It can be easy to forget that communities take work; that those restaurants, social centres, murals and parks don’t just appear on the scene like resolute clovers popping up in the corners of our sun-fried fields. No, dynamic communities need people with the drive and determination to grow ideas into fruition. Located on Gladstone Avenue, just past the Gladstone Theatre, Alcorn Music Studios (AMS)/Gigspace Ottawa is one such place. In the front window under the sign, lush leaves dangle from the ceiling. After walking up the stairs and opening the door, it’s only three steps in to a bustling musical sphere.
An ambitious project run by directors, drummer Marlie Townsned-Alcorn and guitarist Tim Bedner, AMS/Gigspace is a place where music breathes. Part music school, part art gallery, part jam space and part concert hall, this hub fosters creativity and gives it a space to shake out its limbs. The central waiting room is lined with vibrant posters of past performances. In one of the seats, a serious-looking child waits with his mother, who is sitting next to a computer with a note that reads “Have a seat and try out our Ear Training Games!” A bulletin board is jammed with more posters: Trumpet Bootcamp, Jazz Camp, Ukulele Social Hour.
Merliee is busy on the phone momentarily, but then takes me on a stroll through the site. We walk down the hallway and art-gallery where paintings of trees line the walls, and she shows me the classrooms where pupils can study numerous instruments such as voice, piano, trumpet and drums. There’s a wooden bookshelf at the end of the hall, bordered on the right by a cascade of green leaves.
“These are the teachers’ resource materials” Marliee tells me, smiling widely while turning the corner. It all feels so homey.
The end of the hallway opens up to bigger room, a jam space, where four men with guitars around their necks have just finished up a session. Tim Bedner sticks out his hand, with its thin, long, deliberate fingers.
The three of us walk back to the entrance next to the kitchen and into the Gigspace where the performances take place. It’s intimate and cozy and has a velvety ambiance slightly reminiscent of David Lynch’s Pink Room. Tim explains that it had originally been constructed for film production and the engineers of that project had meticulously planned to maximize acoustic quality. Performers, Tim says, have extolled the room’s audio excellence. As we sit on some chairs, look around the room, and begin to chat, it’s obvious both he and Marilee take great pride in their project.
“Contemporary jazz musicians often play places that aren’t very conducive to listening,” Tim explains, “you know, background music amid lots of chatter, and that’s fine, but we are also very hungry as musicians to play for a listening audience. We often dream about a space like this.”
Just sitting in the quiet room, it’s possible to imagine how intimate a concert here would be. Marilee explains how much audience-artist interaction takes place in a room like this, and how the space, in this regard, is unique in Ottawa. With all possible distractions barren from the room, music takes precedence; it’s aural immersion.
Originally on Carling Ave, Gigspace moved to this new home because the old space could seat only 22. Now with space for roughly double the audience, this new location also has more rooms for classes.
“It wasn’t easy to find” says Marilee, “and we wanted to stay in this area.”
With students from ages four to over seventy and coming from a scattering of areas such as Orleans, Manotick and even as afar as Cornwall, Marilee and Tim have built up a solid community over the years and didn’t want to set up in a new, unfamiliar location. It’s this attention to community that gives AMS/Gigspace a unique feel. Talking about music and inspiring students, Tim and Marilee exhibit a contagious passion for what they do.
“There’s a guy who came to bootcamp in 2008,” Tim says, leaning forward on the edge of his chair, “and who is now doing his stuff, pushing his musical expression. Helping someone get the skills together, and getting to the point of coming back and performing, that is awesome.”
AMS/Gigspace has a plethora of ways for musicians to develop their craft. There are private, individual classes, and also a variety of group activities such as the Jazz jam workshops that take place every Monday night, Indie singer/songwriter nights on the 2nd Thursday of every month, and Jazz & Blues jams on the 4th Thursday of every month. There are also specialty jazz clubs such as one for French vocalists and numerous speciality workshops and private classes which are available when artists are able to offer them. For example, on June 20th and 21st, legendary Canadian drummer Jim Blackley passed through offering a workshop and a day of private classes.
Tim and Marilee tell me of their openness towards hearing new class proposals, and express interest in hearing new artists propose shows for the Gigspace. Quality is an essential component to either endeavour, however. Performers should be top notch and have the ability to provide a dynamic and engaging listening experience. Those wishing to instruct, should, like Marilee, Tim and other instructors (some of whom, Tim included, work as professors at Carleton University) have extensive control and knowledge of their instrument. Those wishing to get involved can contact Marilee via the website www.gigspaceottawa.com.