Genius Project Feature: Seniors Aim to Spread Passion for Music
February 5, 2018
A small band of students congregates in English teacher George Porter’s room during lunch, bearing guitars, basses, a keyboard, and sometimes even a cello. As soon as they are set up, they divide into their respective groups; the guitarists collect around a group of tables and jam away, while the rest of the students huddle around the keyboard and take turns reciting bits and pieces of songs they have learned. More often than not, multiple students sit at the keyboard simultaneously and hammer away on just about anything that comes to their mind, from “Heart and Soul” to “Roundabout.”
Among the commotion, two seniors preside over their classmates, teaching them how to play songs of their choice on the instrument of their fancy. Those two seniors are Tyler Overbey and Ivan Florentino, who look to create a legacy imbued with the drumming base lines of student innovation.
Freshman Eleni Mowery joined the music club so she could experience different instruments for orchestra and learn how to read bass clef. She is currently learning the electric bass, an instrument that is a little less traditional than violin and viola, both of which she is already familiar with in orchestra.
“It’s really cool to get to hear other people play music,” she said.
This scene is simply the Music Composition Club following their weekly agenda. With every club there comes purpose and jubilant ecstasy. Overbey relayed his joint vision with Florentino.
“We both wanted to have our own take on it but have a partnership from the beginning… we decided; he wanted to do a workshop and I told him I wanted to make an album of music,” Overbey said.
“I really wanted to get the experience of interacting with students and helping them out with something I’m experienced in. And I like to provide people some advice and some help if they’re interested in wanting to learn a certain instrument,” Florentino said.
Their collaborative Genius Project was born in early 2017 from day one of the “speed-dating” activity, in which students pitched, explained, and critiqued each other’s ideas for their projects. It was this day that Overbey and Florentino settled on a project oriented around a workshop to teach students how to play instruments of their choice and an album featuring songs that the students have learned and played.
Students’ passions and visions are pivotal to the success of a Genius Project, as they form the foundation crucial to the project’s direction and future.
“Music has always been an area of my life that is a passion. I believe that there is magic in the ability to produce music that has emotion,” Overbey said.
Florentino’s vision is also founded on a similar philosophy.
“Its ability to evoke certain emotions and memories… my ability to be able to play a certain song and give other people a certain emotion is really gratifying,” he said.
But as with all Genius Projects, the final product must not showcase just the students´ passion for the project and a positive impact on the community; there must be a struggle present, an obstacle looming treacherously as the students delve further into the depths of their projects. There must be a challenge to prove the students’ resolve and show how tightly they hold their passions.
“When we were first attacking this project, we were sitting down in a room and just couldn’t seem to get out a Google calendar and fill in all these dates we were [going to] do stuff and lesson plans,” Overbey said.
“The worst part of it was actually getting these things going because we all had this vision… but we always found it hard to take things step by step,” Florentino confirmed.
Their timeless toils and scrupulous scheduling finally paid off in early 2017 when their first meeting commenced. The first few meetings were small yet organized and lively; they had keyboard, guitar, and bass lessons available, but only had one of each instrument. The members numbered few but were dedicated and close friends with Overbey and Florentino.
There are two distinct parts to their Genius Project: the music workshop (Music Composition Club) and their Soundcloud album.
Music Composition Club is held on Tuesdays in room 2302. There are no requirements to join the club. Club members can choose to bring their own instruments or use instruments provided by other club members. In the club, Overbey and Florentino assist club members in learning how to play songs of their choice on their instruments combined with the technique of their instrument.
“We… interview what each person wants to learn about,” Florentino said. Each member chooses which instrument they would like to learn, and two options stem from this decision: they can either learn how to play a song of their choice or they can learn the technique of playing the instrument, reading sheet music, and understanding basic music theory.
As much as it is an educational environment, however, it is also a heavily recreational one; some members just bring their own instruments to jam along and play with other members.
“It’s… a place where we can just all play our instruments, play for each other, play with each other, and just show what we can do,” Florentino said.
Upon entering the club, one may think that there is little to no structure at all; students haphazardly strum away at their guitars in a flurry of harsh power chords and blindingly-fast riffs while up to four people at a time sit at the same keyboard, all playing tunes ranging from the “Stranger Things” theme to “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar, all while Overbey runs back and forth to coach his guitar and bass guitar students. Meanwhile, Florentino sits amongst the other students at the keyboard while instructing them on how to position their fingers and hands while playing.
English teacher George Porter, the club’s advisor, has watched as the club has grown in strength and numbers since its inception.
“I definitely think there are those who come here just to play music and know how to play… but I also think there are those who are coming in with a very rudimentary understanding of how to play music and there are those in the room who are very knowledgeable and know how [to play], and I’m actually watching other students teach how to play songs or play instruments, so I think it’s gonna develop over time,” Porter said.
Porter himself is occasionally a student of Overbey, and he has already learned some songs in just two or three meetings on the guitar.
“It was extremely convenient for me because I have a guitar but never practice it… Tyler’s a very good teacher, and as long as he can show me the universal attention of learning songs, that’s not a problem,” he said.
Since its first day, the club has nearly doubled in membership; up to four or even five guitars are now brought every meeting instead of just one, and at times, even a cello is brought by one of the members, senior Daniel Chon.
“Playing the cello gave me many opportunities to meet new people, learn new techniques, and discover what it means to play an instrument, and more importantly, teaching it to someone,” Chon said.
Overbey and Florentino hope to expand to a wider variety of instruments, focusing on the brass, woodwind, and the viol family of string instruments in concert band and orchestra.
On the other side of the project lies Overbey’s and Florentino’s ever-expanding Soundcloud album, titled “Tyler and Ivan’s SCHS Genius Project Album.” Its function is to showcase the talents of the club members, as well as Overbey and Florentino themselves, through covers of popular songs they have learned in the club and played themselves with their own instruments. There are currently 33 tracks on the album, but Overbey aspires for more.
“It’s not one more song, it’s not two more songs, it’s ‘I want ten more songs, I want fifteen more songs, I want to do twenty more songs…’ I want it to be so much greater,” Overbey said.
The songs are recorded either in a recording studio owned by senior Christian Davis, one of the club members, or in Overbey’s own bedroom. While the studio may have the luxuries of multiple sets of amplifiers, a drum set, professional recording and mixing/editing software, and countless guitars and basses that adorn the walls, there is also a sort of magic that can be found when Overbey and Florentino hold recording sessions in the former’s small yet lively bedroom. Various posters and album covers from his favorite bands adorn the walls, including The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” one of their most famous albums, “Smash Hits” by Jimi Hendrix, and “Pet Sounds” by The Beach Boys.
Sitting at Overbey’s desk is an autographed photo of the late George Martin, perhaps best known as the producer of The Beatles. As Florentino listens to multiple recordings of the keyboards from “Break On Through” by The Doors to perfect the tempo of the chords and toggles through different voices to get the perfect sound. In tandem, Overbey switches between his Epiphone acoustic guitar and Squier jazz bass while playing the different guitar and bass accompaniments along with the keyboards.
While both the club and album portions of the project are inherently different from the get-go, they are intrinsically united through the very roots of the project itself; music, and the passion for learning and spreading it.
“The greatest thing is any moment when I’m alone in a room with an artist, a student, or by myself making music,” Overbey recalled as a testament to music and its powerful influence. “I was in the room with Ms. Hunter when she did her song, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ by Sam Cooke. She did it in one take and I was blown away… I could feel years and years of emotion and feeling in what she was singing and I knew where that was coming from in her heart instantly… and that truly is the magic of music for me.”
So be it in the structured chaos of the music club, or in the recording room laden with equipment and guitars of all shapes and sizes, the power of emotion and passion that music contains is universally held across all aspects of Florentino and Overbey’s project.