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Grammy Museum Music Revolution Project boosts teens' creativity

The clash of drums, the soul of the saxophone and the vibration of the guitar strings filled the University of South Florida School of Music classroom.

Five young musicians racked their brains trying to create a song for Bruce Springsteen.

The only problem? Not one was very familiar with his work. They each had their own music style, reflected in their wardrobe choices: the guitarist tapping his bright orange Vans and the pianist rocking sunglasses like the greats.

Now they had to adopt Springsteen's style, even though Springsteen may never hear the song.

The exercise was part of the unique seminars and workshops that make up the Grammy Museum's Music Revolution Project — a summer program that connects aspiring teen musicians with Grammy winners and music professionals.

Mentors have engaged students at Ruth Eckerd Hall and St. Petersburg College as well as USF during the past four weeks.

It concludes Thursday with a "Closing Night" performance by the students at Ruth Eckerd that's free and open to the public.

It's the program's second year and first in Tampa Bay after the pilot program launched in Kansas City, Mo. The plan is to introduce the program to a new city each year to find kids with Grammy artist potential.

"We had 370 kids try out and we could only take 27," said Bob Santelli, Grammy Museum founder and Music Revolution Project executive director. "It wasn't about who's the best, but the ability to think outside the box. They had that something to set them apart: music, vision and creative possibilities."

While some camps make musicians better at what they already know, Santelli said the project looks to put students in uncomfortable situations, playing unfamiliar genres.

Santelli achieves this by incorporating music history classes, guest speakers, group work and recording time in the studio into the monthlong program. His goal is to expose them to new ideas so their vision of music is more articulate.

The writing for a specific artist exercise illustrated the creative focus.

The students divided into groups of five with one of the guest artists assigned to each group. They then created a song that mimics particular artists such as Springsteen, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Maroon 5.

"I listened to Maroon 5 an hour ago for the first time," said saxophonist David Sharfstein, a 17-year-old from Tarpon Springs High.

A group hoping to emulate Swift divided into two, with one focusing on lyrics and the other on music.

"The main subject is first love," explained Natalie Yob, a Berkeley Preparatory School 17-year-old. "It's the concept of love and growing. We are in high school or graduating and we are all experiencing it in our own lives."

Raydar Ellis, the guest speaker for the week, sported a T-shirt decorated with a Snoop Dogg cartoon face and vintage Adidas striped sneakers as he assisted the Katy Perry group.

The students with Ellis debated how to transform their Red Hot Chili Pepper sound into Katy Perry, and a synthesizer seemed to be the answer.

Ellis, a Berklee College of Music graduate and professor, signed up to help after hearing some of the songs produced by teens at last year's project.

"I am impressed with their willingness to try new things, especially since they are at the age where self-consciousness is higher," Ellis said.

At the end of the day, the students all gathered in the large auditorium. In just under two hours, five groups that had never played together created chemistry while presenting their artist-inspired songs.

While their peers played, the others danced in their seats, especially Kayla Engberg, a 14-year-old from Paul R. Smith Middle School in Pasco County.

"Everyone here is really good," Engberg said. "We can just come in in the morning and start jamming. There aren't many places where you can find that."

Kevon Mayers, 17, a Lakewood High grad, shared the same enthusiasm. He played the saxophone in middle school, but picked up the guitar, piano and keyboard just two years ago and was talented enough to be chosen for the program.

"I want to become a better musician and learn different aspects to grow," said Mayers, who will attend Florida Atlantic University, majoring in computer science with a minor in music.

"I will use computer science to fund my music."

Arielle Waldman can be reached at


The Grammy Museum's Music Revolution Project concludes with a "Closing Night" performance on the Ruth Eckerd Hall Main Stage at 7 p.m. Thursday. The event is free and open to the public. Tickets can be obtained by calling the Ruth Eckerd Hall ticket office at (727) 791-7400 or visiting the ticket office at 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater. The ticket office is open from noon to 6 p.m. today and until 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Grammy Museum Music Revolution Project boosts teens' creativity 08/13/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 5:32pm]
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