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Artist in Residence: Rock Band to Record Album

Paul Downey, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications
As part of the Artist in Residence program, the High School Rock Band is recording and producing a record at Nashville’s famed Blackbird Studio this semester with the help of musician, producer, and educator Bryan Clark.
Established through the generosity of an endowed gift, the Artist in Residence program brings in experts in various artistic fields to the High School for a series of sessions within current classes, exposing students to new and innovative ideas and introducing them to influential leaders of the Nashville arts community.
 
This year, the Artist in Residence program rotated to Jim Aveni, Director of Instrumental Music, who decided to take advantage of the hotbed of music recording that is Nashville. Through Ensworth’s relationship with past parents John and Martina McBride, Aveni was connected to the studio owned by the couple. Blackbird’s resume includes working with artists such as Taylor Swift, Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, The White Stripes, Kings of Leon, Bon Jovi, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even Justin Bieber.
 
Aveni is very clear that the goal of the project isn’t to be overawed by the studio’s client list or be subjected to industry grind. “I wasn’t looking for someone to be the big Nashville producer,” Aveni asserts. “I was very clear with Bryan up front: no industry hustle to this. It’s got to be about the students having a great experience.”
 
Despite being a large Nashville studio, Blackbird’s location in Berry Hill, miles from Music Row, may help distance the project from any negative industry vibe. However, the studio is anything but down-home. Founded in 2002 by the McBrides, the sprawling complex is an impressive mix of cutting edge and vintage. The decor of Blackbird has been described as “The Four Seasons meets Moulin Rouge.”
 
Although he has decades of experience as a musician and producer, Clark also has a lengthy resume as a music educator. Having received his Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Southern California, Bryan has served on the faculty at Belmont University’s School of Music and Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. He has taught electro-acoustic composition, sound design and synthesis, songwriting, composition, jazz guitar, ear training, jazz harmony, computer music, contemporary music production, and the history of American song.
 
The teaching background is what sold Mr. Aveni on using Mr. Clark for the Artist in Residence program. “What’s so great about Bryan is that he’s an educator; that’s part of the experience,” Aveni explains. “And he’s a parent. He has children. He got it. He was like…absolutely.”
 
The overall learning experience was paramount to Aveni. “Let’s get in the studio. Let’s record a little bit. And let’s see what happens,” Aveni says. “It’s really about the kids having a great experience and an introduction to working in a professional recording studio.”
 
Starting in early January, Clark began visiting the High School once a week to work with the Rock Band after school to prepare them for the studio. On his first trip to Ensworth, he discussed the students’ favorite bands and his background. They also started working on a preliminary track list that would take best advantage of the group members’ strengths as well as give the students a breadth of studio experiences. The preliminary list included both contemporary pop songs and classics by artists such as Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, David Bowie, and the Beatles.
 
Subsequent sessions further refined the track selection, followed by a thorough rehearsal of the selected tracks. The Rock Band will enter the studio for three days in late February to lay down the tracks, and mixing will take place in March, with a final product ideally being released before the end of the semester.
 
The Artist in Residence program rotates through the visual and performing arts at Ensworth. In the 2016-2017 academic year, David Berry, Director of Theater, invited award-winning playwright Laurie Brooks to serve as Artist in Residence. Students worked with Brooks throughout the year to write, produce, and perform an original play. The product, presented in April 2017, was called Searchers, which explored questions of personal identity and relationships between teenagers, their peers, and parents.
 
The contemporary a cappella group, Encore, also took advantage of the Artist in Residence program in the 2016-2017 year with the production of their Just Love EP. Elias Salazar, Director of Choral and Orchestral Music, recruited arrangers and vocalists Jon Smith and Johnny DelToro along with producer Jill Clark. A team of live sound engineers from the Vocal Company recorded and professionally mixed Encore’s spring concert, which eventually became the Just Love album. Varsity Vocals, an organization that recognizes excellence in college and high school a cappella groups, recently included Encore’s “Youth” from Just Love on their “BOHSA: Best Of High School A Cappella 2018.”
 
Although he has no high hopes for a runaway success with the album, Aveni reiterates that it’s all about the students’ experience. He notes, “The goal of this project is to create for students a great introductory experience to the process of recording in a professional studio, so that they may gain familiarity and comfort with documenting their musical works.”
 
 The Artist in Residence program was established through the generosity of an endowed gift. The program brings in experts in various artistic fields for a series of sessions within current classes, exposing students to new and innovative ideas and introducing them to influential leaders of the Nashville arts community. For more information on endowed gifts or other charitable giving opportunities, contact Bedell James at 615.250.8919 or jamesb@ensworth.com. 
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