For high schoolers in Kansas City Academy’s studio music classes, creativity is at the cornerstone of their program.
“Finding your own voice and putting something original out there is not a skill a lot of high schoolers are able to practice,” said music instructor Ben Hutchinson.
Indeed, there are those of us who went through high school as the shy, awkward brainiac kid — the one you didn’t really talk to unless you needed help with your algebra homework — and with few opportunities for creativity.
At KCA (7933 Main Street), two studio programs are offered, placing students in an intermediate or advanced band.
“Our bands are unique because we focus on original music, following their creative passions and learning through that avenue,” Hutchinson said.
With Hutchinson’s guidance, each student works with their respective band to write and produce original songs in the school’s professional recording studio. Through this, they acquire music theory, performance skills and competency as multi-instrumentalists.
“I know theory, I can write sheet music and vocal arrangements, and I make my own beats now. I wasn’t able to do that before I started learning to play piano,” senior Danny Hatem said. Hatem started playing drums at the age of 2 and came to the program five years ago.
Like many fellow students in the advanced class, sophomore Adam Vescovi had already gone through different music programs at other schools, but KCA’s emphasis on self-expression piqued his interest and aspirations.
“Writing my own stuff, persisting through learning and being on stage made me think, ‘Whoa, I can actually do this,’” he said. “One of my goals is to start a totally new sound and keep pushing things forward. I’m really into experimenting with different noises.”
Playing with Woopwop, the advanced band, has also compelled sophomore Violet Stocker to forge a musical path after high school. “I’d love to front a band, or be a recording engineer, producer or talent agent,” she said. “Really, anything that can put me around the music community and let me work with musicians.”
But KCA’s music program isn’t just about cultivating the world’s next rock star. Through learning how to lead and collaborate with a band in numerous roles, the students gain life skills that become evident as they progress.
“I’ve watched my shy daughter emerge as a confident young lady with leadership tendencies,” said Denise Blake, whose daughter Taylor is a sophomore and in Gruntled, the intermediate band. “The program has transformed her world; she has stepped out in other areas of her life, using the skills she’s learned in music. This is a group of people who support each other, guide each other, criticize each other and celebrate each other as they produce a new song together.”
Sophomore Sophie Hendrickson recognizes the program’s effect on her development as well. “I’ve become more confident in stating my opinion,” she said. “The class has helped me lead by teaching others my own songs, fixing my own mistakes and taking criticism.”
And according to Hutchinson, these characteristics are key to each student’s success.
“The kids are sometimes unleashing very serious stuff in their music — some of their worst and greatest fears, hopes and dreams. As their teacher, it’s my job to rip it apart musically,” he said. “I watch them get better at not taking things personally. Sometimes, I’m in rehearsals with adults and I have to tell them that the high school kids accept criticism a lot better than they do.”
This Sunday, KCA hosts a Battle of the Bands competition at Californos for nine high school-age acts; the winner’s song will be featured on next week’s Eight One Sixty. On April 29 at recordBar, you can catch a showcase of original music from the studio bands, Woopwop and Gruntled.
Listen to a Spotify playlist from the members of Woopwop of their biggest musical influences:
— If you didn’t already figure it out, Michelle Bacon was that shy, awkward brainiac kid in high school. Now that she’s slightly less awkward and brainy, she writes web content for 90.9 The Bridge, plays drums with Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds, bass for Heidi Gluck & the Pony Show, and whoever else asks. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @michelleobacon.