McNary shoots for the stars with studio plan

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Jim Taylor, Jason Heimerdinger and Todd Layton at Studio M, where they hope students will learn how to record music. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

In a weird way, the quote in the wall is fitting. It reads: “Aim high and consider yourself capable of great things.”

The room was previously the home room of art teacher Connie Toland where her students created award-winning pieces that garnered acclaim and monetary prizes for McNary High School.

Once complete, however, Studio M-–a top-line recording studio–will have neither the quote, nor the wall. It will give way for a potentially even greater thing to take its place.

Studio M is the dream of several Celtic fine arts instructors to create a space where students can learn all the ins and outs of recording production and be career-ready upon graduation.

“We want the kids to have a CD of their musical work, but we also want them to go out and get a job making CDs,”said Todd Layton, McNary digital arts instructor.

Through Studio M, it will be possible for students to survey the various types of roles in artistic productions and develop a greater sensibility for what artistic work entails.

“It will help them understand the distribution process. It will illustrate how, when they have an idea, to create a product,” said Jason Heimerdinger, McNary’s resident video production instructor and activities director.

Currently, the space is a bit disorganized and it’s likely to be a work-in-progress for the next year or two, but choir director Jim Taylor has never been one to nurture small dreams. With all the proper equipment in place, Studio M could empower students to learn the minutia of video and sound production, work on voice acting skills, produce multimedia portfolios and create their own showcase events, like a fashion show.

Layton is hoping to offer a deejaying class whose students would provide the musical element to the latter.

“We get specialized training for every one of those kids: the musician, the singer, the voice actor, the engineer, a deejay and the producer,” Taylor said. “We’ll spend two years training the first group of students and then it will be up to those students to train the freshmen and sophomores after that the teacher’s role is that of a mentor.”

Big dreams, of course come with a price, but Taylor estimates that about $20,000 would produce a jewel within the Salem-Keizer School District. Which, when placed up against the $1 million or more being sought for a new turf football field, doesn’t seem quite so outlandish.

“Ten years ago, it would have taken $200,000 to get to the same space,” Taylor said.

In addition to monetary donations, needs include: microphones, mic stands, lots of audio wires and cabling, fire curtains, acoustical tiles, a full set of studio instruments, Mac Minis and some specialized software. The project coordinators are also looking for licensed professionals capable of helping with installation.

The Divine Foundation, a local nonprofit that helped fund the McNary choirs’ first two CDs, already has upward of $2,500 to contribute to the project. Uptown Music is helping the school acquire low-cost equipment and store employees are assisting with the installation of various components in their off-hours.

While the room is undergoing the transformation, instructors will be putting it to use in choral, video, and instrumental instruction. By the end of the academic year, Taylor expects to be able to invite other schools within the district to work on their projects.

“You’ll see Kennedy Elementary School choir students standing on the risers, high school students coordinating the recording and then giving it back to the students on a disc they can share with their families,” he said.

Within a couple of years, Taylor hopes that the studio helps his students achieve another big dream:

“To go into the music store and pick up a two-CD set where the students have produced all the music, students shot and scored the making-of documentary on the second disc, students wrote all the liner notes, and business students helped build the marketing network that got it into the store,” he said.


Studio M sound booth is piece of music history

Studio M will be a work in progress for some time, but McNary High School choir director Jim Taylor laid claim to one of the centerpieces last year, a sound booth used by singer-songwriter James Taylor, no relation.From the outside it’s nondescript, but step inside and the first thing you’ll notice is a scrawl on the wall, it’s Taylor signature followed by the words, “Sat in this quiet box and wrote most of “October Road” off and on starting fall of 2000 through early 2002 if memory serves …”

Last year, the then-owner was making some changes and opted to donate the booth that would have fetched around $28,000 new and only slightly less than that used.

“I got an e-mail sent to teachers throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley saying someone had an isolation booth that was something a friend gave to them,” Jim Taylor said. The booth had been offered to several area colleges and all had turned it down.

After getting permission from principal John Honey, Taylor leapt at the chance to give it a new home.

Once he had the booth, Taylor got another surprise.

“Lisa Aofrate was the original purchaser and she’d gotten the booth at an art auction. She called and said she was going to have the original manufacturer come in and install it for us. She also had them replace all the rubber gaskets and restore it to original condition,” Taylor said.

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