When Carl Arden Hinds envisioned opening a music school, he thought about what would have appealed to him as a 16-year-old musician: A place where students not only could hone their playing and writing skills, but also rehearse together, learn how to record tunes and perform live with a group.
He also wanted to promote collaboration and the idea of community.
“I wanted to create a center, a musical hub, where I would have been able to have my questions answered and learn in a safe environment,” Hinds says.
Enter Hammersmith Rock Institute, the Vancouver school he founded in 2016 that’s focused on building transferrable skills, such as developing a work ethic, learning to prioritize, working together and simply enjoying what you do through music.
His goal is for students to improve as musicians by dedicating themselves to their craft and to build connections with “kindred spirits.”
“When they’re not rehearsing, they’re socializing,” he says. “It kind of becomes a second home for them. I tell my students all the time: It’s not about talent, it’s about work. The harder you work, the better you will be.”
Hammersmith, named for the venerable London venue, features a rock program in which students attend private, weekly lessons; play together in bands; record songs in a studio; and perform concerts at area venues.
The school also provides lessons for guitar, bass, drums, vocals, piano, synthesizer, reed and brass instruments, ukulele, and weekly camps. During the camps, students – beginner to advanced – assemble bands, create set lists, rehearse, develop band names and logos, and perform a show.
The school also has a summer adult program for musicians of all skill levels, and holds a jazz lab for young musicians to participate in weekly rehearsals.
Hinds, the school’s music director, says that while “rock” is in the organization’s name, students also learn other genres such as blues, jazz, bluegrass and electronic dance music.
The most inspiring aspect of his work is seeing students build confidence and flourish, including those who come to Hammersmith thinking at the beginning that they “can’t do it” but perform a show and “rock it,” he says.
“There are 200 people (in the audience at a show) cheering them on, and it’s awesome to see,” Hinds says.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Hinds, 48, started playing violin at age 6 or 7. He moved to saxophone, then picked up a guitar for the first time at about age 10. He remembers experiencing a musical epiphany as a youngster, going to a tiny hangout called Pat’s Chili Dogs to play the videogame “Asteroids” and seeing the place packed with people listening to a live band fronted by Tom Keifer, the future singer and guitarist for the rock band Cinderella.
Keifer was fronting a different band for the gig, and while Hinds wasn’t drawn to the style of music, he was awestruck nonetheless.
“It really blew my mind,” Hinds says. “I remember being transfixed — by the music, the excitement, the look. It was completely different than anything I experienced. It was different and exciting.”
It also sparked the realization that making and playing music was achievable.
“This guy, playing down the street — if he could do it, I could, too,” Hinds says.
He was exposed to music at a young age from his mother, who immigrated from Sweden and was always playing from her extensive record collection. She also had worked in a noted Stockholm jazz club that drew musicians such as saxophonist Dexter Gordon, a family friend.
Her love of music influenced her son. “I think of being 6, and every memory is the stereo going,” he says.
His skills on guitar grew and he began teaching it when he was just 17. He attended community college for a time, but he could feel popular music changing, such as the beginning of alternative music being embraced by the mainstream. He wanted to be a part of it.
He formed his band Dandelion in 1989. The group released several records, touring and performing with Radiohead, the Ramones, Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls, and other bands.
Among many other opportunities, in the mid-1990s, Dandelion played the second stage at the Lollapalooza music festival that features alternative rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and more.
Hinds says the way Hammersmith serves students has been influenced by his own experiences and the approach of other musical artists.
The Beatles are a major personal influence, not only because of their music but for the way they used the recording studio “as another instrument,” Hinds says. He also admires Thurston Moore, singer, songwriter and guitarist of Sonic Youth, for the way he “broke all the (musical) rules in a creative way.”
Hinds, who had worked for the School of Rock chain, including as vice president of operations, says he’s brought three basic but essential lessons he learned as a working musician: show up early, say please and thank you, and “don’t be a jerk.”
He notes that, in hindsight, things he thought as a young musician in a band were vitally important — for example, how often the chorus occurs in a song or the order of a show set list — in the end don’t matter. Instead, collaborating, and having fun creating music, ought to be the focus.
Now a father of three, he recalls one student on the autism spectrum who had only limited social interaction when the youngster first came to Hammersmith.
Today, the student walks into the facility a changed person who “talks, eats and breathes music,” Hinds says, noting the student, who he described as a “monster musician,” is “pre-selected” to attend the acclaimed Julliard School.
He also relishes when students discover their passion, recalling another Hammersmith participant who sang such challenging tunes as Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” at a show, where the student’s parents for the first time heard their child sing. It’s not unusual for parents to cry tears of joy in such moments.
“It’s pretty amazing when all the work culminates in a show,” Hinds says.