For over a year now, Alan Ens has been an excitable, high-energy presence at four of Settlement’s six branches. His introduction to Settlement first came when he performed with fellow faculty member Brendan Evans.
“I was playing free jazz with this group, and the drummer went to Oberlin with Brendan,” he says. “We ended up playing in a rock band together.”
Evans is a very accomplished classical guitarist as well, and gave a stellar solo performance in the Karin Fuller Capanna Faculty Recital in 2015. Now that Ens is playing and teaching alongside him, as well as other experienced performers on Settlement's faculty, he has felt the need to brush up his own playing. When practicing at home, his preferred instrument is a Yamaha Silent Guitar, pictured at right, which has a headphone plug-in.
“When I first started teaching, I thought, ‘why would I need to take lessons?’,” he says. “Now, I feel it’s essential. It really keeps me improving.”
That focus on making steady personal improvement has had an impact on his approach to students as well, as he tries to meet individual needs. “With each student, I think more about ‘what can I do for you?’ than ‘here is what you have to do.’”
Outside of his one-on-one lessons, Ens wants to work with other guitar faculty to convene a guitar ensemble, flexible in size from a quartet to something like a guitar orchestra, once or twice each year. “Any guitar teacher could send their student over a rehearsal, and then we could put together a performance with just one rehearsal,” he says. “It’s something that would really strengthen the guitar-playing culture here.”
Guitar culture can take many forms, of course, and at each student’s first lesson, Ens likes to have them make a list of ten songs they enjoy. Even with his background in jazz and rock music, as well as in classical guitar, he has had to broaden his horizons even further to appeal to his students’ tastes.
“You gotta know some Katy Perry and some Taylor Swift,” he says.