Lights On at FSKFrom left to right: Mentors Will and Michael teach student Jenny the classic “wicka, wicka, ahh” sound also known as two babies and a forward..

SPOTLIGHT 

Urban Music Program

Drop a beat or learn to scratch? If you are a student of AP Giannini and have enrolled in the Beacon/ExCEL after school program you can choose to do both by joining the Urban Music Program. Students receive instruction on scratching (want to make that indelible “wicka wicka awww” sound? Then you need to learn how to make 2 babies and a forward), creating beats using FL studio and Logic Pro and can even record using an electronic drum kit or synthesizer.

The program not only avails youth with a stunning array of equipment but also presents this with knowledgeable staff immersed in the practice of youth development. Youth are greeted when they arrive to Urban Music Program by the Founder and Coordinator Jon Bernson, and by the Instructor/Mentors (former students, now professional DJs themselves) Will Telgemeier, Michael Falsetto Mapp and Riley Largent with a club handshake. Students and adults then form a squarcle (not a square, not a circle) where the group does a daily check in. One of the rules of the squarcle is that no one is allowed to sit in front of or behind anyone; everyone (adults included) must sit side by side and treat each other as equals.

The program has been run by Jon Bernson through the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center for 15 years. Jon brings an approach to teaching that starts with “belief in a child’s capability.” From this starting point the Urban Music Program has been able to flourish and inspire students to channel their creativity through the production of beats and the real-time practice of DJing.

 

Listen to the beats

 

 

Student Interviews

 

Dylan – 8th Grade

  • ExCEL -  What made you want to join DJ Club?
    Dylan -  I came here in 6th grade. Half the time I did the B-Boy club. Then I stopped break dancing and 7th grade I was here and now 8th. In elementary school I played the clarinet. I just love music. My initials are DJ. I started playing drums and then a friend told me about this club. I can play the clarinet, trumpet and drums.
  • ExCEL – What makes DJing different then other instruments?


    Lights On
    Student Kevin works on his beats mixing drum,
    bass and melody using the software Logic Pro.


    Lights On
    Students work away at one of their many beats
    using the Logic Pro software.


    Lights On
    Mentor Will teaches student Emily two babies and a forward.

     


    Dylan – Playing instruments you have to read music and practice, a lot. DJing you have to practice, but you can make your own music. You can play.
  • ExCEL – How many songs have you written?
    Dylan – Written or made?
  • ExCEL – What’s the difference?
    Dylan – Well, writing a song has lyrics. Making a beat has no lyrics, just music: drums, melody, bass. I’ve made 7 beats.
  • ExCEL – What are you thinking about when you make a beat?
    Dylan – In band, for example, we’re playing the Beatles. So I like to add my twist to it. There are cool sounds that I like and I like to put them with the beat.
  • ExCEL – What does your family think about your beats?
    Dylan – At the end of the quarter we all share a beat and put it on a CD. They think it’s really cool that I’m into music and they love it.

Janet – 7th Grade

  • ExCEL - What made you want to join DJ club?
    Janet - It was in the summer and I thought it was a piano class, so I joined it.
  • ExCEL – What makes DJing different then other instruments?
    Janet – From my point of view the other instruments (Janet plays four other instruments: piano, violin, guzheng and the bamboo flute) are like doing homework. But for me DJing is for fun.
  • ExCEL – How many beats have you made?
    Janet – I don’t really know because I’ve made a lot. Most of them are not complete. If they are useless, I can forget about them. If they’re good, I can copy it into another beat.
  • ExCEL – What are you thinking about when you make a beat?
    Janet – I think about what theme I’m going to make for this beat. I play around with different themes. My favorite themes are creepy and weird ones.
  • ExCEL – What does your family think about your beats?
    Janet – They like my melodies.

Interviews with Staff

Lights On
Mentor Will shows off his ExCEL After School Programs T-Shirt!

 

Urban Music Program
Jon Bernson - Founder / Coordinator
Will Telgemeier - Instructor / Mentor
Michael Falsetto Mapp - Instr. / Mentor
Riley Largent - Instructor / Mentor

 

1. How long have you been a Musician / Producer / DJ?

  • Jon: I've been making music most of my life. Things really kicked into high gear around first grade when I landed a role in South Pacific, our school musical. Since that time, I've slowly learned to write songs, sing, play a few instruments, engineer, perform and teach. My DJ life began as a college radio Disc Jockey, which was a lot of fun.
  • Will: I've been a musician as far back as I can remember, humming or imagining melodies in my head. I spent hours listening to my parents records from 3 or 4 years old onward. I've always loved records because I could change the speed or switch songs easily! In 1999 I started DJ'ing and have been producing instrumental music since 2004 under the name Chill Will.
  • Michael: I've been DJing since 1998, and started making music a couple years after that, when I realized music would be a part of my life, for the rest of my life. 
  • Riley: I always wanted to learn an instrument, but never knew which one and for many years, didn't have the patience to learn when given the opportunity. I started learning how to DJ and make beats at UMP when I was 12 years old and have stuck with it ever since. Jon's approach to teaching was so unique and I pretty much instantly viewed him as a peer. This made listening to him and learning from him much easier. I started taking my production more seriously once i got more comfortable with things and started adding a sense of structure to my beats around 14 years old. I remember thinking: "Wow, this almost sounds like real music!" By 16 years old, I felt like i could actually complete a full piece of music. 

2. How long have you worked in youth development?

  • Jon: I started in high school, as a camp counselor in Yonkers, New York. After college, I joined Teach For America and taught in Oakland for two years before coming to SNBC to start the Urban Music Program. 
  • Will: I've been working with youth since 2006 right here in the ASLC program at A.P. Giannini Middle School. 
  • Riley: Since I was 12 years old, as a volunteer at the summer day camp that I went to practically my whole life.
  • Michael: I started working with youth in 8th grade as a assistant soccer coach and volunteered several summers for UMP before coming to work here.

3. What brought you to the A.P.G. / SNBC after school program?

  • Jon: In 1997, I was hired by David MacGillis (now E.D. at the Mission YMCA program). He knew I was a musician / teacher and invited me to start a music program. The prospect of creating something new was really appealing. I'm a fan of the blank slate and new possibilities.
  • Will: In my 8th year Grade at A.P. Giannini, my friend Cristobal told me I should check out an after school program called the DJ Club. At first I said "no way" but he insisted I go! Once I went and saw my friends mixing with turntables and records I thought, "Wow this is what I want to do for sure!" 
  • Michael: I met Jon when I was at Amoeba Music digging for records. They happened to be filming the documentary Scratch that day and UMP was doing a showcase. My interest was really sparked when I saw a bunch of youth on stage DJ'ing. After the showcase, I talked to Jon and got his contact info. Initially, I came to APG to meet with Jon and interview him for a report I was doing on the history of Hip-Hop and Turntablism. Soon afterward, I began volunteering in the program.
  • Riley: My older brothers were part of UMP. In 4th grade, I would drop by the program when my Mom came to pick them up. I always wanted to go a little early to check out what they were doing. It seemed cool and fun, so right when i got into 6th grade, I didn't hesitate to join.

4. The current program has two turntable set ups, multiple computers, a drum kit, a huge record collection, a dedicated space within Giannini and you, a fulltime staff person at SNBC, and four former students working as Mentors within the club. What was the beginning of the club like and how long did it take to build the program up to what it is today?

  • Jon: This program has been a work in progress for fifteen years. We began with one set of turntables and one crate of records, which we rolled around on a squeaky cart for ten years. About five years ago, we were given our own room, which began an avalanche of donations and long-term equipment 'loans.' Each piece of gear has a story attached to it; someone who donated their laptop or included us in a grant. 

    Over the course of many years, our mentors started out as volunteers, then received monthly stipends, then became part-time employees. They are integral to the program, which is why they're crucial to this interview. Also, UMP would not exist without the support of Sean Yeung (Director of Afterschool Programs), Michael Funk (former E.D.) and Megan Agee (Current E.D.) who have all guided the program's growth for many years.  

5. Why is teaching youth how to make a beat important?

  • Jon: Let me count the ways. It opens up the world of music and creativity. It forces a them to confront a blank slate and make choices about how they want to fill it. Developing the skills to make something new is one of the most empowering things a person can do (not to mention all the math, listening, spacial learning, discipline and emotional intelligence required to complete a piece of music).
  • Riley: So many reasons. It allows them to learn how a lot of their favorite music is made and how much work goes into a song, no matter how simple it may sound in the end. It teaches them the importance of setting short term goals to get long term results. It keeps them focused on getting something to sound right. Many kids get told what to like without being able to form their own opinions. I think making electronic music is a good way to discover what THEY like about something, without an overload of outside influences

6. Why is teaching youth how to scratch important?

  • Michael: I think of scratching as 'audio collage.' It's a great way for people to express themselves artistically. It's rhythmic, unique and for youth, scratching is a great escape from stress, as well as a motivating factor to try their best and master a craft. Learning different scratch techniques is great for the brain (motor skill development). The creative aspect of digging through records to find sounds, and combining things that were never "supposed" to go together is great for the imagination.
  • Will: I think teaching kids how to scratch vinyl is important because it shows them how to listen and sync themselves with beats and records. We also show them that it doesn't ruin the records when you use high quality needles and proper technique. It's like talking with sounds.

7.   Describe your teaching philosophy?

  • Jon: For me, everything starts with belief. Belief in music as a powerful and beautiful force. Belief in a child's capability. I give youth different options to learn about music, but if they don't develop a connection, I encourage them to honor that and pursue another club or interest. Giving people a choice is what our whole democracy is based on. If a person doesn't feel they have a choice, he or she will react against their circumstances. Once a child realizes they have some control over their destiny, then the door is open for learning. Also, Riley just reminded me that confusion is central to my philosophy. A form of reverse psychology. I give the devil's advocates many opportunities to defy me with clarity!
  • Michael: I don't really have 'one philosophy' per se, but I try to approach each student where they're at in their learning process. I try to identify what kind of learner they are (auditory, visual or tactile) and adjust how I'm teaching them based on that. Of course, clear communication, patience and trust are super important as well!
  • Will: My teaching philosophy is pretty simple. If you think you're interested in DJ'ing, just try it and stick with it for awhile! You don't become great overnight. It's something that takes time and dedication to master. The more you do it, the more you'll understand how to become the music you play and give positive energy to others!
  • Riley: Patience, repetition, patience, repetition, patience, repetition, patience, repetition. Also, gain the child's trust by building a friendship. Then they're comfortable enough to vocalize what they need from you. Play games and joke around so they don't develop a negative outlook toward creativity. There's a reason they call it "playing music" not "working music."

8.  Can you describe a memorable experience with a youth (or multiple youth) in UMP?

  • Jon: Only one student has ever pulled a chair out from under me as I was trying to sit down. It was a terrible day. I hit the floor, yelled at him and made him leave the program for a week. He was going through some serious stuff and was incredibly difficult to teach. To make a long story short, I get regular texts from him asking me for advice. He stops by our alumni night, stays active with us on Facebook and has become one of our true blue UMP family members. From him and others, I've learned that first impressions can be extremely misleading. Teaching is the ultimate long game. It's important to suspend disbelief.
  • Michael: Wow, that's a tough one. I have a lot of great UMP memories. I find a lot of joy in the small things. What comes to mind is the moment when a student gets their first beat match, or scratch after they've been working on it for weeks. When a student can't find the rhythm, we have what we call a "rhythm baptism." Those are really fun. Everyone stops what they're doing. We put on a great beat and clap our hands to the rhythm until that student has no choice but to feel the funk!
  • Will: One student named Haibin scratched so fast I couldn't believe it was his first time. He went on to be one of our best beat makers in the class of 2007 and still visits us to this day.
  • Riely: I was DJing a set at the 8th grade dance (the last dance of the year), and i was BOMBING. Playing only the music that myself and my small group of friends enjoyed. Everyone else left the room (not just the dance floor). Jon told me that i should change the music, so i thought "Heck, why not play a lil MC hammer?" As 'U Cant Touch This' started to play, the room filled back up and all of a sudden (as if coreographed and rehearsed for weeks) a group of about 20 kids started doing the electric slide in unison. It was the first time I realized what being a DJ was all about, and the importance of pleasing the audience.

9. Are parents and families supportive of the Urban Music Program?

  • Jon: Parents and families are very supportive. In many cases, our best gigs and donations have come from the families we serve. In many cases, the parents value us because they're working long hours and know that their children will be with people who genuinely care about them. I'm not sure they're aware of all the musical and academic skills their children are learning, but we're trying to find a way to communicate that in a simple and convincing format.  

10. Do you have any insight for parents and the community around music, children and education?

  • Jon: I'm not being dramatic when I say that music saved my soul. I can imagine a world in which music and creativity are considered critical to a child's education. Music elevates our humanity and helps develop aspects of ourselves that are hard to quantify: empathy, happiness, sensitivity, non-verbal communication and friendship.  
    Riley: Parents! If your child expresses interest in a particular instrument, let them try it out (if you have access to the resources). Provide them with examples and have them research the instrument and the history of the people who've mastered it so their interest has the chance to grow into a passion. It could be the most important thing you do for that child.
  • Will: I think that parents should encourage their kids to try learning about music in all forms. We definitely need music programs because they encourage youth to express themselves through this truly universal language. They are no longer passive listeners: they are the future of music!
  • Michael: Albert Einstein once said "Imagination is more important than knowledge." He was a pretty smart guy, right? I really believe music and art are just as important to self- development as Math, Science and English. In my opinion, imagination is just as important as knowledge, and this is often overlooked when it comes to education.

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