Chimaway Lopez (L), Jamey Geston (C) and Brandi Rose Lentini rehearse at Notes for Notes in Santa Barbara. (Diane Bock/KQED)
Walk into a Boys & Girls Club after school, and you’ll see kids playing basketball, working on art projects, maybe getting a head start on their homework. And in a growing number of clubs, you’ll find kids creating music, through a free program called Notes for Notes.
At Santa Barbara’s Westside Notes for Notes studio, an improv jam session is in full swing. Little kids sing along to karaoke, bang on drums and fiddle around on a mini-synthesizer. Ten-year-old Sam Sotelo is here nearly every day.
“I play keyboard and ukulele,” he says. “You get very creative, and I really like all of the instruments. I just hope everyone can come here because it’s very fun!”
In the next room, behind a wall plastered with posters of Tupac, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash, there’s a professionally equipped recording studio. High school senior Maxton Schulte lays down drum tracks for his second studio album.
“Say one day I made it, I’d still want to track here,” he says with a laugh.
Schulte first picked up a guitar when he was 9 years old. Today, he’s a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and member of a band called The Caverns. He’s been recording at Notes for Notes for the past year.
“You’re not getting some cheesy-sounding garage band recording,” he explains. “Everyone is super supportive, you know, people want to collaborate with you. I meet new people here every week. It's always a good vibe here.”
Bre Wright is at the control board, helping Schulte fine-tune his recording. She’s a fellow musician, and a Notes for Notes program director.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever gotten to be involved with,” she says. “Just like this intermingling of all different generations of already musicians, or musicians to be. And I know that any of us who are the staff all say the same thing, 'Man, I wish I had one of these when I was a kid!' ”
Giving all kids access to music is what Notes for Notes is all about. The first studio, called the Music Box, opened in a Santa Barbara teen center in 2007. Thanks to its partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, and sponsorships from Gibson, Les Paul and the Country Music Association, Notes for Notes has thrived. Today, there are studios in Nashville, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Just this week, a Ventura studio opened its doors, and Atlanta, Brooklyn and Detroit are set for later this year.
Guitars line the wall, and a drum kit dominates the room inside Santa Barbara’s Eastside studio, where three high school musicians rehearse an acoustic ballad. Seventeen-year-old Chimaway Lopez plays guitar.
“I've played violin since third grade, but I always wanted to play guitar ’cause of Jimi Hendrix,” he says. “But I was scared, because it had six strings.”
Brandi Rose Lentini, 15, is a third-generation musician with a powerful voice.
“I’ve been told so many times by my teachers, 'Music’s not going to get you anywhere so just stop, just stop it!' ” she says, shaking her head. “Then coming here, I actually told the people working here about that situation. They just said that’s completely wrong, and that there is people out there that’s supportive of you, and that's here.”
Notes for Notes arms these kids with the skills and confidence they need to market themselves as professional players and land gigs. Singer-songwriter Jamey Geston explains.
“I’m not a great student, like I'm you know, pretty average,” she says. “Coming to the Music Box makes me remember there’s more than just school, so it’s opened my eyes as to what’s after high school, and what you can do in the music industry.”
And these musicians will get a taste of just what they can do when they open for Peter Frampton at Notes for Notes' annual benefit concert this Sunday at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre.
This story is dedicated to the memory of dear friend and fellow music lover Vivian Beutel.