Music Lesson Instructors

Lena Birtwistle - Vocals, Piano

lena_birtwistleLena is a local singer / songwriter who laughs a lot and loves inspiring / encouraging people and sharing anything / everything music-related… also… martial arts and kickboxing… she loves those things too.

She began playing piano at the age of 5 and has completed her Grade 8 Royal Conservatory and a Diploma in Jazz (from VIU) for piano. After college she learned the guitar and began singing. She has been performing professionally for over 13 years.

Lena has been teaching for 6 years, and is VERY passionate about sharing the tools / tips / tricks she’s learned about music, performance, and how to break through old doubts / fears to get to another level of music / life / creativity that is way more fun.

She likes to work with her students to help them figure out what they want to get from music, and adapts her teaching style to meet the needs of each individual in a fun, playful, and engaging way. She loves helping students with reading music, music theory, technique, ear training, songwriting, performance, vocal control and strength, harmonies, singing / performing with emotion, technique while playing and singing at the same time, memorization, good practice habits / techniques, working with other musicians, and sharing new music that she finds through friends / students / band mates.

She also loves providing opportunities for her students to perform and has showcased various students as well as accompanied some in performances, bringing them out to her own shows so they can get up in front of a crowd.

She has been / is involved in multiple music projects as well as her own solo project (Emerald Specks) and released her debut solo album (No Sound) in 2014.

Other artists she’s worked / recorded / shared stages with include:
The Adamantines, Sid Johnson, Allison Crowe, Kendall Patrick and the Headless Bettys, Ah, Venice, Rob Wilkinson, Redwood Green, Band of Rascals, Navo, WiL.

Jim Blair - Guitar (Beginner to Advanced)

Jim has been a professional music teacher for over 25 years. Specializing in electric and acoustic guitar, he covers a variety of styles, including classic rock, metal, blues, and folk. Previously located in the Vancouver area, he has taught guitar in Nanaimo since 1996. In addition to basic and advanced guitar skills, Jim covers a wide range of relevant topics during lessons, including music history, songwriting techniques, guitar maintenance, and studio recording. A former Malaspina University/College student, he is also a producer and mix engineer, specializing in albums and demos for local artists. Jim also prepares students for entrance in music college.


I’ve been taking lessons with Jim Blair for 13 years. I started when I was 7 years old.

I love music and I love playing my guitar. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things I have done without Jim, because he doesn’t just teach you how to play the notes on your guitar. He teaches you how to be a musician. He’s taught me how to take care of my guitar; change the strings, fix the intonation, etc. He taught me how to prepare for recording sessions, what questions to ask, and what to expect when you are in the studio.

Something I found to be unexpected and unique was that he would be thinking about his students outside of his teaching hours. Every now and then he would bring in a video, a song, an album, or anything music related he thought might interest me. There hasn’t been one lesson with Jim where I haven’t learned something new.

I’ve played with 2 different bands now, “Systematic Dream” and “Mr. Goshness”, which have played many shows, and have each recorded an EP, thanks to Jim and his musical wisdom. These projects wouldn’t have happened without him.

-Kali Fawdry

Spencer Bowman - Drums

spencer_bowmanSpencer began drumming at the age of ten, and has since continued to develop his passion and skill on the drum kit. He has shared the stage and the studio with many of BC’s most talented musicians, as well as touring nationally with the progressive metal band The Body Politic. Many teachers have helped shape Spencer as a drummer, including Mike Johnston, Matt Halpern, and Dom Famularo. Spencer spent two years studying with Jesse Cahill at Vancouver Island University and holds a diploma in jazz studies. Teaching his first drum lesson at thirteen, Spencer continued teaching privately throughout his early teenage years. In 2016 he now teaches at Arbutus Music in Nanaimo, BC. Spencer’s goal is to inspire his students, as well as demystify the mechanics of drumming.

Paul Cimolini - Guitar (Beginner to Intermediate)

paul_cimoliniPaul began lessons at age 12, studying under Jim Blair. He has been playing guitar professionally for 15 years and has been teaching since 2004. Paul enjoys teaching young beginners, specializing in classic and modern rock. He plays in the bands “Atlas Collapses” & “The Eggmen”. Paul has opened live shows for Alanis Morrissette, The Goo Goo Dolls, The Trews, and The Cowboy Junkies. He also teaches ukulele, bass & songwriting.

Tamara Lea-Martella - Beginner Woodwinds, Vocals

Tamara Lea-Martella is a Vancouver Island based vocalist. Tamara has studied jazz at Vancouver Island University where she received her Diploma in Jazz Studies, and has also trained as a classical flutist at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Her studies have taken her to private study with top professionals in the music world to conventional study of pedagogy in a conservatory setting. Tamara Lea teaches beginner woodwinds and voice. Tamara Lea has over 25 years of teaching experience with all ages of students.

Tamara is a vocalist that can perform many genres of music but her love for jazz far out weighs them all. As a musician, she has contributed to a range of diverse genres including rap, rock, pop, gospel, blues and jazz. Tamara has performed in many festivals and has had the pleasure of opening for groups such as “The Real Group”, “The New York Voices”,Dee Daniels, and many more!


It has been said, “She will tell you a bedtime story,paint a scene with her song and take you to a place you have never been before…The power of Tamara’s voice and the beauty and refinement of her performance leaves the audience enthralled and enchanted longing for more……”

Edward Lee - Guitar, Ukulele

edward_leeEdward Lee is a very talented guitar player/instructor and is the audio engineer/producer and owner of Broken Spiral Studios in Nanaimo. Ed teaches a very wide range of styles on both guitar and ukulele including metal, fingerstyle/slap guitar, rock, blues and pop. With extensive training in Jazz Studies at Mallaspina College, Ed also enjoys teaching jazz theory, improvisation and reading notation.

We are very happy to welcome Ed to our wonderful teaching crew!

Alan Medcalf - Guitar, Banjo, Dobro, Ukulele, Electric Bass, Lap Steel (Beginner to Advanced)

alan_medcalfA professional musician for his entire life, Alan has performed on stage, TV, radio and recordings. During the last 15 years he has also focused on teaching privately and for seminars and classrooms. Styles taught by Alan include classic rock, jazz, roots, country and classical, plus music history and advanced theory for all genres. Al has sat on many music industry boards & committees and has an extensive background as a production manager, adjudicator, audio engineer and artist manager.

Performance credits include country artists Patricia Conroy & Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Canadian folk icon Valdy and drummer John Densmore (Doors). Al has also recently played for several productions of the stage show “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”. During this last summer he was the production manager for various concerts featuring Steve Miller, Bad Company, Chilliwack, The Odds & Doucette.

Kyle (VoxMan) Shepard - Beatboxing

VoxMan Kyle began creating sound effects with his voice at a very young age while playing with toys. You know the drill: elaborate punch and kick sounds, machine guns and explosions, flips and splooshes and the like. Then his parents got him a drumset and he learned to combine his passion for sound effects with his practice of rhythm. The result: one very unconventional and funky musician. Kyle is now a fusion beatboxer/vocal-scrambler honing techniques from sources as eclectic as ethnic choirs, electronic dance music, global percussion and cartoon voices. Kyle graduated from the University of British Columbia’s film department, specializing in audio design. Kyle teaches beatboxing and vocal-play around British Columbia, and performs for all different manner of folks with his dad in the notorious duo “The Big Mess”.

Marty Shepard - Trumpet

Marty Shepard was born & raised way too long ago in Chicago, Illinois. As one of the original members of REO Speedwagon, he opened for such groups as Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat & Three Dog Night. After touring the West Coast with Planet Swing, he has performed with Brooke Maxwell’s El SuperBando at the Empress Hotel, Victoria, Joëlle Rabu at The Port Theatre, Nanaimo, BC & Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and hs soloed at The Nanaimo Convention Centre. Marty currently performs at festivals and clubs in Nanaimo, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma and Puerto Vallarta with the father/son duo, The Big Mess, (of which he is the father aspect).

Marty also engaged in an independent trumpet career, telling gorgeous, heart-moving stories with his trumpet and flugelhorn. These tales can still be enjoyed on his CD “HalfLife”. Delightfully notorious for using a common toilet plunger to produce lush, bluesy tones with his horn, he is admired as a uniquely passionate musician.

Hilary Whelton - Vocals

hilary_wheltonHilary holds both a Bachelor of Music Diploma (Classical) and an Associate in Music Diploma (Jazz). She is the Vocal Director for the Bard to Broadway Theatre Society and is the Administrator and Instructor for Bard to Broadway’s Performing Arts Education Series.

Hilary has appeared as mezzo-soprano/alto soloist for Handel’s “Messiah”, Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and Vivaldi’s “Gloria”. She has also appeared as the aging courtesan, Aunt Alicia, in “Gigi”, and as one of the ensemble cast of “A My Name is Still Alice”.

Hilary teaches in Nanaimo at Arbutus Music and also in Qualicum.

Rob Wilkinson - Ukulele, Piano, Guitar

rob_wilkinsonRob Wilkinson has been in one band or another starting from around the time he was in middle school. Since then, he has done several years of study with the Royal Conservatory of Music and completed his second year of Jazz studies at VIU. He currently performs regularly with the Erika Phillips jazz quartet, the hard rock band The Body Politic, and pop-rock group Ah, Venice. In addition to the hours of practice and performance time on the piano, Rob also fronted the pop-rock group Sound and Science, and he plays the guitar and sings in his spare time.

Whether it’s following the Royal Conservatory methods of learning, improvising over chord progressions, or even just learning your favorite song; Rob’s wide variety of playing experience allows him the means to help you become a better player, using whatever genre or method is best for you and incorporating all-around musicianship in the process.

Wren Beckley - Vocals

Wren started taking voice lessons when she was 6 years old, and competed in classical and musical theatre singing competitions from age 10-17. She went to a performing arts high school for grade 12, and has since graduated from Vancouver Island University with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies as a vocal major.

She has been performing her original songs since she was 15, released her first EP at 16 years old, and a single the following year. For the last several years she has been performing in the folk band Ah, Venice, and more recently the r&b/neo-soul/jazz fusion band Don’t Freak Out – both of which perform original music.

Wren has been in over 15 musical theatre productions, and has been the vocal director of the children’s musical theatre program at Kismet Theatre Academy since September 2017.

In January 2018, Wren started teaching voice lessons, and has loved every minute of it. She teaches a variety of genres (including pop and country!), and enjoys helping her students write original songs. She can teach beginner-advanced voice, as well as beginner piano, and ukulele.

David Bamford - Brass Instruments

Born and raised in Nanaimo, David Bamford graduated from Vancouver Island University in 2015 with bachelor degrees in music and education. Since the completion of his studies, David has been active as a freelance musician across the island, performing frequently with groups such as Boomshack, Decadence, and the NMA Big Band, while also performing in multiple pit orchestras. David is passionate about working with young musicians, and has aspirations of teaching high school band in the future. In addition to teaching trumpet privately, he works as a TTOC in the Nanaimo school district, while also providing clinics and workshops on brass instruments for elementary and secondary students.