It was a Friday afternoon and the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club was filled with teenagers enjoying their summer vacation. Some were reading, others chatted excitedly in a group, but the real spark of energy came from a small room in the downstairs level of the building.
The corner room, which used to be an underutilized storage area, was recently transformed into a fully equipped recording studio, where a group of pre-teenage girls stood around Music Director Devin Ferreira practicing a freshly composed song.
The Boston-based Music & Youth Initiative develops and funds music education and enrichment programs for children and teenagers who would otherwise not be exposed to such a high-caliber music facility. Ferreira, who is a wealth of information for all things music, teaches students how to write their own lyrics, make beats, record vocals, and arrange a song using video production tools to obtain the sound they’re going for.
“I’m making music, it’s a lifeline,” 11-year-old Dasiah Thornton heard herself sing on playback upon exiting the rectangular recording room. The eight eager students had just approached their second hour of Ferreira’s class, and were taking turns recording one to two lines of their collaborative song, “Be Me.”
“All the ideas come from the kids,” Ferreira said. “This song mainly came from this one girl who writes lyrics, and we took some of those ideas and with everyone’s input, made an original song.”
The composer Ferreira referred to was smiley Adriana Alcindor, who went by the nickname “Chicken Pie” in the group. She was the first one to cheer and applaud a fellow student about to record some lines, but also fell completely silent at times, disappearing under a table to scribble new thoughts in the black-and-white notebook that never left her small hand.
“If a boy was here, they’d never be this open,” Ferreira said of the rambunctious all-girls group. “It’s great to see them have so much fun with each other while putting together a song that’s all theirs. Music definitely bridges the gap between people…It builds a community,” he said.
Ferreira remained high-energy throughout the four-hour lesson, always keen to offer support, instruction, and high-fives. When it came time to record the chorus, each girl, one at a time, entered the recording room, approached the freestanding microphone, and placed the oversized headphones over their tiny ears.
The rest of the group watched the solo artist through the window and listened in the music room where the line, “Let me be me,” hummed through the speakers. After everyone had their turn, some with a little coercion, Ferreira explained how they would then layer the vocals so it would sound like the girls had sung the chorus in unison. He used the analogy of a chocolate layer cake, to which an immediate connection was formed.
“You get so much diversity on the songs. Even with old songs I still remember who sung each part,” he said. And while a great sounding product is a nice reward, Ferreira divulged that the goal isn’t the end result. “It’s about the process, not the project,” he said. “As long as they’re creating a memory, I’m doing my job right,” he added.
The Charlestown Studio Clubhouse is the initiative’s 10th clubhouse in the Greater Boston Area and the third in partnership with a Boys & Girls Club of Boston branch. The success of the program doesn’t come just from fostering an appreciation for music, but is also tied to the interpersonal and developmental skills students gain. The casual environment and friendly staff help students feel comfortable with expressing themselves, which is what music is all about: expression.
When it came time for a break, the girls rushed to the common area and picked up desired instruments to play Rock Band, a popular video game that lets players simulate the performance of well known rock music songs. The way the girls laughed, joked and worked together made it undeniably clear that the group was creating more than just a memory. They formed friendships, self-confidence, and future goals. Ferreira beamed at the realization of being part of such a rewarding experience. “Getting this job was a blessing,” he said. “It’s only going to get bigger from here.”