Jess Garland brings free music education to kids in South Dallas, Oak Cliff

Jess Garland is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, filmmaker, educator, president and founding director of Swan Strings, as well as executive director of Girls Rock Dallas.

Her first introduction to music was in both of her grandmother’s homes. One had a piano and the other had an organ. She began playing clarinet in grade school.

After high school Garland went to Eastfield Community College, where she studied classical guitar. She would later transfer to Southern Methodist University, which is when she began teaching guitar.

She has now been teaching guitar for more than 15 years.

“For the past 5 years or so I’ve been focusing more in the nonprofit sector,” Garland said. “I got an opportunity to teach at a nonprofit called La Rondalla in Oak Cliff founded by my late mentor Dennis González.”

When she transitioned into nonprofit status for her music teaching organization Swan Strings (formerly Guitar Lessons by Jess), her first two grants were from the City of Dallas. She also raised money through a GoFundMe campaign, while continuing music classes at Top Ten Records (until the pandemic halted continuation).

Her organization provides free music education and sound therapy services to North Texas individuals without access, primarily providing to South Dallas and Oak Cliff. She is looking to expand into Pleasant Grove this summer. There is also expansion as a performing and visual arts organization, curating unique music event experiences.
About a year ago, Garland became the executive director of Girls Rock Dallas. The year before that, she had done some summer programming for the organization.
“I’ve always admired what they were doing but had never been able to work with them because I was teaching a different side of town, so we weren’t able to make it work out [until now],” Garland said.
Girls Rock Dallas is a nonprofit organization that empowers young girls, queer youth and gender non-conforming youth through music education. They will be hosting their summer camp this year at South Dallas Cultural Center in July. Registrations are open for children ages 8 through 17.
“I’m hoping to bring in some more local musicians that can share with the campers how to run their music business, if that’s something that they’re interested in doing,” Garland said. “Just to show them that there’s an opportunity with what they can do in music and arts.”
Children will create bands and present a song they have written together at the end of the week.
Garland emphasizes the importance of fostering creativity among the campers, teaching musical basics of just a few chords and structure while encouraging the use of their own voice and imagination. Some of the workshops include journaling to help the kids get their thoughts down on paper.
“You’d be amazed at what you could come up with in a day by just being creative,” Garland says. “I think that’s the biggest thing I teach my students – how to be creative. It’s cool to learn how to play someone else’s song, because that is important. But you get down to fundamentals, you may learn some things you want to learn how to play, but I always just encourage them to create their own thing too.”
Find out more about the free 5-day summer camp on July 11 – July 16 here.
A woman sits smiling in a yellow dress

Jess Garland in her home in Dallas. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Jessica Waffles is a freelance photographer/videographer and regular contributor to KXT. 

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