Dan Brenner is living two lives.
For most of the year, the 31-year-old West Manchester Township resident is a music teacher with the Spring Grove Area School District. He's busy keeping up with three high school and one middle school jazz bands, marching band, drumline, music classes, his work with the swim team and the ninth-grade mentoring program, and the high school Hacky Sack Club.
"I hope to inspire my students half as much as they inspire me," he writes in a recent email interview.
But when school's out, Brenner has time to play -- and his playground of choice is music, both as a longtime member of popular York County group Mark DeRose and The Way Home and as a solo artist.
"During the school year, my performing, writing and recording takes place on the weekend only. I'm just like all of the other 'weekend warriors,'" he writes. "However, during the summer, I live as a full-time musician. I write, perform and record as much as possible."
But the two halves of Brenner's life dovetail nicely, thanks to support from the people around him.
"I find that it's a good balance for me. The one keeps me fresh for the other and vice versa," he writes. "My students, co-workers and administration are very supportive of my musical endeavors, and my bandmates are very supportive of my teaching. I'm truly blessed with having the best of both worlds."
Reaching out: This summer, as he works on developing his first full-length studio album, Brenner is reaching out to find a broader base of support through the online crowd-funding platform Kickstarter.
"I released an acoustic EP entitled 'All I've Got' in 2010," he writes. "This is my first 'plugged-in' album as a solo artist."
Brenner's Kickstarter campaign, launched in mid-July, is nearly 90 percent of the way to its $3,000 goal. The contribution window will be open through Monday, Sept. 3. Depending on their donation level, supporters can opt for copies of the album, Skype concerts, their own personal song penned by Brenner and even a live performance.
The money raised will pay for post-production costs on the album, such as mixing and mastering the music and producing the physical CDs.
"The rest of the project is being paid out of my own pocket," Brenner writes. "Whether I reach my goal or not, I will definitely finish the album. Reaching my goal on Kickstarter will allow me to finish the album at a much quicker pace," which will keep him on track for an anticipated May release. Not reaching his goal could delay the album for months while he works to build up the capital to finish it.
The album: Brenner expects to include at least 10 tracks on the finished album, with substantial work completed on eight so far.
"The listener can expect to hear a driving rhythm section, lots of guitars, lots of keyboards and lots of vocal harmony," he writes of his musical style.
Because of his busy schedule, Brenner will "work on the project in bits and pieces until it is completed."
Those "bits and pieces" include the lion's share of the songwriting duties as well as "all of the vocals (lead and backing), keyboards, drums and percussion on the album" and some rhythm guitar. Two of Brenner's bandmates in Mark DeRose and The Way Home -- Jay Baab on lead guitar and Ben Eberts on bass -- are stepping up to lend their talent to the album.
"I love making music with my brothers in the band," Brenner writes, assuring fans he has no plans to embark strictly on a solo career that leaves the band behind. "I can't imagine a musical life without them."
But whereas his music with the band "revolves around Mark's theme of feel-good music" with "positive and upbeat" themes, Brenner branches out with his solo pop work.
"My music is typically a bit more edgy than what we do in (the band) because I have no problem if the context or the mood of the song doesn't 'feel good,'" he writes. "I love making feel-good tunes with my bandmates, but I love a sad song, too."The song "Time," for example, touches on a topic that's more painful than feel-good, but it's a familiar situation that listeners can likely relate to.
"I watched one of my best friends deal with a family member's illness," Brenner writes. "Though I wasn't experiencing the situation firsthand, I certainly hope my friend can take comfort in the message of the song."
The points of connection and meaning are important to Brenner, who is writing or co-writing every song on the album.
"I'd like to believe my music is accessible to everyone because I write about real-life situations," he writes.
Starting out: It helps, too, that Brenner's musical tastes and background span decades before his birth. Blame his dad for that one; as a teenager, Brenner was playing guitar and hand percussion in his father's band -- an experience he describes as nothing short of "awesome."
"Other kids were hanging out on a Saturday night, and I was getting an amazing music education and making a few extra bucks" playing pop songs recorded in the 1950s onward, he writes. "I guess it was a little strange for this young kid to be playing music that was popular 30 years before he was born, but I never looked at it that way. Good music is good music. It doesn't matter when it was written."
It's hard to find a decade of pop and rock music Brenner doesn't enjoy, from Smokey Robinson to Billy Joel, Styx, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and so forth, all the way up to modern groups like Anberlin or 30 Seconds to Mars.
"My musical interests are all over the map," he writes. "When I play smaller acoustic shows, I have been known to reach way back and play a few covers of older hit songs from the '50s and '60s in order to pay homage to the music that gave that 13-year-old kid a start."
With Brenner's Kickstarter campaign, every music lover has the opportunity to reach out and help that 13-year-old kid, now 31, cross a finish line and complete his own album -- maybe even one that will inspire another generation of young musicians.
How to contribute
Fans who want to contribute to Dan Brenner's solo album project can learn more at his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DanBrennerMusic, or his Kickstarter campaign page, www.kickstarter.com/projects/119312445/help-dan-brenner-complete-his-2nd-solo-album. The contribution deadline is Monday, Sept. 3.
The new album will be released on CDBaby.com and iTunes and available at Brenner's solo shows when it is complete. Listen to samples from Brenner's 2010 acoustic album, "All I've Got," at www.cdbaby.com/cd/danbrenner.
Learn more about his music at www.facebook.com/DanBrennerMusic.
-- Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.