Jeff Jardine

Modesto program Sound-ing out need for new studio home

Gregori High School student Anthony Thompson, middle, helps Davis High student Benny Williams, left, set up for a recording session at Modesto Sound studio at Gregori in Salida on Wednesday.
Gregori High School student Anthony Thompson, middle, helps Davis High student Benny Williams, left, set up for a recording session at Modesto Sound studio at Gregori in Salida on Wednesday. aalfaro@modbee.com

Music comes from everywhere. It is born of the heart and soul, chiseled from life experiences, from love and disappointments, from joys and sorrows.

It is individual. It is shared. It has no geographic boundaries and is perhaps the one thing all cultures have in common, even though music can be as different as the beliefs and cultures themselves.

The other beauty of music is that you don’t have to play an instrument or sing worth a darn to be part of it, Modesto Sound’s Brenda Francis will tell you.

For every great performing artist on stage or in the studio, there is a great sound technician and often an entire team of them who work in unison to make beautiful music and make music beautiful. What makes her nonprofit organization so important to this community is that people of all ages, and particularly teens with a career in mind, can learn the technical side of recording and production right here in Modesto. They don’t have to mortgage their dreams and futures by going to schools in big cities to learn the craft.

But, just as with the electronic equipment itself, occasional glitches can arise with the program itself. Francis encountered one of those recently when she learned her organization’s stay at Gregori High School in north Modesto will end May 15.

Francis created Modesto Sound at her home in Modesto in 2005. The program outgrew her digs three years ago. She now boasts roughly 200 students involved the various parts of the program, which is funded through donations, grants and very low recording fees ranging from $20 to $40, with students receiving discounts. Since its inception, more than 500 artists have recorded at Modesto Sound. Others have trained on the technical side in the studio, by staging live concerts and by learning about radio engineering.

Francis was able to find space at Gregori High. Modesto City Schools gave her a low rental cost for otherwise unused space with a caveat: When the school needed the room, she’d need to move out.

That time has arrived, and on relatively short notice. She is scrambling to find a new place where musicians can come to make their music, at the same time teaching others how to record and mix it.

“We’ve checked with different schools – religious schools, the Valley Music Institute, John Black’s Peer Recovery downtown,” she said. “The list goes on and on.”

Central Catholic High is doing some campus renovations that won’t leave room, and Davis High, where Francis said she hoped to find space, needs it for special education classes. Which means the mad scramble is on.

Modesto Sound’s annual summer recording arts camp is set for July 6-11 at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

“We’ll be using one of their stages for the music camp,” Francis said.

But the organization still needs a new long-term home. Its intern program helped Anthony Thompson, an 18-year-old Gregori High senior, hire on at the Gallo Center, where he helps with stage setup and the sound systems.

“I really think that kids with an interest in music benefit from the experience here,” he said.

Otherwise, they’d have to go to Los Angeles or the Bay Area to learn the technical aspects.

Count Nick Amador, a 17-year-old Gregori senior, among them.

“I’m getting the things I need to go into a career in sound engineering,” he said. “Being a sound engineer – it really spoke out to me. You learn to mix, to edit music.”

He’s also a musician who performs in the school’s concert band and also as a guitarist and vocalist whose band has recorded in Modesto Sound’s studio.

“The recording side helps you as a performer,” he said. “The difference is with recording, you can try and try again. Live, you get one shot at it.”

A student can earn an audio technician certificate that is accepted by the Gallo Center for jobs or internships.

That many can learn the craft within just a few miles of home is huge, Amador said.

“Otherwise, I’d probably have to go to Arizona and it would cost me $2,000 a semester (tuition alone),” he said. “I’m really thankful for Brenda and what she’s doing here.”

Denis Vargas, a 15-year-old Gregori High sophomore, is one of the students who enjoys begin at the console.

“I can’t play any instruments,” said Vargas, who grew interested because her older sister was in the program. “I would like to go into the music industry. I love learning the stuff few others know. I want get into something I love doing.”

Where in the realm of music it will take her remains to be seen, and heard.

“I’m only 15,” she said. “I’m still looking.”

So is Francis, and specifically for new digs that can house Modesto Sound for many years to some.

Any ideas? She’s a good listener.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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