Grand Bend’s School of Rock
The Band In You is building a following for bands that might hit their peak 10 or 20 years from now
Photos and story by Casey Lessard
Sitting outside a basement studio in the Dalton Subdivision south of Grand Bend, four teenagers wait their turn in Ken Dinel’s domain: his professional music recording studio. Surprised by the success of his project, The Band In You music school, Dinel has had to abandon basement space to expand the studio and the lounge, which is still in the renovation stage.
“I thought I might get five students and teach a little music,” Dinel says. “I didn’t expect a big turnout, but it just took off. And it took off fast. I didn’t do any advertising other than in the Strip, and the word of mouth spread. Kids started telling their friends they were in a band. My five-year-old group members are six now, and they went to Florida for a month; they drove their mom nuts telling everyone they’re in a band.”
Their passion for being part of something bigger than themselves has led to performances by The Band In You students at various community events this summer, including at the Canada Day celebrations and the Relay for Life.
“It’s different from what I’m used to, but a good different,” says 14-year-old Blake Percy of Grand Bend, a guitarist in the band Sweet ‘N’ Toxik. He joined the school after his mom saw the ad in this paper.
“I’m learning a lot of new things. Before I would learn how to play the guitar and go home and practice for hours and hours. Here, you’re learning how to play with other people in a band. The timing is a whole different thing. It’s like comparing an individual sport like tennis to a team sport like soccer.”
The band members range in age from three to 18, and there are seven bands in total. Band members come up with the names, such as Famous, Victim, and Rocket Stars. Everyone is involved in songwriting, which is the main thrust of the school.
“They come in and sit down, and we start writing,” Dinel says. “We’ll rewrite together until the song’s somewhat complete, and then it’s introduced to the band. If the bands are less capable of writing, we each take a turn writing a line and then it’s edited that way. The Rocking Kids are five years old, and they all wrote me a bunch of lyrics about being rock stars and I put it together for them. With Sweet ‘N’ Toxik, Kyla came in with a semi-finished song (“Building My Time Machine”), and we tore it down and rewrote it with new elements. Then we sat down and worked on the music for it. It all came together very quickly.
“From there, we go into the studio and lay down a bed track where the band performs the song together to a click track. Then we just start replacing parts one at a time. We redo it until it’s radio-worthy.”
That level of professionalism and solidarity is what attracts Dinel’s students.
“I thought I was the next Taylor Swift,” says Sweet ‘N’ Toxik singer Megan O’Brien, 15 of Zurich. “But then I got into the band and this is so much cooler because you get to share the hard work and pride with other people. I really want to hit it big with the band. I love sharing our music with people. When I’m listening to the radio, I’ll hear a song that makes me say, ‘I’m so glad they wrote that.’ I want to share that with people.”
Sharing the music is part of the appeal for Kyla Hunt-Beach of Grand Bend, also a singer with the band.
“I like being able to perform and entertain,” says the 17-year-old. “I like being able to work in a team as a band. It’s been really amazing.
“The highlight is playing at concerts,” Kyla says. “The first one at the Grand Bend Public School Family Fun Day was amazing. I loved how there was a big crowd and how enthusiastic they were. I loved how they came up afterward and complimented us.”
Blake Percy agrees.
“It’s great seeing people come out to watch you play because I’m not used to that. Our band is good, so we get good applause and that’s a rush.”
Dinel estimates the school’s show has about 200 loyal fans, so he’s looking forward to taking the bands on tour locally. Coming off well-received shows this summer, Dinel has started picking up paying gigs for his students.
“The original goal of the school was to teach them how to write songs and record them,” he says. “Now that the school’s full, we’re going to develop a show. They’ll write and perform originals and covers, and each band will have its own set.
“We’ve been promised radio. Next year, I want to take these kids on tour locally. Then it’s TV. They’re very young, but there’s an It factor. We’ve performed with some bigger bands, and the bigger audience seems to be when the kids are on. We don’t see kids play, so it’s a rarity. And it’s coming out of Grand Bend.”
That said, the performers are still kids, so they’re not polished professionals, although there are a few prodigies. For Dinel, career longevity is the key, and that comes from accountability and desire, even if their age sometimes shows in the lyrics and sound.
“There’s a lot of editing at this stage,” Dinel admits. “But they get better each time they do the process. They’ve been here six months, so imagine them in two years. Grand Bend’s going to have some serious music out of this. Victim is a very committed band; my daughter’s in that one. They’re the real deal, and in two years they’ll only be 10!
“Most garage bands typically envision these ideas (touring, recording, etc.), but don’t go any further because they don’t have anyone to help them get there. I always push them to look forward. It’s more of a preparation mentality than a practice mentality.”
“I had lessons before,” adds Megan O’Brien, “and you go home and play, but it’s not fun. With a band, people are depending on you. We’re looking at the bigger picture.”
Mom Yvonne O’Brien is impressed.
“On several occasions, our daughters have been jamming and performing with other friends who have a lot more formal or traditional training. Their experience with The Band In You’s format was very apparent, and helped produce a more confident performance.”
Shannon O’Brien, 13, plays drums and is learning the bass. She agrees that the experience has helped boost her confidence in performance.
“Before, friends would come over and I’d be totally lost,” she says. “Now I can play with bands and it’s a lot better.”
“Ken is phenomenal,” Kyla Hunt-Beach says. “He’s really good to work with and easy to get along with. He gets you on track when you need to. It’s really fun and you don’t even realize when you’re practicing because you’re having so much fun. You get lost in the music because it’s so much fun.”
Dinel believes his process helps students relax, creating a desire to come back for more.
“When Kyla came in, she was conservative, safe and tense. Now, you see her in there and she’s a whole different person.
“I’m trying to put together bands that really get along well. There’s no inner dating. They’re respectful to each other. For the sake of longevity, they have to share the limelight, be respectful and encouraging to each other.”
That was a challenge at first for Kyla and Megan, who share the stage as singers in Sweet ‘N’ Toxik.
“At first, when we didn’t know each other, we kind of competed,” Megan says. “Not too bad, but we’d almost scream trying to get over each other. Finally we said, we want to sound good, and we sound good together. We’re both equally in this, so let’s just do it. Now we hang out all the time. We’re good friends. It wasn’t like that before, but now it is.”
Together they are stronger, they say, and they’re in it for the long haul.
“I want our band to get big and become well known, ” Kyla says. “ To be able to travel and tour. I just hope it grows. It’s going to be hard, but that’s how you get big.”
Thirteen-year-old Shannon’s prepared for the ride.
“I’d like to see people know our band. That would be the coolest thing.”
For Dinel, the end result is up to his students.
“It’s a self-defined experience,” he says. “We have a great time, but I do have expectations. If they don’t come in prepared, it’s not cool. As a band, they all feel part of something greater than their everyday life.”
The school’s roster is full, but has a waiting list that could be drawn upon in the fall. To join the waiting list and be part of the process, contact Ken Dinel at thebandinyou (at) hay.net