September 2017

Making Connections and Building Communities through Music

WORDS John Pitcher

PHOTOGRAPHY Anthony Ross Tyler

It has long been known that music is the universal language. Notes for Notes, the national nonprofit that’s opening a flagship music studio at East Nashville’s Boys and Girls Club, believes music is also a powerful tool for social good.

Since its founding a decade ago at a teen center in Santa Barbara, California, Notes for Notes has empowered thousands of young people through music. The program introduces children and teens to the various mysteries of the music industry, from songwriting and instrument playing to sound mixing and recording. Arguably, though, the most important lessons learned in Notes for Notes studios are not about music.

“Of course, we want young people to be good musicians,” program co-founder and CEO Philip Gilley tells Nashville Arts Magazine. “But at the end of the day, it’s more important to us how they grow as people than how well they play an instrument.”

That sentiment has been the driving force behind the program from the beginning. Notes for Notes got its start in the mid-aughts, when Gilley was serving as a mentor in the Big Brothers and Sisters program in Santa Barbara. Gilley wanted to make a connection with his “little brother” and pass on something meaningful to him. At first, Gilley, an accomplished guitarist, thought about introducing the boy to his instrument. The child, however, wanted to learn the drums.

This seeming dilemma inspired Gilley to start a nonprofit, one that would provide access to multiple instruments and recording equipment. Along with his friend Natalie Noone, daughter of music icon and Herman’s Hermits frontman, Peter Noone, Gilley approached a Santa Barbara teen center about a collaboration. Gilley and Noone would provide some of their own used music gear if the center would provide a space for a studio. The center agreed, and Gilley and Noone opened what was then called MusicBox Studio in March 2007.

The experiment might have ended there but for a serendipitous encounter. One day, Roderick Hare, a board director with the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, was visiting the teen center on other business when he saw the studio. Turns out Hare had envisioned a similar kind of studio some twenty years earlier when, as a college freshman, he had also served as a mentor in the Big Brothers and Sisters program. Gilley’s studio was modest, but Hare was nevertheless impressed. The project had potential.

“I invited Phil out and laid it on him,” says Hare. “I told him that studios like this could be opened around the country, wherever there was a Boys and Girls Club. Finally, I told him if he’d make this his life’s work, I’d raise the money. We’ve been at it ever since.”

Naturally, the first location Notes for Notes planted its flag outside California was Music City. In 2011, the program opened a small studio in the Andrew Jackson Boys and Girls Club near Watkins Park. A second Nashville studio was later opened at the Preston Taylor Boys and Girls Club in North Nashville.

In the years since, the program has shifted into high gear, opening similar studios in San Francisco, Detroit, Brooklyn, Austin, and Atlanta. Notes for Notes expects to have twenty-two studios in operation around the country by the end of this year. The organization’s Nashville connections have played a critical role in the expansion. In 2014, the Country Music Association agreed to support Notes for Notes growth nationally. Gibson Guitars also threw in its support, as did other groups such as the Hot Topic Foundation.

Interestingly, the organization’s first two Nashville studios are among the smallest in the fleet. Its third Nashville studio, opening later this year near Cleveland Park, will be the organization’s biggest. The studio will occupy four rooms and be filled with state-of-the-art equipment, allowing young musicians to mix, record, podcast, and perform. Like all the group’s studios, it will be staffed by a full-time director. Use of the studio and equipment is free with a Boys and Girls Club membership.

“Nashville has been critical to our organization’s success,” says Hare. “It deserves to have this first-class studio.”

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