The kids are all right
Taking music education to the streets with Chico Music Youth
As with any other genre of music, there’s plenty of bad hip-hop. But this original track produced by Chico teens had potential: a slapping beat, a tastefully understated bit of melody, and most important, an MC with smooth delivery and heartfelt, personal lyrics. This wasn’t the pricey, professionally produced demo of an aspiring rapper, however, but rather an example of why Ben Beckman, the founder of the Chico Music Youth program, is so determined to bring the tools and technology of a modern recording studio to the Chico Boys and Girls Club.
Beckman came up with the idea for Chico Music Youth earlier this year during his final semester as a music industry major at Chico State. The program he envisioned would provide youth in the community, underprivileged or otherwise, not only access to the technology and tools needed to produce the contemporary types of music in which they were most interested—hip-hop, metal, punk, pop, etc.—but also the necessary guidance to bring their own creative visions to life.
Though the idea was there, the implementation was a bit problematic “I looked online at how to start a nonprofit and realized that I wasn’t gonna do it myself; you have to have a board of directors, stakeholders, etc.,” laughed Beckman. An instructor suggested he consult with Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE), an on-campus agency that places students with local volunteer programs, who in turn paired him with the Chico Boys and Girls Club. There, Beckman commandeered a weight room and began bringing his own computer and recording gear in to start giving hands-on lessons to anyone who wanted to learn.
For now the operation is small scale, but the Boys and Girls Club has plans to dedicate space for a permanent setup, and Beckman is coordinating with CAVE to recruit Chico State students to volunteer for the program starting this fall.
“We’re gonna take eight to 12 people off the campus next semester and pilot a program through CAVE and the Boys and Girls Club together,” said Beckman. “We’ll hopefully get a vocal coach, and a theory teacher, try to get an engineer over there, instrumental coaches.”
Currently, the most pressing issue for Chico Music Youth is the lack of equipment. Beyond Beckman’s personal studio setup, and a donated piano that as of yet has nowhere to go, the program is in dire need of some gear. To that end, local promoter Devil Kat Rock is putting on a benefit at Lost on Main Saturday (Aug. 15). The show will feature local acts as well as a special performance by members of Chico Music Youth, with proceeds going toward the purchase of equipment for the program. Donations of musical equipment will also be accepted at the benefit.
As the program begins to take shape, Beckman sees himself taking a lesser role, leaving the logistics in the able hands of others while he concentrates on what originally attracted him to the idea in the first place: passing on the musical knowledge he’s gleaned to those who otherwise might never have the chance to learn.
“I found that my strength is in working with the kids, trying to help them to produce, showing them how to use [beat-constructing program] Reason. I’m having a blast with those kids, even if I am taking a lesser role,” said Beckman, beaming while the hip-hop track, produced by three of his Chico Music Youth protégés, played through his cell phone.
“You figure some of these kids are better off not hanging out other places than at the Boys and Girls Club, so if you can get them to hang out at the club for a good amount of their time, then that’s a success. And if you can have a positive experience with them at the same time, and be a positive adult role model, then you really know that something positive is happening.”