“I really wanted to be a singer, I’ve worked on this my whole life.”
Singing. It’s where so many aspects of Swallow Hill Music teacher Deborah Collins’ life come together. She’s spent her life singing. From “punk” bands in high school, to the reason she went back to college, to her current band the Deborah Solo Trio, singing remains the constant.
A Swallow Hill Music teacher since July 2014, Deborah’s outlook when it comes to teaching is pretty clear: “Everybody can be a musician… it’s not just for a select few or the elite.”
And while she can, and does, teach guitar, piano and ukulele when needed, voice is her expertise.
“It’s a really fun instrument because you can’t see it,” she says of teaching voice. Every person has to learn to feel it from within, to find their comfort level with their own voice and work from there. “Everyone comes with a different voice.”
It’s a point easily overlooked, but the uniqueness of every student’s voice is central to her success as a teacher. She strives to instill in each student that everyone can sing, and in doing so, she hopes to demystify the process.
She realizes, though, this is not always an easy lesson to learn. “Learning an instrument should be fun and inspiring, and a teacher should be positive and patient.”
She tells her students, whatever their age, to give themselves space to learn to be brand new at something. “It’s all going to lead to something good.”
“They’re making time for music and working hard to learn their instrument,” she says of Swallow Hill Music students. “I find it inspiring.”
Deborah grew up in Michigan. Her mother is an art teacher, and her father and brother played guitars around the house, so perhaps it was inescapable that teaching and her creative impulses would merge.
She went to college and graduated with an English degree, but after trying out several career fields, by her mid-twenties she was ready to go back to school for a music degree.
“Music is where my heart was, I really wanted to teach.” In Colorado by this point, she attended and graduated Metropolitan State University of Denver, a time she recalls fondly, adding, “I loved my experience at Metro.”
Another source of strength and inspiration is her family, which is made up of her husband Dustin, and two-year-old daughter Chloe. Dustin was incredibly supportive in her decision to go back to school, and ensuring Deborah kept moving forward with new musical endeavors.
Chloe has inspired her songwriting, by giving Deborah a new perspective on life which has allowed her to look back and write about previous life experiences from a new point of view.
Chloe has also changed Deborah’s songwriting process. Where Deborah was once more methodical in her approach, now she grabs inspiration when it hits her. If she has to record a melody or lyric idea into her smartphone while standing in a grocery store parking lot to revisit later, so be it. She is happy with the results.
“I’m more satisfied with my songs than ever.”
All of this experience manifests itself in the Deborah Solo Trio, the band she sings, plays guitar and writes songs for. She is quick to stress, however, the Trio is a full band effort.
“They are so expert at what they do,” she says of her band mates, Kari Clifton on cello, and Brian Nelson on percussion. All three contribute to the band’s signature harmonies.
Though only together a short time, the band has grown organically into a folk-inspired, yet sophisticated group. Deborah writes the songs, but the band runs with them. “They really understand my concept,” and she trusts them to follow through.
In 2015 the band played extensively along Colorado’s Front Range at both public and private events, with Deborah and Kari getting to open for Over the Rhine as a duo at Swallow Hill Music’s Daniels Hall in July.
She is grateful to get to play with such accomplished musicians. Kari describes herself as “private teacher and a constant performer in a variety of music including classical, rock, jazz, indie and pop.” She has performed with the likes of Megan Burtt, Covenhoven and am a member of Richie Allen and the Bad Ideas, among others.
Brian, meanwhile, also teaches at Swallow Hill Music, and is the creative force behind dub reggae project Red Ninja.
That they have faith in her songs motivates her to keep landing gigs to help them as working musicians. To that end she is looking forward to the band’s Swallow Hill Music show on December 17 in the Quinlan Café, and for an active 2016.
“These are the things that make you you… for me it’s definitely making music and being in a band.”
The Deborah Solo Trio plays the Quinlan Café at Swallow Hill Music Thursday, December 17.
The band is also playing the Chief Theater in Steamboat Springs on March 11.