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Musician Bolland hits the books

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Like many musicians in school, Peter Bolland will be carrying a full course load of six classes during his fall semester at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif.

But he will be teaching these courses, not taking them. And while others might find it challenging to be a philosophy professor by day and a musician by night, he takes both in stride.

"I tell my students about my shows, although I can't give them extra credit for coming to see me play," quipped Bolland, who teaches classes in world mythology, Asian philosophy, ethics, introductory philosophy, and world religion.

The leader of The Coyote Problem, he also performs as a solo artist and in Allied Gardens, a trio that teams him with fellow singer-songwriters Sven-Erik Seaholm and Michael Tiernan. Their first album was released recently.

"For me, getting in front of a classroom and trying to focus the attention of a group of people around an inquiry or an idea is an art form, too, and the great teachers are also entertainers in a sense," Bolland noted.

"In class you have to use your body and voice to convey information, and it's not at all different from getting on stage with a guitar and trying to get people to focus their attention. It's pretty similar, except that - at my shows - I don't have to give grades."

It was as a second-grader in Ventura, Calif., that Bolland, the New Jersey-born son of Dutch immigrant parents, started taking piano lessons.
But it was only after he picked up a guitar two years later that his love affair with music took root:

"The guitar took over, because that's what The Beatles were doing and I was just drawn to that jangly sound. The guitar was somewhat manageable, whereas the piano reminded me of difficult scales and failure."

By junior high, Bolland was in a rock band with the decidedly non-Californian name of Manitoba. He played in cover bands while earning a bachelor's degree in religious studies at University of California Santa Barbara, from which he graduated in 1983.

Learning to play Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" and other classic rock songs, note for note, gave him a solid musical foundation. His own songs are very much in the quintessential singer-songwriter tradition of Neil Young, Gram Parsons and Jackson Browne, all of whom he cites as major inspirations.

"In philosophy, you have to learn the literature first - there's no shortcut - and I think that's true in music, too," Bolland, 49, said. "So playing in those cover bands was important to me."

After marrying in 1985, Bolland and his wife, Lori, moved to San Diego the next year. He enrolled at San Diego State University and earned his master's in philosophy, shelving his musical pursuits to study various existential conundrums.

He was inspired to start performing again in 1993 after he began teaching at Southwestern, where Mark Jackson, one of his students, suggested they form an acoustic duo. Known as Jackson-Bolland, they played at coffeehouses across San Diego and laid the groundwork for The Coyote Problem. Bolland launched the trio in 2002, shortly after releasing his self-produced debut album, "Frame." It's an alt-country gem full of introspective rockers and melancholic ballads like "Black Tar Heroin," which cogently traces the drug-fueled arc of a doomed relationship.

"Because of what he does for a living, Peter's songs have a spiritual and philosophical focus," said Seaholm, who produced both Coyote Problem albums. "He puts more subtext and information into one line, visually and emotionally, than any other songwriter I know."

The Coyote Problem's debut, "Wire," won Americana Album of the Year honors at the 2005 San Diego Music Awards. The band, which recently expanded to a quartet, is up for top honors in the same category at this month's SDMAs.

"Music comes from this strange tension between silence and sound, and good musicians know how to do both," said Bolland. "There's a quest and longing in art and in life. And, for me, that's what binds music and philosophy."
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