By Justin Saglio
Northborough – Years ago, Jack Shanahan recorded albums in Los Angeles. His band, “Jack & Present Company,” toured New England and his songs were winning Billboard awards for composition. Realizing dreams of stardom was not a farfetched idea.
Today, music plays a different role for Shanahan, as he teaches the fundamentals to children as young as 4 at his guitar shop in Northborough. His studio instructs over 100 students in guitar, bass, drums and singing.
But dreams of being a rock star, he said, have never faded.
After studying music at Berklee College of Music, Shanahan performed professionally and recorded three studio albums, winning six Billboard awards for achievement in songwriting.
“There was a time when all I did was play,” Shanahan said. “You get a little tired of touring and playing, so I slowed that down and took on more of a teaching role.”
Recently, for example, he was on stage at Algonquin Regional High School, as beginner classes of dozens of young musicians played twanging acoustic guitars in unison in a recital hosted by his company, Jack's Guitar Garage, which opened in 2009. Shanahan sat facing his students and played along with them. When the group finished its set, he hurried offstage to let the aspiring musicians bask in the applause.
“There are times at the recital when the music comes together and I stop and look around and I see how elated the kids are. That really lifts my spirits,” Shanahan said.
Some ambitious students played solo pieces or in ensembles representative of a modern rock band. Trey Buchanan, an 11-year-old student, sang “Hotel California” by the Eagles. He strummed rhythms on his black-and-white electric guitar in a band composed of instructors and students, with Shanahan playing drums and singing harmony.
While the system for learning Shanahan employs is designed to let students move from beginner group classes to private lessons, some students take it upon themselves to excel beyond their peers, according to Shanahan.
“Trey has always practiced and worked hard, he has to take a lot of the credit,” Shanahan said.
“I like to learn songs I hear; that way I can play the songs instead of going and listening to them,” Buchanan said.
Using his knowledge of group performance, Shanahan offers a program he calls “rock school.” Instructors teach groups of performers how to play as a band in a one-week course which culminates in a performance for parents.
While his stage is smaller, the dreams Shanahan had as a student at Berklee are coming true as he teaches his students. His goals in music, Shanahan said, do not exist solely in stardom, but in his ability to continue with his passion for music.
“I have never given up a dream, my dream has always been to do music for my whole life whether it be as an instructor, a performer, or a songwriter,” Shanahan said. “To do what I do is a great dream.”