The unassuming office tucked behind a Locust Street office should be a community center of sorts around the summertime.
Denton guitarist and business owner Thad Bonduris has been teaching guitar (and banjo, and a few other instruments) from the snug spot for roughly 10 years. These days, the Bonduris School of Music is in transition. Soon, it will be rebranded as Soundbox Musicworks, and Denton recording artist and violinist Leoncarlo Canlas will be the new owner.
Soundbox Musicworks will still be a music school, but Canlas has some other things in mind.
“I want it to be a rehearsal space, a limited recording studio, and most of all, I want this to be a place where the music company can come and hone their craft,” Canlas said.
Canlas has been teaching violin, viola and production at Bonduris School of Music. For a lot of North Texas music fans, Canlas is familiar for his performing and recording work with the Polyphonic Spree, Dave Brubeck, Alejandro Escovedo, George Clinton and Seryn. He performs in Denton, Dallas and Fort Worth under the name Leoncarlo. He keeps pretty impressive company.
Bonduris has worked with Chris McCarty, George Strait, Bubba Hernandez, Arthur Barrow, Mario Cruz and Greg Bissonette. Grammy winners Jeffrey Barnes and Danny O’Brien teach at the school.
Bonduris said the move is really semi-retirement. He’ll stay on as a teacher at Soundbox. But he won’t have to shoulder the books and bureaucracy of keeping a business running and humming.
“When I started this about a decade ago, it didn’t seem at the time to be as expensive as an endeavor as it would become,” Bonduris said. “I woke up one day, and what was then a niche turned into a full-blown industry. ... You’ll get an email every other day selling software to start teaching music or start a music school business.”
Bonduris was teaching guitar years before teens’ performances at local battles of the bands drew legions of parents, armed with video cameras (and then cellphones). He wrote his master’s thesis on creating a curriculum to teach adult musicians how to play in a garage band before School of Rock franchised a brand and a teaching model.
He also found that running a business took time away from time with his students.
“I wanted to get into my own curriculum, and I do use my own curriculum. But I wanted to do more of that than the bean-counting,” Bonduris said.
Both he and Canlas studied at University of North Texas, but they met at a Denton venue.
“I was just wandering the Square, and I walked by Banter [now the site of 940’s Kitchen & Cocktails] and I heard this music coming out,” Canlas said.
A long-running band, Le Not So Hot Klub, was jamming at the local bar. Canlas had his violin with him. He approached the big band and struck up a conversation with Austin Smith, a member of the group.
“I’m standing there talking to him with my violin on my back,” Canlas said. “Austin saw that and told me, ‘You know, if you want to sit in and play some tunes with us you can.’ So I did.”
Bonduris, who has played with Le Not So Hot Klub since its inception, said he appreciated Canlas’ chops right away.
“I love making music with this guy,” Bonduris said. “Well, a violin teacher was leaving and I was talking to someone about where I was going to find someone else to teach violin. They said I should ask [Canlas] and I was like, ‘Why didn’t I think of that? He’s an amazing musician, and we’ve played together.’”
Canlas said he intends to “preserve the spirit of Bonduris School of Music,” which is student-centered in philosophy. Teachers will work with students toward their goals — whether it’s teaching a student how to get through songs or teaching them to read music or focus on technique (“We’re not going to shove that down anyone’s throat if they aren’t interested in technique,” Canlas said. Bonduris added: “But we’re not going to keep that from anyone who wants that.”)
“We’ve built a really good network of musicians,” Canlas said. “We cater to all levels of musicians. We’re here for musicians in the area or novices who want to learn. But we also want to be the place for musicians who need someplace to rehearse or collaborate.”
Soundbox is already renting out space by the hour, and Canlas said he wants to foster a spot for Denton’s creative community. If musicians and writers have a shared vision, Canlas said Soundbox Musicworks will be a spot where they can gather and work. If a musician wants to record a demo, the studio will be able to help them produce that.
“This is a beautiful community,” Canlas said. “I want to interface with the community as much as possible.”
Bonduris said he has no plans to leap into a recliner and rest.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I can’t stop teaching, because teaching is part of me and what I’ve done my whole life. I’ve been teaching 40 years. And I always want to learn. There are gigs I go on where I’m the teacher, and there are gigs I go on where I’m the student. I’ll still be here.”