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12 Apr 2020

Pandemic Stories: Despite the Stay-at-Home Order, the Academy of Musical Performance Finds a Way to Keep the Music Lessons Going

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The members of AMP band Delusional Youth during an online lesson with Courtney Chambers. The members of AMP band Delusional Youth during an online lesson with Courtney Chambers.

The Academy of Musical Performance, also known as AMP, is a music-education program for Coachella Valley students in grades six through 12. Since 2015, AMP has held after-school programs and summer camps, with local musicians teaching students about the basics of learning instruments, stage performance, songwriting and many other facets of music—all of which rely on the ability of people to get together.

So how does a program in which students learn by forming bands and performing continue at a time when we all have to stay home? Will Sturgeon, the executive director of AMP, explained how he, his fellow mentors and their students found a way.

“We’re currently still running our spring band program, which is ending in the coming weeks,” Sturgeon said. “I’ve been deep in trying to finish that and get the grants that we need to get us through this difficult time. It’s been a unique challenge trying to finish the band programming without having people in the same room together. How are we going to have some sort of final showcase so that the session doesn’t end in a fart?”

Each AMP session has ended with live performing showcases—some of which, I must say, were pretty fantastic. That, of course, won’t be possible this spring.

“So what we’ve been doing is drawing on some business-course lessons from AMP’s Rockin’ On program, which is our band-entrepreneurship program, and we are also working on our first-ever AMP album,” Sturgeon said. “We found a collaborative recording software that we are remotely teaching the kids to use, which had been something we had been wanting to do for a while. In mid-May, we’ll release that album in place of our usual final showcase for this session.”

The ability to record one’s own music is a useful skill in this current age of DIY music—pandemic or not—and the release of this album will give the young musicians an immediate platform they will be able to capitalize on when the COVID-19 scare is gone.

Meanwhile, AMP is offering online education using some of the same lessons used in the face-to-face sessions—and even looking at broadening its mission.

“We’re offering one-on-one instruction over video chat, and taking private students and pairing them with a teacher,” Sturgeon said. “We’d love to offer some more enrichment to our students and to our community, so we’re also going to be working on offering panels eventually. We have been wanting to start this for a while, and we were just getting ready to launch these (online) programs, and it was a perfect opportunity to give these virtual lessons out. People have a lot more time and may want to take up learning a new skill, and we want to be where people go to learn music and be in a music community.”

Courtney Chambers, an AMP teacher and veteran of the local music scene, said that while the shelter-in-place order has forced them to change the way they teach, it’s also made them change some of what they teach—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We have been teaching the students about social-media marketing, as well as promotional content, and how to practice efficiently and challenge yourself with new music and techniques,” Chambers said. “Our biggest project has been teaching them how to record and collaborate remotely with an online DAW (digital audio workstation) called Soundtrap. It’s been great to use this quarantine as an opportunity to touch on things we don’t normally have the time to in our regular sessions. I’m hoping that when we are able to resume band sessions in person, we can figure out a way to incorporate these into our regular format.”

Josiah Ivy, a current AMP student, said the program has helped him “a ton” to become the musician he wants to be.

“I joined my first AMP camp session after about a year of playing bass, and it was really my first experience playing in a band setting,” he said. “After that, I signed up and auditioned for the following AMP fall session, where I got a chance to really grow with a single group of musicians and learn how to be part of a band—on more than just a surface level. During that session, I was also invited to join a band separate from AMP that has worked out really well for me. If I hadn’t been invited by a friend to join AMP, I wouldn’t have been driven to improve so much at my musicianship.”

Ivy admitted he was unsure how the move to online lessons would work out.

“I was a bit skeptical of the online lessons at first, as I had joined to play with a band and already was recording music for personal projects,” Ivy said. “That said, I think that the focus on recording and collaboration has been really helpful for me and my bandmates, as it has gotten some of us more familiar with the software side of music and recording, as well as learning how to communicate politely and efficiently with each other to keep each other accountable on collaborative projects that take more than one day.

“The lessons have helped me learn to adapt to different types of software and learn to troubleshoot common problems for different software and different types of recording hardware. I’m really proud of the stuff my band has recorded so far, and I’m excited to wrap up what we’re working on—and hear what all of the other bands contribute.”

While the format of AMP’s future sessions remains up in the air, Sturgeon said he’s optimistic about the academy’s future.

“We run a big summer camp and are planning to still move forward with it as of now,” Sturgeon said. “We will adjust to any changes that will need to be made, but are still planning to have summer camp and our next AMP session in the fall. We are very lucky to have a lot of support from our community and board, who have done a great job of fundraising, to a point where we are not worried about AMP shutting down anytime soon. We are just focusing on how to provide types of programming that align with our mission in a time where people aren’t allowed to get together.”

Sturgeon said people will like what they hear from the current batch of students.

“Watch out for the AMP album in mid-May,” Sturgeon said. “I’m hoping to get some of our AMP-lumni bands on the record along with our current bands, and show off what we can do digitally versus on a stage.”

For more information on the Academy of Musical Performance, visit www.ampcv.org.

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