Hants’ Faces Friday – Jonathan Renken

Published on March 17, 2017

Jonathan Renken was at Moe’s Music School in Windsor teaching a songwriting workshop.

©Colin Chisholm

WINDSOR, N.S. – Faces Friday is our online feature highlighting members of our community: their strength, challenges and humanity.

Music instructor Jonathan Renken has become a staple at Moe’s Music School in Windsor. A former student of the school’s owner, Jake Smith, Renken now teaches alongside his former mentor.

Renken, who is a former member of Rosewood Annie and a drummer with Generation Idiot, hosted a songwriting workshop at the school during March Break. He says there’s no wrong way to teach the craft.

“I’ve been teaching lessons here at Moe’s (Music School) for almost a year now. I started out one day a week doing a few guitar lessons and maybe a couple of drum lessons. I used to take lessons from Jake way back when. He used to teach in Fall River and here, not at this location, but somewhere else, down the road. Eventually, he stopped teaching in Fall River and I had stopped taking lessons. It had been a few years and he called me and asked if I’d like a job teaching a couple lessons. And I thought, 'yeah, amazing, who wouldn’t want to do that?' Now I’m doing four days a week – base, guitar, ukulele, and drum is what I’m doing now, so it kind of brought me in and we do (workshops) as well all the time.”

Jonathan Renken, a former student of Moe’s Music School owner Jake Smith, is now a fellow teacher, providing lessons in guitar, base, ukulele and drums.

©Colin Chisholm

“When I was young, my dad listened to a lot of music and he exposed me to a lot of different stuff and he let me pick and choose what I liked when I was six. When I was 10, I started to pick up the guitar, fiddle around with it, make some noise a little bit and after a couple months of that he showed me Smoke on the Water and then got me into lessons. I started taking lessons from Jake and that’s where I got most of my musical influences.”

Jonathan Renken, who lives in Sackville but works in Windsor, was interested in music at a young age. He said he’s happy to be passing that love of music on to younger kids now.

©Colin Chisholm

“Songwriting – you don’t even need to know an instrument technically. There’s a lot of songwriters who only use their vocals and they imagine what it would sound like and they can piece together what they might want the rest of the band to sound like. The songwriting camp is a lot different than a music lesson. We go over the fundamentals of how you write a song, how you start, we want to get them writing and actually trying. There’s no point in teaching them all about it and then saying ‘alright go!’ We want you to keep trying; it’s a lot of trial and error. By the end of this week, we’re hoping each group or individual will have a song that’s theirs and take it to the recording camp and have them record their own songs.”

Jonathan Renken was a member of Rosewood Annie until August, participating in a national tour.

©Colin Chisholm

“I’ve been writing my own songs for a number of years. Once you’ve been playing music for a number of years, even if you’re not writing stuff down all of the time, you’re thinking of original ideas, or at least you hope so. That’s the thing with songwriting is that there’s so many approaches. You can approach it a million ways. You can start with one or two chords that you like, or a song idea, or a cool name for a song. You can start almost anywhere. I usually start, it’s me and a guitar, and I’ll figure out a chord progression or order of chords I like and a melody for me comes from there. I’ll pick away at that and that helps me envision what I want. I usually go guitar then vocals.”

Jonathan Renken says that he usually focuses on how a song will sound first before thinking about the lyrics.

©Colin Chisholm

“You can take some really common themes, love, loss, there’s so many songs about that. Personal experience is always a good thing to draw from. Even if you don’t have that specific experience to draw from, you can imagine what it would be like for somebody else and paint your own vision that way... My biggest thing is melody, does it sound good? The words can come later. Are the notes right, is it hooky, would someone else want to listen to this or is it just cool for me?”

Correction - A previous version of this story said Jonathan Renken was a member of the band Rosewood Annie. He left the band in August, 2016.