Pancake Day. I was playing the drums in a blue sequin vest. I wasn’t any good at all.”
His mother, Nadine, remembered the episode differently, although laughing she noted he was wearing the blue sequin vest. “We started Jason on drums when he was 2. He really could actually play.”
Gittinger’s goal now is to pass along the knowledge he’s gained in school, in life and in the studio to students at The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music, which he opened March 31 in downtown Royal Oak, Mich., located in metropolitan Detroit.
“My goal for this place has nothing to do with music,” said the married father of one whose full-time job is playing drums for a popular Detroit band called The Mega 80’s. “It has everything to do with focusing a young person on details.” For an individual pursuing musicianship, one of those details should be his school, he said. “If music is their passion, then this is where they should be.”
He describes the school as “private music lessons on steroids.” Students receive instruction in one room, while the other side of the building houses a recording studio and rehearsal facility. “… We make people play in bands.”
Approximately eight years ago, Gittinger taught students at the Calumet Center for Juvenile Justice, an experience that contributed to his desire to open The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music.
“I was teaching kids that had murdered and raped, unspeakable things,” he said. He hopes his school can provide a positive path for young people to take, a way to overcome what may have been a less-than-desirable upbringing. “If I can make a difference by creating a music place and I can take care of that kid before he’s 27 with a drug addiction, I would love to be that guy.”
Gittinger’s own music career began as he sat in on the practices and performances of his dad’s band, Del and Company, said lifelong friend David Johnston, who Gittinger credits for his love of drumming.
“Jason was always around,” said Johnston, a retired Harding High School teacher who played drums for Del and Company for 26 years. “It’s a wonder he can hear. We were playing in Tiffin somewhere for a benefit, and I can remember Jason leaning against the amplifier for his dad’s organ sound asleep. He’d always be around when we were playing.”
In 1993, Johnston drove Gittinger to a clinic in Columbus conducted by renowned drummer Dave Weckl.
“Him taking me to that drum clinic sort of changed my life forever,” Gittinger said. “His playing was so intricate. I thought, ‘How does he do that?’ It changed my life because it focuses me on the details.”
“I played nearly everybody’s high school musical,” he said, estimating that he was the drummer for 65 musicals, including many at the Palace Theatre. He received the Kling Scholarship for his musical efforts and earned a bachelor’s degree in music with a specialty in jazz studies at Wayne State University in Detroit.
So proficient has he become that he’s considered the “No. 2 drummer on call” in Detroit, Johnston said, adding that Gittinger even gets occasional visits from his drum hero, Weckl, who plays drums with him in the basement.
Growing up with his parents as professional musicians, Gittinger quickly learned that making a living can be a challenge for musicians. In addition to having his band, his father operated Del’s Music Studio, tuning pianos and repairing electronics, before he died in 1999. His mother has taught music for 29 years at Pleasant Elementary School.
When an acquaintance broached the subject of whether his school would be profitable, Gittinger recounted his reaction: “Are you kidding? I don’t expect ever to make money here.”
His objective, he said, is to accomplish something meaningful.
“It’s like my life in a building,” he said, laughing. “Write that one down.”
It also houses the aspirations of his parents, his mother said.
“He’s pursuing kind of a dream that his dad and I wanted to do,” she said. She attended an open house at the building, which Gittinger has refurbished using flooring from a basketball court, a window from a garbage dump, 14 doors from a medical warehouse and other recycled materials.
“I was just floored with how beautiful it is,” she said. “I think it’s an asset to Royal Oak. I think it’s a really good asset. He wants it to be a safe place for kids to come and hang out and play music and to learn.”
He said the assistance of 39 businesses listed as “The Crew” on the school’s Web site, www.detroitschoolofrock.com, has been invaluable.
“I cannot stress how beautiful they are,” he said. “They like what I’m doing. They think it’s a good thing for the community. They’re going above and beyond the call of duty to help me exist here.”
The work at the School of Rock goes beyond the mission of many private music schools, too, he said, adding that sometimes income and not the student is the instructor’s primary objective.
“They’re teaching in a facility so they can generate extra revenue, but they don’t really pay attention to what happens in the lessons. The priority’s never been on the student. Our goal here it so focus their dreams on their ‘Guitar Hero’ aspirations and their ‘American Idol’ aspirations,” he said, referring to the popular video game and television show.
Johnston said Gittinger’s focus on the details will provide students at his school with tools they can use to build a music-related career if they so choose.
“How to play different styles, what’s your appearance, be prompt, have the proper equipment, be dressed right, that all works,” Johnston said. “And again those are things that I know Jason is trying to give to the kids up there. That’s the reason behind his school. He’s trying to make it a real-world type situation.”
The School of Rock also calls on its students to be part of something larger than themselves as individuals.
“If I drop a beat, how do you work through that?” Johnston said. “The only way to learn that is by playing with folks. I think that’s another thing he’s trying to do. Let’s put your part together with this part and play with people.”
Gittinger’s long-range goal for his new venture is included, he said, in a 500 page business plan he put together. His facility houses an art gallery at its front, but he envisions the facility having a 400 person venue with retail stores and restaurants. “You could have a hundred of them across the country, a school in every city and a venue in every city.”
Ambition and commitment are personality traits Gittinger has in full, Johnston said.
“He has a passion for passing on what he’s learned to kids,” he said. “I’m not surprised that he’s doing it. I’m glad that he’s doing it. Who knows? Somebody might pick up on what he’s passing on to them, and he may be the next big thing.”
Accomplishing his plans will be a challenge, but one the energetic musician appears to relish.
“I’m not saying any of this is easy,” he said. “It’s really, really tough, but if you work hard you can do anything you want.”
Reporter John Jarvis: 740-375-5154 or firstname.lastname@example.org