Day Job: Cougar

When David Henzie-Skogen sits down to write a song, it isn’t always for his band, the instru-/experi-mental five-piece Cougar. Sometimes he’s writing songs for kids.

[Unfamiliar with Cougar? Check out their installment in the Bad Penny’s “Meet and Greet” series.]

No, not lullabies or Raffi rip-offs – songs for teens to actually play in their high school marching band.

This isn’t nearly as bizarre as it may sound. Henzie-Skogen – who hails from Madison, Wisconsin – hasn’t lost his marbles. He just has a job is all, one that requires him to impart to a local high school some of the skills he partially learned at the same institution.

You see, Henzie-Skogen teaches drum lessons, almost full-time. And he’s devoted about 17 years of his life to the program he’s attached to.

“I write the score, essentially, the drum lines and the basic parts” for the school, he told me last year. “There’s a winter program and a summer program, and the summer is full-time for six weeks starting in June, and the winter, it’s weekend stuff, traveling around the Midwest.

“The program I work with, I’ve been involved with on one level or another since I was, like, 13,” he continued. “Since I was an eighth-grader. … I marched in their drum line when I was in high school. Then I started assistant teaching after I got out, and I took over the percussion part of it in 2004.”

Since Henzie-Skogen didn’t go to college, he’s effectively been part of the high school for more than half his life. Still, he hasn’t gotten sick of or disillusioned by wandering those same halls many of the days when he isn’t on tour.

“In a way, it’s kind of a cushy teaching gig, because I don’t have to do a lot in terms of discipline,” he said, waxing positive. “It’s not like a math class, where a lot of the kids don’t want to be there. Like, if you show up at this kind of program, you’re obviously the kind of person that wants to drum all day, every day.”

Obviously, being in a band, Henzie-Skogen doesn’t have a flawless attendance record at the school; dude’s gotta tour, after all. But as he explained, his teaching gig is actually kinda ideal for a musician like him.

“It just never really presented any hurdles, because I have other teachers who help when I’m on tour. It’s no big deal. And a lot of the work is writing music, which I do on the road. It’s not that hard to do whenever I’m not on tour.”

In fact, his job “balances the whole touring-as-a-performer thing pretty well, because there are two sides of the coin: When you’re touring, you’re demanding that people pay money to come to see you do what you do. When you’re teaching, it’s your job to give your attention fully to other people. I think it kind of balances things out pretty well. And it’s fun to be around 14-, 15-year-olds who, like, every new they find about is the best band they’ve ever had. Everything that happens is brand-new, every joke is the funniest joke you’ve ever heard. Everything is the most insane thing that’s ever happened in your life.”

Call it what you will – naïveté or a sense of discovery – but seeing kids come to life in that way in turn inspires Henzie-Skogeninspired, he explained. And in addition to that inspiration, the job grants him precious paychecks, too.

“It’s nice to come home and have some kind of semi-stable income,” he said. “Sometimes tours are gravy. And sometimes everybody is not making bread.”

For more on Cougar, check out their installment in the Bad Penny’s “Cover Me” series.

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