Huntington Beach educators mold musicians of tomorrow
This feature is the first in a series spotlighting teachers and students using innovative technology in the classroom.
The auditorium is buzzing with the sound of eager teenagers. At the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts (APA), production is in full swing on the school’s annual student-curated show: “Playlist.”
This year, 13 vocal students have prepared their own original songs, alongside 24 covers of some of today’s pop music hits.
Cailey Collado, a senior in the Music, Media and Entertainment Technology (MMET) program, takes the stage to run through her original song: “Bleed Red.” As her voice booms over the mic, three stage screens weave a live feed of Collado’s performance and a student-produced music video.
“Love’s not dead. Get it through your head, get it through your head, that we all bleed red,” she sings.
It’s clear these are not just students; they are true musicians.
MMET is the brainchild of Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) alum Jamie Knight (MMET’s first director) and ADE Michael Simmons, along with Huntington Beach APA. The program is incorporated into nine of APA’s available theater and music majors, giving students hands-on training in fields including theater tech, audio recording and video production (using Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X, respectively).
In the school’s auditorium, students use a Yamaha CL5 digital mixer, and have even rigged it to be portable, monitoring and controlling sound levels around the theater on an iPad Pro. The school also houses a recording studio with a guitar room across the hall, and several other collaborative music creation spaces the students are encouraged to use whenever they feel inspired.
Back in 2004, Knight started teaching a class on music technology and recording at APA, but there was no technology. His small class of 25 students was performing Cheap Trick and other rock ’n’ roll songs at a few restaurants, and even the Apple Store at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Fifteen years later, the program has grown to include 152 students majoring in MMET Popular Music and MMET Media, who are writing their own music, arranging songs with Simmons and performing live in three major shows a year: a Beatles show, “Playlist” and “Retrofest.” “Playlist” is now in its seventh year.
“It was imperative to let the students create a show that they wanted,” says Knight. “We have all the student leaders break the kids into groups of like five or six kids and the simple instruction is pick 10 songs that you would die to perform live, that are new. Then the student producers narrow those songs down, and the kids that like to write songs audition for the staff.”
What began as a music club singing rock covers is now a hands-on music education curriculum designed to teach students visual and performing arts, as well as the technical skills needed to succeed in the music industry.
“I would record all the parts on my iMac, in Logic Pro X and GarageBand, and I’d record them all, isolate them and I would teach it to my peers.”
“We don’t just focus on the technology,” Knight says. “It’s that performing arts experience that gives them leadership skills, confidence, team work, all of those soft skills that businesses want. You have to perform to get that, and then when you marry that with the technology and you give the kids the ability to have a real recording studio to work with, they’re going to be the next Steven Spielberg, or the next Paul McCartney.”
Knight and Nicole Kubis, MMET’s vocal director and a 2009 graduate from the program, have met with other educators to make the case for learning both the arts and the science in music education. “Apple products are equipped with the tools to [teach] that,” Kubis says. “They come with GarageBand, they come with iMovie … Now more than ever, kids are diving into that, which is great. You can’t be a one-trick pony in this world anymore.”
Kubis recalls her junior year at APA, when Knight asked her to dissect all the vocals on “Pet Sounds,” the complex Beach Boys album, and teach it to her peers.
“I had 13 juniors and seniors, myself included, and we sat in a portable four hours a day and just woodshedded these vocals,” Kubis says. “I would record all the parts on my iMac, in Logic Pro X and GarageBand, and I’d record them all, isolate them and I would teach it to my peers.”
Knight credits Kubis with pioneering this learning format, sharing audio files with students so they could — literally — walk around campus with their phones held to their ear to learn their parts. No sheet music, just iPhone. “It’s my life. Everything I do is on this phone,” Kubis says.
Today Kubis’s students are owning the stage like seasoned performers. Cailey Collado is grateful for the confidence Kubis taught her. Collado and seven other students organized an a cappella to open the show, an accomplishment she is sure wouldn’t have been possible four years ago. “Nicole’s got me so comfortable with harmonies now that I can write them on my own,” she says.
Olivia Ooms, a junior at APA majoring in MMET Popular Music, came in as a vocalist and guitarist and is now traveling back and forth to Nashville recording her own songs as a country music artist. (She’s even opened for Lady Antebellum with her band, Olivia Ooms and The Resistors.)
Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. at the Huntington Beach Union High School District Auditorium and Bell Tower.
The show goes off (almost) without a hitch, but the students power through their songs much like any pro. Drums, horns and backup singers line the stage while vocal majors (who all have a lead) move the crowd with their own songs and contemporary favorites by the likes of Jorja Smith and Leon Bridges. Backstage, a student crew queues up each performance with live and pre-recorded video, powered through one iMac.
Fearless — that’s one way to describe the students, who are now prepared for life after high school.
“I don’t know if it’s so much that the kids need to prepare for anything,” says Addison Love, MMET’s instrumental director and a 2014 grad. “The world needs to prepare for these kids.”
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