One note at a time: How a lawyer turned musician is helping Bengaluru’s corporate workers de-stress

John Daniel's guitar classes are a part of the employee retention programmes of top companies.
One note at a time: How a lawyer turned musician is helping Bengaluru’s corporate workers de-stress
One note at a time: How a lawyer turned musician is helping Bengaluru’s corporate workers de-stress
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Think CISCO, Yahoo, HCL and other such corporates, and the image you have in mind is that of sharply dressed individuals sitting in front of computers. But imagine walking into their premises one day and finding a bunch of sharply dressed people singing and learning to play the guitar!

The scenario is not wildly unreal. John Daniel, a Bengaluru-based lawyer-turned-musician, can be found at these corporates on a certain day per week, singing and clapping along with a gaggle of singing and laughing employees. His weekly two hour sessions are a part of these companies' employee retention program. 

John Daniel

But how easy is it to get a group of white collar employees to sing along, even buy guitars to learn music? Fortunately for John, his background in training people for the corporate world and a few previous jobs, help him break the ice.

"I think sometimes they loosen up faster than my younger students. I speak to them in a language they understand, crack jokes, and soon enough, we're all chatting merrily," the 38-year-old says.

John keeps these things in mind even when he is teaching them how to play. "Take the example of pitch. Instead of telling them keys, I talk to them about it in physics terms because many of them are from a science background. Otherwise I try to use every day analogies," he explains.  

John teaching guitar at CISCO

John's current batch at CISCO

Apart from his corporate students, John also teaches keyboard and gives vocal training to children from the ages of 6 and above. In addition, he holds guitar classes in his home studio for students of ages 12 and above, and volunteers from time to time at orphanages in the city.

John's Google reviews put him at an impressive 5/5 rating, which makes him one of the best guitar teachers in Bengaluru. However his journey to finding success and figuring out what he really wants to do has been full of ups and downs. 

John in his studio at home

In 1997, John came from Shillong to Bengaluru as a student at National Law School. That was also the year when the idea of 'Strawberry Fields', NLS' flagship music festival, first came up. And John happened to be in the first committee organising it. 

It was through his interactions with bands from all over the country and learning to handle the logistical side which made John see music as a career rather than just a hobby. So the next year, he applied to GIT, Musician’s Institute, California, one of the most prestigious guitar institutes in the world. When he secured a seat, he was ecstatic.

However, upon finding the fee exorbitant, John's parents refused to back him, seeing that he was already in a prestigious school. Unhappy with their refusal, John says he fell into some bad company and due to a sequence of unfortunate events, did not finish law school till 2005. His batchmates passed out in 2002.

"After eight years of law school, I was in a really bad place. So I decided to take a year off and went backpacking through Europe," narrates John. It was there in France that he played at a friend's wedding, and touched by John's gesture, his friend got him a guitar.   

The trip turned out to be an important stepping stone for John in many ways. It was through the suggestion of a well-known musician there that John started a music rights management company back in Bengaluru called 'BandTonga", with Sachin, an NLS batchmate. 

"I thought I had finally found something where I could combine my knowledge of law and love for music," says John. However, because of some irreconcilable differences between him and Sachin, the company did not take off. 

The setback affected John significantly and for a while, he decided to lay off music altogether. In the meantime, he started helping out his father and cousin with their venture: a training institute in Bengaluru for people looking to work in the corporate world. Among the other areas he worked on, John trained people in cross-cultural sensitization as well. 

It was here that John realised that he liked teaching. However, before he could delve more into it, the company became unsustainable in 2008. "My son was also born the same year. So I was unemployed at the time we needed money the most. I was just sitting at home, beating myself up, when I decided to start giving guitar lessons from my home itself," John says.

And from there on, the journey has just got better for him. While he started with five students, each of them got five more, John says. Now, he has close to 1000 students ranging from children to young working professionals. And to make sure they put what they learn to use, John organises concerts for them too. 

While initially the performances were for family and friends, John has now tied up with a restaurant chain to give his students a real-time experience. "Family and friends would always clap and appreciate even if they mess up. But I want them to understand what a real live performance feels like," he explains.

John is content now with what he does. And what motivates him is the feedback he receives from his students. The best one so far, John shares, is from a man who hailed from Odisha and came to Bengaluru. "He was quite homesick. But a few days after he joined my classes, he told me that he finally had a reason to look forward to being here. It's things like these that keep me going," John says.

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