Jack Tolan ‘05 Finds True Success Enriching Lives with Music

by Tim O'Keefe

Not all music careers start on a soccer field. 

However, when Jack Tolan ‘05 witnessed his high school teammates Nick Forbes ’05 and Chris Sellers ’06 playing guitar on the soccer field at CRMS, it sparked his interest in the social music scene. Initially he drummed outside the Bar Fork and learned guitar from anyone who would teach him. Music teacher George Weber fanned that flame as a band leader and coach over the next three years.

In his senior year, Jack had to give a solo performance in the CRMS Barn to the entire school. “It was terrifying and profound and made me less shy,” he shares. At the time, he had no inkling that he would eventually play over 850 shows and pursue music as a professional career.

Jack’s progression to a professional music career was a “slow burn” which he ties back to CRMS in many aspects. At Colorado College Jack minored in music, took private guitar lessons, and played in several bands including The Nomadic Bastards, Suspiciously Crispy, and The Dudes of Brohan. He kept saying “yes” to music, putting in tons of time learning guitar. It was during this time at Colorado College that he met future bandmate Alex Paul at a telemark ski competition. 

After college, Jack traveled, skied, and explored with music, landing in Jackson, Wyoming in 2012. There he joined the funk band Sneaky Pete & The Secret Weapons. The small, mountain town was hungry for local music which the band filled by playing parties and public shows. 

On tour, they stuffed the music gear into the van and put kayaks and camping gear in the trailer. Jack had learned to kayak at CRMS and those outdoor adventures continued as the band prioritized playing shows as much as camping and float trips. It was during that time that Jack saw that he could make a career out of music.

Jack’s mindset with Sneaky Pete was, “This is it; this is what you’re doing,” and he believed the band needed to reach a certain level within the touring music scene. But Jack’s definition of success would change when he and Alex Paul reunited to form the band Birds of Play in 2019. 

Jack and Alex had originally crossed paths in college and their relationship grew during a ski trip shoot with Sweet Grass Productions. “Alex and I connected on that ski trip in a huge way through skiing and through music and through these things that I valued because of my experience at CRMS,” adds Jack.

As a band Birds of Play blends guitar, bass, mandolin, violin and vocals, to according to their website “paint mesmerizing sonic portraits filled with intricate textures and subtle shadings, coupled with touching, thought-provoking lyrics inspired by the natural world, the human condition and the ever-changing nature of relationships.” In short, they create inspired music that speaks to people in powerful ways, and have a lot of fun in the process.

On stage, the band enjoys recounting humorous anecdotes from their day in a raw and authentic manner. The band enjoys bringing out emotions in people, moving them to tears one minute and laughing uncontrollably the next. “What I realized I loved most about the actual touring and playing at a different place every night is connecting with so many different people and seeing how our music is feeding and enriching them.” 

For Jack, this is what success is all about. Not touring nationally, having a song top the charts, or getting into a certain festival. “The real reason I love music is that I feel like I’m enriching people’s experiences – that’s the coolest thing.”

Stargazer, written by bandmate Anneke Dean, is one of Jack’s favorite Birds of Play songs to perform. People react to it with awe and wonder. Jack shares, “I get giddy before we play it because of the build throughout the song.” Jack also loves the song Tarab that he wrote. The song is inspired by Arabic word Tarab which means a state of bliss brought on by a powerful musical experience. Many of Birds of Play’s songs wrestle with lofty questions about humanity and people’s relationship with the natural world. 

“I could draw so many lines back to CRMS. CRMS was the birthplace of deep relationships that are forged from the range of activities and things that CRMS offered. Birds of Play exists because of the seed planted at CRMS. It’s so special. And there are so many stories that are like this for me. It all really comes back to CRMS and the really broad smattering of amazing things I was exposed to at CRMS.” 

Jack remains grateful for his CRMS education. “I thought things like learning to kayak and group management techniques in high school was normal. But the older I get the more I realize how truly unique my CRMS experience was.” His advice for current students: “Try everything. Stay really curious and dig into everything CRMS has to offer.”

Tags from the story

Alumni, Arts

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