In 1995 everything changed for me.
I was teaching my very first guitar course at a local recreation centre. About halfway through the 8 week course I developed bacterial meningitis (a life threatening infection of the brain). This serious event put me in a coma and on a ventilator for 6 days. Everything about this infection was moving in the wrong direction to the point where Last Rights were given (Note: much of this story is recalled through family and friends. After all, I was in a coma! I had no idea what was going on). Suffice it to say this was a very emotionally charged time with many friends, family and co-workers gathering together with prayers and hope.
The meningitis obviously didn’t win- take that! Depending on who you ask, it was the prayers, my martial art fitness, the sense of community or even possibly the music of the Canadian rock trio RUSH being played to me through headphones while in the coma (Yes! I was and still am a dedicated fan of their brilliant music).
“Personally, I believe it was all the wonderful real and positive energy focused so strongly for a brief moment in time on little ol’ me. Now there’s a gift to be thankful for forever.”
I didn’t come out of this illness unscathed however. It left me with a bad case of vertigo (a very intense experience of dizziness and “room spins”) that continues to this day. One weird movement of my head or body can throw me into a terrible fit of dizzy, loss of balance and nausea. The vertigo appears to have calmed down a bit now (maybe because I’ve just learned to move in ways that does not provoke that sleeping giant). Still, the ever present potential for a ‘moment of vertigo’ can change how you see yourself and what you’re capable of (certainly can’t even think of doing a summersault again!). All of a sudden I had to put limits on the nature of my physical activity where before my body would always do as I needed. I had what I call “a new normal” in my life.
“It’s true- you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
But an even bigger side effect of this nasty infection was a loss of some memory and this included my ability to play guitar. YUP! At least for about 6 months I knew I did play but I had lost the muscle memory of how to actually play. Also, on a more humorous note, my feet felt fat and my upper lip felt like it was always sweating- the brain can do really weird things man! To this day, there are actual pieces of guitar repertoire that I have no recollection of ever learning but which I did learn and perform very well in the past (so I’m told). Fortunately, by just sitting with the guitar and exploring it all over again like a child playing in a sandbox, little flickers of memory started to set in. Also fortunately, the little memory flickers were steady and constant enough to convince me that I could regain some actual playing skill once again.
“In this sense I was reminded (at least in some small way) of what a beginning student can experience when they try to learn guitar for the first time. It can be awkward, frustrating and intimidating but there is also plenty of potential. That’s probably not a bad thing for a guitar teacher to remember, let alone relive a bit.”
While it’s not a Hollywood Blockbuster Movie reminding me of how short life is and to make sure you do the thing that feels “right” in your life, clichés do exist because they contain a thread of truth. This event easily convinced me that the previous work I was doing (Youth worker and Researcher), while very valuable in its own right, was ultimately not the direction for me. I love the whole dynamic of teaching, sharing and helping others move forward- and I get to do that through the guitar. That level of fortune is not lost on me.
In time, the motto for Dempster Guitar Studio became “Play it Right! Play for Life!”. The reason is simple- it’s TRUE. I was taught by some very skilled teachers who pushed hard to make sure the right skills were being played the right way at the right time. In my moment of potential tragedy, all that great teaching really paid off and it got stuck deep in my bones too.
“It’s often hard to do anything the right way. It takes more time, patience and a deep amount of commitment on the part of the student and his or her teacher. This is the way I’m compelled to teach the guitar.”
I feel it is my obligation to give to students that same “right” teaching that enabled me to recover my own playing skills. These skills were drilled into me, rehearsed into me and ultimately pushed into my bones. Once it’s there, it’s there. You own it. No one can take it from you (not even Mr. Meningitis).
Having the opportunity to teach guitar again has moved beyond a job or career. It’s become a CALLING and I strive to get it RIGHT for each and every student. I continue to learn a tremendous amount through teaching. It feels very cool to help someone do something cool (play guitar) and get a “whole lotta” learnin’ in return. It’s a chemistry that I love, born of simply wanting all of us to progress forward.
Progress, not perfection!
That’s why I teach guitar.