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In Richardson, Career Day Connects High School Students With Grammy Winners

Stella M Chávez
Shaun Martin and Mark Lettieri, members of the jazz/world music band Snarky Puppy, spoke to Richardson high school students on Wednesday.

Richardson high school students got to rub shoulders with music industry insiders on Wednesday, including Grammy award winners.

The professionals were in North Texas for Career Day, an event organized by the Grammy Museum.

School districts must apply and be selected for Grammy Career Day. Jeff Bradford, executive director of the fine arts program at Richardson ISD said the experience helps both students and teachers.

“We teach in our music education classes excellence in what they do, but there’s very few opportunities for teachers to go and learn that [other] side of the industry,” Bradford said.

It’s a lot different than when he graduated from college.

“We were either going to go and be an educator, or we were going to go and be a starving artist for awhile,” he said.

Sara Long, head orchestra director at Richardson High School, said she learned her students have many different interests.

“I didn’t know these kids were interested in these types of things like business, like producing, music therapy, because we just see them in the classroom playing their instruments and we’re focused on our goals in class,” she said. “We don’t realize the extent that they are involved in music and what they’re doing with that in their daily lives.”

Real-life experiences

Even successful musicians like Shaun Martin have to do the most routine of routines when they practice their music.

Martin is one of the members of the Grammy-award-winning Snarky Puppy, the jazz/funk/pop collective with North Texas roots. Martin led a session about the creative process. Part of that process, he said, means practicing scales.

“Now, it drives my wife crazy. I guarantee you that, because I play all my scales," Martin said. "I play them slow – quarters, eights. It drives her crazy. But I think that for me as a piano player, I have to get back to that fundamental thing.”

Fellow band member Mark Lettieri told students they should always have a way to document an idea that comes to them, by writing it down or recording it on their phone.

“The worst thing is you get an idea somehow in your head on the elevator somewhere and then by the time you get to the bottom of the elevator, the idea is gone,” Lettieri said. “So, I guess you could be that weird dude that’s like singing into his phone on the elevator. But it’s OK, just be like, ‘I’m a composer.’ And they’ll be, ‘Oh, yes, sir. Sorry. Compose, please. This might the next Mozart we’re in the elevator with.'”

Watch a performance by Snarky Puppy

Students, like Katie Gray attended sessions on production, technology and the business side of the music industry. Gray's a senior and drum major at Lake Highlands High School.

“They were talking about their real-life experiences and really practical ways that we can follow in their footsteps, and it was cool that they could just talk and play their instruments at the same time," Gray said. "They’re so talented.”

Kelvin Njoroge, also a senior and drum major at Lake Highlands, said he appreciated learning about the many different possible careers in the music industry.

Most people don’t know about music therapy and like, something like that could be, ‘Oh, I really want to help people through music,’ Njoroge said. "That’s something really cool you can do with music and some people just didn’t know about that.”

The high schoolers may not all become Grammy winners, but the kids say they’re inspired to take back the lessons they learned to their high school bands and orchestras, and make them a little better.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.