No one is ever too quick to credit a video game for their success, but Youth Arts Academy manager Melissa Rodriguez is giving props to a couple of well-known games called "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band."
As more kids have mock-rocked with a video game controller, she said, more and more they've wanted to learn how to jam on real life instruments.
That's where the Youth Arts Academy is more than happy to step in. Founded last year at the Boys and Girls Club on Mykonos Lane in Carmel Valley, the academy offers private and group music instruction for young people ages 5-18 and has spawned 10 rock bands.
"It's been an experience, that's for sure," said Rodriguez, who runs the successful program despite having no musical background.
A Boys and Girls Club employee since 2004, she makes sure the academy is stocked with well-qualified, experienced instructors who can help students make beautiful music.
Bring a friend
Classes started on Sept. 29 and run through June 17. Throughout the year, the academy holds numerous recitals and concerts. The week of Oct. 20 is "bring a friend week" at theacademy when lasses are completely free for a friend to try out.
The academy was started as a program called Music Matters with the main focus being traditional concert bands that weren't being offered in schools.
At that time, administration offices occupied the entire second floor of the Carmel Valley branch and Music Matters lessons were held in one room, sometimes in Rodriguez's own office.
When the new Barber-Harper branch in Solana Beach opened, the administration moved there and the second floor in Carmel Valley was vacant and ripe with possibilities.
When asked what they should do with all that empty space, Rodriguez said she answered in about 45 seconds.
In August 2007, they converted four offices to private lesson studios. The academy also has a rock band/small ensemble room, a large music classroom and one practice room where any academy member can come to play on their own.
"It has surprised me completely," said Rodriguez. "I'm really proud to say I could fill these offices and make this space productive."
Currently, the academy is building its own recording studio, thanks to a $25,000 grant from the city. They hope to have it up and running by the end of the month.
The rock band element of the academy has been very successful, Rodriguez said. They started off with just two groups and have grown to almost 11.
The groups of musicians pair with a teacher who gives them suggestions. But mostly the teacher lets them explore their creativity. Four days a week, bands with names like Dain Bramage and Not Quite Right, rock the Boys and Girls Club.
More than rockers
In addition to their thriving rock band program, they have a jazz ensemble, a beginning guitar group and private lessons in instruments like piano and saxophone to less traditional instruments like ukuleles and marimbas.
Scott Mimnaugh, a Canyon Crest Academy senior, has been taking trumpet lessons with the Boys and Girls Club since he was a sixth grader. Music Matters had an after-school program at Solana Highlands and he followed his instructor Mark Weed to the club.
"I'm really close with all the instructors," Mimnaugh said. "I consider them friends."
All of his lessons have paid off and Mimnaugh now plays in the jazz ensemble at school. He's such a fan of the academy that he now works as Rodriguez's intern.
Rodriguez said enrollment in the traditional concert bands has been lower as more schools are bringing back their band programs.
"Naturally I cheer on our schools to be offering more music programs," Rodriguez said, not minding the competition if it means more kids are making music.
To find out more about class schedules or to book a private lesson, call Melissa Rodriguez at (858) 720-2194 or stop by the Youth Arts Academy ay 3800 Mykonos Lane, next to Carmel Valley Middle School.
From left, Tommy Walborn on guitar; Elias Newman on keys; Alex Scott on drums; and Zach Bogard on bass make up the rock band Not Quite Right. The group has been together for four years.