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Let there be rock: Mingus rock band gives students ‘chance to really build something’ (with video)

Mingus Union rock band members Angel Franco and Rhyme Uekusa sing, foreground from left, with bass players Kevin Williams and Jesse Holstein in the background, from left. VVN/Bill Helm

Mingus Union rock band members Angel Franco and Rhyme Uekusa sing, foreground from left, with bass players Kevin Williams and Jesse Holstein in the background, from left. VVN/Bill Helm

COTTONWOOD – Two years ago, Mingus Union High School sought ways to expand its music program.

Emily Meyer, the school’s band director, brought an idea from her time at Cottonwood Middle School.

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Mingus Union junior Zachary Smith plays guitar during the school’s Dec. 11 rock band concert. VVN/Bill Helm

“I had some kids in my room who played ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ over and over,” she recalled. “One day, I brought in my sound system and the kids went wild. And honestly, they sounded pretty good.”

Eventually, Meyer’s middle school music program started a rock band.

“When we played pep assemblies and shows, people just loved it,” Meyer said.

When Meyer moved over to Mingus Union, some of the students from her middle school band followed her to the high school.

“And I picked up some new kids by having a lot of conversations with students,” Meyer said.

‘Really build something’

The Mingus Union Rock Band is 14 members strong, with three drummers, six guitarists, four bass guitar players, one keyboardist and five singers.

Do the math. Because in music, math is key. Multiple students handle multiple musical duties.

Good thing there’s plenty of time for practice. At Cottonwood Middle School, students were only able to practice for an hour each week because the rock class was not built into the schedule.

At Mingus Union, practice is Monday through Friday.

For Meyer, the school’s schedule that allows for daily practices “gives us the chance to really build something.”

“In Rock Band, the students are as passionate about playing and learning as I am. I know that schools of rock have started all over the country and that people love them.”

On stage

The school’s rock band program would have a short shelf life if all the students did was practice. The students have performed at the fair, walking on main and other events around town.

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Logan Trujillo on drums. VVN/Bill Helm

On Dec. 11, the band played a 75-minute show of songs by the Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Van Halen.

More often than not, a stage filled with more than a dozen rock and rollers is either a tribute or benefit concert.

Not only are the young musicians learning their chops, but they also learn to work within the scope of a band. According to Logan Trujillo, a band’s relationships “are crucial.”

“It’s a fair balance between work and having fun,” said Logan, a sophomore who sings and plays the drums. “Starting up a band, choosing the members and how you portray yourselves. Everything affects the band moving forward.”

Trujillo said before Tuesday’s show that playing someone else’s music “is harder than playing your own music.”

For Zachary Smith, it’s as much about feel as it is the technical ability when playing someone else’s music.

“When I play [Pink Floyd’s] Comfortably Numb, I let the guitar play what it wants,” said Zachary, a junior whose father Curly Smith plays drums for the rock band Boston. “When you play the song and you feel it, you put your creativity into it. You feel it in your heart.”

Let there be rock

“It’s beautiful to introduce a new generation to this genre and all of the greats,” Meyer said. “My hope for the program is to see a lot of bands come out of this. I want to see my students making their own bands, and being great musicians out in the world.”

Talent is great, Meyer said. But to make it in the music biz, she said it’s all about hard work.

“I view my role as providing the constructive criticism they need and motivating them to work hard all the time,” she said. “If you can learn to work hard at learning your instrument and keep picking it up day after day, pushing yourself all the time, you will never have to worry about motivation in the future.”

For Meyer, music taught her to “enjoy the process of practicing.”

Love of music

For sophomore drummer Kianna Finch, music “has always been a big part of me.”

“It’s been difficult to express myself,” Kianna said. “Music makes it easier.”

Before Tuesday’s show, Rhyme Uekusa said that a lot of the band’s members have loved rock music since a young age.

“This is the music we grew up listening to, a lot of us, and our parents,” said Rhyme, one of three young women in the band.

Handling the bass guitar and vocals, Uekusa said that music could be “an option,” but that “keeping it a creative thing” is also important.

A senior, Griffin Franklin sings and plays both guitar and keyboards in the band, and has been in the school’s jazz band, choir and drum line.

A drummer, freshman Jarrett Lively said that of the music the band plays, “a lot of the songs are complex.”

“When we break it down, we understand what they were putting into the songs,” Jarrett said.

‘Best it gets’

There’s no final examination in Meyer’s rock music class. Just plenty of shows scheduled throughout the year, at least four more in the spring semester, including a final concert of the year in May.

“The kids are expected to perform and do their best at all shows,” Meyer said. “I think having a lot of students play together really makes the band fun. Playing songs you love with your friends is the best it gets.”

The Mingus Union rock band consists of the following members: junior guitarist Angelo Catalano, freshman guitarist Hobbson Connell, sophomore bassist Miles Edwards, sophomore drummer Kianna Finch, sophomore vocalist Angel Franco, senior vocalist/guitarist/pianist Griffin Franklin, sophomore vocalist/bassist Jesse Holstein, junior guitarist Jaden Kleva, freshman drummer Jarrett Lively, sophomore guitarist Seth Schoenhardt, junior guitarist/vocalist Zachary Smith, sophomore drummer/vocalist Logan Trujillo, sophomore bassist/vocalist Rhyme Uekusa and senior bassist Kevin Williams.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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