You already know that the students at H.B. Whitehorne can make great music. Their three concert bands, jazz band, percussion ensemble and two vocal ensembles regularly win awards for their work. Now the middle school students have turned up the volume on their work and produced HBW’s first music album. They did everything from designing the album cover to securing the copyrights to the music that will be featured–as well as the singing and instrumental performances, of course.
With a generous grant from the Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence (VFEE), HBW has spent the whole school year learning everything about the business of record production. “Nobody’s ever done something like this before,” says Dan Halpern, one of HBW’s two instrumental music teachers. “We prepare our students for concerts, but what about preparing them for different aspects of the music business?” Adds fellow instrumental music teacher Brian Michalowski, “They might go on to be an accountant and still be exposed to the music business. They could be a lawyer and do intellectual property. We needed to make this project about the actual music industry and all the possible jobs.”
And that’s just what they did. Halpern and Michalowski held two assemblies in September to talk to students about all the work that would be involved in the album, bringing in recording, legal, financial and graphics professionals, many of whom are Verona residents, like intellectual property lawyer Vanessa Ignacio, advertising agency vice president Brett Fischer and freelance art director Beth O’Donnell-Fischer. Students were invited to sign up for different work teams for the project, and more than 300 did, not all of them music program participants.
[ngg_images source=”galleries” container_ids=”289″ display_type=”photocrati-nextgen_pro_masonry” size=”180″ padding=”10″ ngg_triggers_display=”always” captions_enabled=”0″ captions_display_sharing=”1″ captions_display_title=”1″ captions_display_description=”1″ captions_animation=”slideup” order_by=”sortorder” order_direction=”ASC” returns=”included” maximum_entity_count=”500″]Eighth grader Diana Aleynikov isn’t in band or chorus, but she knows how to code a website and brought that skill to the project. “I want to have a job as a programmer some day and I think this connects to that,” she says.
Daphne Glatter, another eighth grader who plays bass clarinet and alto sax, signed up for the production and legal teams. “I feel like being on production and legal is basic”, she says. “You can’t play anything unless you know you have the rights to it.”
Securing rights was one of the key aspects of the project. For each piece that HBW was considering for the album, the legal team students had to track down the copyright owner and secure the rights to use it in the school recording. They learned that, even if the original work had been created by a big-name composer, the rights to the version they were performing might be held by someone else. “Almost everything eventually led back to the Harry Fox Agency,” says Glatter, referring to one of the largest music publishers in the U.S.
As the work rippled out, math students applied themselves to calculating the licensing cost per unit for a 15-track album, while art students pitched their cover designs to their music teachers, HBW’s two principals and all of the school’s music students. The finance team kept an eye on costs while the marketing team readied a promotion plan. The three concert bands and two choruses recorded their tracks in school in March and in April, the HBW jazz band travelled to a professional recording studio in Hoboken. Thanks to Paul Moschella, an HBW science teacher who is also a musician, the engineer for the session was Grammy-winning producer Warren Riker, known for his work with The Fugees, Lauryn Hill and Santana. Students in the production team made a seating chart for Riker so that he could have each position properly mic’d before the jazz band arrived, saving the project some billable time.
The students seem to have relished every aspect of their work, and believe they learned skills that will benefit them in the future. “If something happens,” says sixth grader Sophia Nunez, “if people try to pull the wool over my eyes, I can say ‘that’s not how it is’.”
“The Whitehorne Album” is available as both a CD and a digital download, for $10. All proceeds from online sales will benefit future VFEE programs.