Rock combo, Big Band will perform at San Juan College

Group members learn practical side of making music

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Kevin Medina, left, Ashley Casey, Triston Eaton, Isaiah Talley, Gerardo Diaz and Ericka Van Eckhoutte of the San Juan College Rock Combo rehearse for tonight's performance in the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall.
  • Rock combo director Teun Fetz encourages the group's members to take as much responsibility for the project as possible.
  • Student Ericka Van Eckhoutte is a drummer, percussionist and vocalist who has been part of the group since 2016.
  • The group picks its own music and approaches its performances from a team perspective.

FARMINGTON — Participation in the rock combo program in the San Juan College music department is about much more than performing one concert each semester. Much of the experience is directed at teaching musicians how to play as part of a group and how to become part of a working band once they leave the college.

That's the way the combo's director, Teun Fetz, approaches the program, anyway. He encourages the group's members to take as much responsibility for the project as possible, and lets them make many of their own decisions and work out their own issues.

Fetz acknowledged that approach doesn't always work flawlessly, but he said for the past several semesters he's had the advantage of working with student Ericka Van Eckhoutte, a drummer, percussionist and vocalist who has been part of the group since 2016. Van Eckhoutte serves the spokeswoman and organizer for the combo, which will perform at 7 tonight in a concert with the San Juan College Big Band at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the college campus in Farmington, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

Membership in the rock combo changes every semester as musicians come and go, but Van Eckhoutte said four members of the group have been playing together for the past couple of years and have established a rapport. The seven-member group — Gerardo Diaz on bass and backup vocals, Isaiah Talley on drums, Triston Eaton on guitar, Kevin Medina on guitar, Mark Charley on guitar, Ashley Casey on lead vocals and Van Eckhoutte on drums, percussion and backup vocals — picks its own music and approaches its performances from a team perspective.

"We make it a group effort," Van Eckhoutte said. "If someone has a new song, we try 'em out and see if it fits our vibe. … We've kind of figured out our sound."

The combo will be playing an eclectic mix of tunes during tonight's performance, including "Message in a Bottle" by the Police, "Locked Out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars, "Creep" by Radiohead, "Rude" by Magic!, "Sister Golden Hair" by America and "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack, though the combo's arrangement will lean more toward the Scary Pockets cover.

Since the musical abilities and preferences of the band members vary, Van Eckhoutte said it's not easy to come up with a half dozen songs for the group to play each semester. The members only get together once a week for rehearsal, so there isn't much time to build chemistry.

"There are days when we go in for rehearsal, and the first half hour is spent just listening to music," she said of the process the musicians go through to come up with a set list. " … The trick is to find six we can get away with."

Fetz noted that another problem is that the instrumentation changes each semester as the lineup changes. He welcomes all newcomers to the group, but sometimes that means having multiple players on the same instrument. This semester's lineup, for example, features two drummers and three guitar players, and that can make it difficult for Fetz to create arrangements that give everyone their own space.

But figuring out how to handle those kinds of issues is what makes playing in the rock combo a meaningful experience, he said, explaining that many of the group's members have never performed as part of a band before.

"Playing guitar by yourself is a lot different than playing in a group," he said, adding that he tries to teach his students how to fit into the fabric of a band. "There's a lot of give and take, a lot of experience levels, a lot of expectations."

The idea, he said, is that those who enjoy the experience might be motivated to become part of a working band once their days in the rock combo are over. Fetz hopes to give them the skills and background to apply to a real-life musical experience.

"It's not just a class," he said. "It teaches practicality."

Van Eckhoutte is a fan of Fetz's approach and believes it pays dividends.

"That's what really great about Teun — he's almost more of an adviser," she said. "He lets us navigate it ourselves, although if we have a situation where someone isn't showing up for rehearsal, he teaches us how to have those tough conversations."

The college's Big Band, which is led by Delbert Anderson, also will perform tonight. Its set list includes "The Girl from Ipanema" by Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Polar Ice" by Jeff Jarvis and "Mr. Clean" by Freddie Hubbard.

Tickets for the concert are $8 for adults, and $6 for students and seniors at Call 505-566-3430.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.