When asked about what music means to him, 20-year old Ason pauses to collect his thoughts. It is clear he has a lot to say but is not quite sure how to put it into words.
“Music is just a part of my life,” he said. “I just love listening to music. I don’t know about everybody else, but I can just assume it gets people through the day. It’s part of life.”
Ason is one of hundreds of young people who have the opportunity to utilize a brand new, state-of-the-art music studio at Auberle’s 412 Youth Zone in downtown Pittsburgh.
Made possible through a grant from the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern PA, the studio is equipped with high-tech sound-proofing, a recording booth, soundboards, monitors, keyboards, and a wide-screen TV. The walls are painted a muted purple and gray. A bright red, circular rug sits in the middle of the floor where staff hopes youth will gather to express more than just music.
Justin Short, Facility Support Staff at the 412 Youth Zone, has had his own success as an artist and producer and is playing a key role in developing a curriculum for the studio.
“We are utilizing the studio to not only teach the youth at the 412 Youth Zone how to properly use studio equipment by having classes and teaching them how to record and produce music, but also using it as a team building experience and therapeutic method to teach them how to express themselves in a more positive way,” said Justin.
He plans to bring in local musicians and producers and create community partnerships.
One local artist who has been instrumental in the creation of the studio is Liz Berlin, part owner of Mr. Small’s Funhouse Recording Studio and Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale. Through Creative.Life.Support, a nonprofit offshoot of Mr. Small’s, Liz dedicates much of her time to helping local youth find their voice. When she heard that the Youth Zone was interested in building a music studio, her non-profit submitted a proposal and was selected to build the studio.
Liz has made sure to include the youth in all stages of the planning process.
“We have had a lot of meetings with the youth at the Youth Zone to get their ideas on all aspects of the studio development, like what paint colors, how to decorate it, what kinds of things they’d like to learn about, and what they think the rules should be,” said Liz. “They are all very excited about the learning opportunities and the opportunities they will have to create in the studio.”
“There’s not just one thing I’m trying to do,” said Ason. “I’m an artist, so I write and I can sing. However, growing up, I was always good with technology. I just didn’t stay consistent with it. So I do plan on learning how to operate all [the equipment].”
Riko, 20, another Youth Zone participant, feels confident that the studio will help him pave a successful career path in the music industry.
“The studio is going to help me because I want to be a producer. That’s something that I see myself doing in the future,” he said. “We’re not just going to be thrown in here. We’re going to do classes. We’ll learn how to work the boards. We’ll be bouncing ideas off each other.”
By all accounts, Ason feels the same way.
“Making music in the studio, I’m one step closer to some of the goals I’m trying to achieve,” he said. “Music gets me through the days, so making my own music in the studio will help me.”
Ason and Riko are not the only ones who are excited. Liz looks forward to witnessing the studio’s healing effects.
“I’ve seen amazing transformations in the young people I’ve worked on music with,” she said. “I’ve seen shy people break out of their shells and learn to express themselves, people who have dealt with a lifetime of trauma and disappointment find an outlet so they can find a way to make peace and move forward. Expression is a powerful healing force, and learning how to create music provides an amazing tool for expression.”
To learn how you can volunteer at the 412 Youth Zone, email Erin Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-673-5856, ext. 1205.