CLEARWATER — In the black box Murray Theatre at Ruth Eckerd Hall, five teenagers rehearsed an original song called Flowing With the Wind. A viola, a bass guitar, drums and keys filled out the sound as other kids lounged and danced in their seats.
They were students of the Grammy Museum's Music Revolution Project, a music industry camp at Ruth Eckerd Hall's Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts. The four-week, tuition-free program allows musically talented youth of diverse experiences to hone their craft. They take musical workshops, songwriting courses and mentoring sessions with professionals, and record their original songs. The program culminates in tonight's live performance of original work.
The Music Revolution project was created by the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. For the past four years, Ruth Eckerd Hall has partnered with the museum to bring the program to the area. The project is free for students because of grants and private donations to the Hoffman School of the Arts. Ruth Eckerd is the only venue in the country to conduct the program this year, largely because it has the resources to continue to grow the program. The Grammy Museum donated equipment for Ruth Eckerd's in-house recording studio.
Twenty kids ages 14 to 19 were selected to participate through an application process. Sharon Reid-Kane, vice president of education and outreach at Ruth Eckerd Hall, said that this year, the majority of applicants were girls.
"Two days before the deadline, we realized we would have to start recruiting some boys," she said.
Students were recruited through high schools, Boys and Girls clubs, performing arts groups, the local music scene and word of mouth from past students of the program.
"This year's Grammy class is beautiful — inside and out," Reid-Kane said. "They are musicians, performers and poets who share the common love of music and wanting to learn everything they can."
Kyah Robinson, 16, who attends East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, found out about the project through a flier in the mail one day before the application was due. Kyah plays piano, guitar and ukulele and writes songs. She started taking music lessons at age 7, but real life moved her to write her own music.
"I was getting bullied, so I started writing songs about it," she said.
Through this program, Kyah has found a new group of friends. Members attend each other's open mikes. She's now inspired to start a band.
The students work with three mentors, jazz musicians Butch Thomas and Frank Williams, and Jamie Hughes, a professor of songwriting at St. Petersburg College. The kids rotate in groups to collaborate on writing a song. They run through the songs for critique by the mentors. They study music theory, music history and composition. They also learn how to market and promote themselves.
For Bryan Rasco, 14, and Domenic Haynes, 16, exposure to the other students' musical experiences and approaches to songwriting were highlights of the program. Bryan, who will be a freshman in Gibbs High School's performing and visual arts magnet program, plays the double bass, trombone, piano, violin and bass guitar. He plays in two bands, Wizards and Ember.
Domenic, a student at Tampa's Alonso High School, is a singer and plays guitar. He's in a band called the Eclectics that he labels "indie funk." The band gets gigs all over the area and was recently featured on Fox 13's Good Day Tampa Bay. His onstage confidence, he said, is good for the program. "I can help (kids) get over their stage fright," he said.
Once the program is over, the kids tend to stay in the Ruth Eckerd Hall family, taking classes at the school of the arts or coming back for more advice.
Former students the Ries Brothers, who have enjoyed national success, credit the program as a launching point. They have now toured with Butch Trucks and Chicago and opened for David Cook and Los Lonely Boys. And they've headlined three sold-out performances in the Murray Theatre, at the same venue where they got their start.
Contact Maggie Duffy at [email protected] or (727) 893-8572. Follow @maggiedalexis.