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Dennis Mars Takes Motown to Outer Space

By Nia Shumake

The Notes for Notes Detroit and Motown Museum project – Motown Mix – aims to expose young musicians to  both a nostalgic and modern approach to creating music. While our singer/songwriters, spend time writing, reflecting and arranging on Mondays,

Wednesdays at the N4N Detroit Studio are loud and lively due to the energy that our Motown Mix musicians and producer mentors bring.

FullSizeRenderDennis Mars is no stranger to Detroit’s art scene having been a major visual contributor to the media development of many upcoming local artists in his earlier years. His knack for technology landed him in Silicon Valley as a Senior Web Developer for LinkedIn. Nonetheless, Dennis was insistent on creating a life for himself that was fueled by his greatest passion – music. So he returned to Detroit to put in his 10,000 hours as a pianist and producer. Now, an emerging creative director and music producer, Dennis is a vital contributor to our studio environment. The musician turned producer has worked with Jhene Aiko, Royce da 5’9 and Trey Songs.

Through his demonstration, drive and versatility, our promising students are compelled to create.

Dennis works with youth producer Kevin on a remix to “Ain’t No Mountain”

On any given Wednesday, Dennis can be heard giving youth passionate advice about discipline, commitment and the magic of creativity, then flipping Motown records inside out- sampling iconic lines then adding Hip Hop drums, 808s and new keyboard arrangements.  He is a phenomenal leader, because he embraces the youth’s musicianship; giving them permission to voice their ideas during music production. Youth are able to possess creative autonomy in a learning environment, without sacrificing their own sound. This truly epitomizes the essence of a production mentor, challenging the young musicians and producers to achieve greater music goals while maintaining the integrity of their artistry.

Thank you Dennis for partnering with N4N Detroit’s Motown Mix. We look forward to making more music with you!

An Unforgettable Process

Hi Everyone! My name is Gabriel Myers and I think Notes for Notes is amazing. The people who work for this organization are pure hearted and simply the coolest staff I’ve ever met. As a musician myself, I get how much N4N might mean to youth who don’t have access to music everyday like I do. I’d be lost without music in my life. I wouldn’t have any way to express myself when all my emotions are piled up into one big block of goo in my head. Music is like my diary. It’s kind of like a private vault that can only be opened by me. N4N offers free music education and access to instruments, skill practice, and fun any time kids want after school. More importantly, N4N gives kids a safe place to tap into their own vault of confused feelings and a healthy way to release them.

I could go on and on about Notes for Notes and how cool the studios are, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today I’m writing about a process. Now, I know you might be thinking, “What is he talking about? What process? Well, let me explain.

At the beginning of the school year, I was assigned an 8th Grade Community Service Project in which I had to select a non-profit organization to help benefit. Conveniently enough, my mom works for one! I talked to several friends about teaming up with me to support Notes for Notes. I was relieved when Devarshi Mukherji wanted to be part of my group. Dev is a loyal friend and he’s also a musician. This felt like a good fit.

We started off with a simple idea that we completed in school: a Jeans Day for $2.00, and Sweatpants for $3.00. Kids hate to wear uniforms, so in one day we raised $219. But knowing it costs $75,000 to run Detroit’s N4N Studio for one year, that seemed like raising a penny. Devarshi and I decided we wanted to do more.

When I first told my mom I wanted to help Notes for Notes, she helped me brainstorm ideas. When she suggested I host a benefit concert, I thought she was nuts. On the outside, I said, “That’s a fantastic idea!” But on the inside, I checked it off as a thing I was NOT going to do. But, all of a sudden, I found myself asking Dev if he’d host a show with me. Even though it seemed like a hard task, I was excited to make a bigger difference. At first, Dev had the same reaction as me, so I agreed maybe it wasn’t the best idea. Later that night, though, I was lying in bed and got to thinking, “Wait a minute. My mom has hosted a few shows for Notes for Notes and knows how to do this. A good friend of mine is an awesome singer-songwriter. And I have the support of Notre Dame behind me! It’s crazy NOT to host a concert!”

I explained this to Devarshi the next day. He agreed to help, but only if I was in charge of planning the show. He volunteered to complete all the not-so-fun school assignments that went along with the project. This seemed like a good deal.

I knew right away I had to be on top of the planning process so our hard work wouldn’t go to waste. I was surprised and bummed when Notre Dame shot down the idea of hosting the show at the school almost immediately. I had to find another venue in a hurry and knew it might cost money. I asked my dad if he’d be willing to sponsor the show. I thought he’d just say yes, but instead he put me in touch with Ryan Brown at his office, CR Myers & Associates. I had never met him before and he asked me a million questions about the show that I did my best to answer. I was so nervous while talking to him that I snapped a white-out pen in half!  I was very relieved when Mr. Brown agreed to donate $1,000 to cover the cost of the show. I then reached out to Olivia Millerschin, my friend and artist who agreed to perform for me. She told me she was playing back to back sold-out shows that weekend at 20 Front Street – a cool new listening room in Lake Orion, MI. I made a date with my mom so I could check out the venue. After sitting through both shows, I knew this was the perfect spot to host my show.

I wasn’t able to meet the owner that night, so I emailed him the next day. Devarshi and I started to lose hope when I didn’t get a response right away. Later the next week, my mom picked us up from school to take us to basketball. We told her we decided the show wasn’t going to work out, so we started to fill out our assigned process journal to get our project over with a few months early. If you know my mom, you won’t be surprised when I tell you her exact response:

“Well, if you guys want to sit on your butts and do nothing, that’s your choice. But I think you are missing out on an incredible opportunity that will really help you in the future. I’m not okay with you giving up yet, but it’s up to you.”

I knew she was right, but at this point it seemed impossible. Imagine my surprise when I got home and there was an email from 20 Front Street sitting in my inbox. The owner, Mr. Allan Goetz, said 20 Front Street would love to support my project to help Notes for Notes and was willing to donate the venue for free! I couldn’t believe it! I was so grateful and I started to think maybe we could do this after all!

We had to get on it, and fast. Olivia was booked for a local show later that month, so the promotions were going to be up to me. An undergound show at 14?? This was crazy! My mom told us what we needed to pull it off. It was a lot!

  1. Venue (20 Front Street ROCKS!)
  2. Artist (Olivia Millerschin is the
  3. Sponsor (Thanks Dad!)
  4. Ticket Sales (How??)
  5. Promotion (HUH?!)

Next, I reached out to James Pyne, my good friend and trombone player for Olivia. He’s also a graphic designer. James created a digital flyer for email and a poster to print and hang. Juliana Lee, Notes for Notes Director of Community Relations, created an online ticket link for me so it would be easy to track who bought tickets and donated to my show. Once these were created, I sent emails out to all Notre Dame students in the middle school and high school. I was surprised and nervous when not many tickets sold at first. So I spent a whole evening making annoying phone calls and sent out several email reminders. Finally, tickets started to sell. I was relieved to know people might actually show up to this thing.

The night of the show was a lot of fun. In addition to the concert, we had a 50/50 raffle and two silent auction items: a Tahir Whitehead signed Detroit Lions Xenith helmet donated by Krista Gilley, and a ukelele signed by Olivia Millerschin herself. I introduced the show to my friends and family and was surprised how easy it was to talk on the microphone in front of everyone. I actually kind of liked it!

Olivia Millerschin

Olivia Millerschin

As I watched Olivia and her band perform, I felt very accomplished. It was exciting to have this experience under my belt and know that if I wanted to do it again there was nothing stopping me.  That night, we achieved something I never thought I could do: We hosted an underground show and raised $4,585! That’s A LOT of money!!! I realized I was capable of anything if I just put my mind to it.

I’m surprised to admit I miss the work that went into planning the show. I don’t know why, and I promise I never thought I would say that in a million years! The entire process was unbelievably hard, complicated, and stressful. But it was worth it.

I have a grand piano at my fingertips, as well as a guitar and lessons. I helped give these kinds of opportunities to kids who don’t have them. Notes for Notes helped me help others. Helping takes work for sure, but now I know how great it feels after it’s done. I’m proud to say I’ve accomplished something not everyone my age has done.

And now I can finally say:

Wow. What an unforgettable process and thank you to everyone who helped make it one!

Gabe and Dev

Gabe and Dev


MSU and N4N: Big Ten Floor Champs!

Photo Credit: Arturo Rodriguea

Passion is defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion. It’s a word full of inspiration. A feeling better demonstrated than described. A driving force that may slow down at times, but never fully stops.

Outside of my children, I’ve been passionate about two careers in my life. As such, I had to find a way to make them intersect because that’s the only way life would make sense:

20 years ago, I was a member of the Michigan State University Women’s Gymnastics Team. No matter what, I wear that badge with the utmost of pride and honor. Because once you’re a Spartan Gymnast, you are guaranteed loyal teammates for life. Not friends… TEAMMATES.

3 years ago, I began to work with Notes for Notes. It was a baby of an organization at the time, and I could tell it was in need of some serious national support. I immediately reached out to my Spartan teammates and asked for help. I called Linder about Ventura, Chrissy about Dallas, Bri about Detroit, Leen about Portland, Polly about Austin, Eileen and Lindsay about Brooklyn, Erin with questions about Kalamazoo, and Lori about Nashville.

Then I called my coach Kathie in East Lansing. “Kath – I work for this amazing non-profit. Free youth music studios. Can we make you some floor music?”

I was giddy when her answer was YES.

Enter Elena Lagoski – a powerhouse of a tumbler and rockstar of a dancer. N4N had just been offered a very special opportunity.

I immediately called Will Flores in Nashville – N4N Lead Producer, Program Director and student alumni. Will flew to Detroit’s N4N Studio inside the SAY Detroit Play Center to meet with Elena in person to get the exact feel for the music that would inspire her to perform her best.

Elena, Will and assistant coach and choreographer, Nicole Curler, collaborated in front of the production station for hours – talking, counting, adding beats, dancing, then subtracting beats.

I was the only person who fully understood the level of artistic and athletic talent present in the room:

Elena the gymnast. Will the producer. Nicole the choreographer.

As the structure of her intense floor music began to take shape, I couldn’t help but predict:


And was it ever. After a season full of unexpected twists and turns, public controversy and scandal that would make anyone want to run and hide, Elena took the floor at The Big Ten Championships with the weight of the world on her shoulders. With pressure coming at her from every direction, the next 1:30 would determine her ability to dig deep, focus and conquer. Aware this might be the last floor routine of her life, Elena took a deep breath and put on a smile.

It was game time for this young woman with a Spartan heart.

Congratulations, Elena Lagoski, 2017 Big Ten Floor Champion!

Your strength is incredible. Your passion is inspiring.

Thanks for letting Notes for Notes be just a small part of your team.

Written by:
Kristin (Peugeot) Myers
MSU Spartan 1996-2000

Photo Credit:
Arturo Rodriguez

Looking Both Ways w/ Olivia Millerschin; from Classical to Contemporary

Olivia Millerschin is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter who has toured the country with her new sophomore album “Look Both Ways”. Her album cover artwork puts you in the mind of Francis Cugat, the graphic artist for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby” and while she humbly expresses her appreciation of novel writers, she remains a graceful songwriter. Nonetheless, she was well equipped for the students at the Detroit Notes For Notes™ (N4N) Studio, as she’s been volunteering with us for two years. Originally trained for opera, with experience on Broadway, Olivia easily related to our classically trained Detroit School of Arts singers. She harnessed her classical training into a contemporary style much like they are learning to do.

IMG_0474The N4N songwriters and Olivia set out to rewrite Motown’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, from the perspective of ex-lovers. The youth were given much creative control and raved about their writing experience with Olivia. At a glimpse, the session highlighted the student’s excitement to vent, while remaining creatively autonomous. After all, they had a long day at school and already written in their journal were lyrics to be conjured to melodies. Renita and Shaunell were very interested in providing the vocal arrangements, harmony, and call and response to the song with Olivia’s help.


Initially, Millerschin ran an exercise similar to that of last Monday’s Guest Instructor Antea’s, but while Shelton emphasized the art of storytelling, Olivia began rewriting the Motown song immediately with the students. We found that both instructors’ methods of creating music were different, but very much so beneficial to our singer-songwriters.

Thank you so much Olivia for you continued support of N4N Detroit! We are looking forward to strengthening our partnership with you!




If You Can Sing, You Can Write Songs: Songwriting with Antea Shelton

Antea Shelton shared her expertise and experience in songwriting with the N4N youth artists.

Written by Nia Shumake

Monday was not an ordinary day for our Motown Mix singers and songwriters who frequent the Notes For Notes Detroit Studio to both study and recreate the “Motown Sound”. They experienced an enriching writing session with guest instructor, Antea Shelton, a Grammy nominated songwriter for Universal Music Group and artist at Detroit’s Original 1265 Records. Placing records with pop stars Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber, the young artists were floored by Antea’s musical achievements and eager to learn more of the craft.

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Tyonna and Joslyn sharing after a free write exercise.

 After discussing the defining key features of Detroit’s Motown Sound, the students serenaded Antea with a song they had written with Program Director Charity Ward entitled “Alright”. It was evident that juxtaposing these distinct sounds would set the atmosphere for sonic reinvention and cultivation. While many of our students grapple with identifying as singer-songwriters, Antea assured them,

“If you can sing, you can write songs.”

Eddie, Shaunell and Renita sharing their lyrics with the group.

She led an exercise that encompassed the art of storytelling which compelled them to be vulnerable in a group setting. This in itself was powerful for establishing rapport. It shed light on the students’  innermost feelings about teachers, past relationships and music; but what we found most intriguing was the revelatory aspect of the exercise that it simultaneously affirmed them as songwriters. It is our hope that this newfound mentorship between Antea and our students grows and also that they are fueled to expand their musicianship through the art of songwriting.

Spike Keeps Radio Real

When Spike, co-host of Detroit’s #1 morning radio show Mojo in the Morningshowed up with a box of Dunkin’ Donuts in hand, Notes For Notes youth knew they were in for a special night. Aware he’d be breaking the universal rule of NO FOOD OR DRINKS IN THE STUDIO, coffee was a must for Spike after an exceptionally long day of work that started before dawn at Channel 955 followed by Christmas shopping for his family. That box of donut holes was just as impressive as learning Spike has shaken the hands of influencers like President Barack Obama and Will Smith. The most impressive though? When he could sing the entire theme song of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air right along with our youth. Now that was cool!

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After an inspiring and informative group Q & A session, N4N podcasters went right to work asking Spike thought-provoking questions that required him to tackle an array of topics such as: the division sparked by the 2016 Presidential Election, today’s power of technology and his unequivocal love of Detroit.

Spike’s presence in the N4N Studio spoke volumes to our youth and made the pursuit of a radio career tangible and real to our students. The addition of the Mojo in the Morning sponsored broadcast station in Detroit’s studio has been such an effective teaching and learning tool that now every studio in the nation is equipped with a podcast station of its own. Thank you for your innovation and commitment to keep radio alive Mojo in the Morning and Crew! It’s working!

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We are forever grateful for our experience with Spike at the Notes for Notes studio. If you’d like to listen to more of the podcast you can access it HERE.



“Producing Tomorrow’s Musicians” : From the Studio to the Stage

Allen and Josh arrived at Detroit School of Arts’ Studio A confident, poised and unmistakably charismatic musicians. This was obviously not their first rodeo and they would soon wow the panel of judges as they seamlessly played Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” with friends and band mates Kevin and Destin. The entire quartet, with Josh’s colorful keyboard playing and Allen’s funky bass, was an instant and unanimous “yes” for the judges who were looking to find some of Detroit’s most gifted youth for the Notes for Notes and Motown Museum collaboration – Motown Mix. These young budding musicians were a perfect fit for the Motown Mix project, which would reimagine Motown classics through the collaborative efforts of DSA’s singers, songwriters, musicians and producers.

Check out a clip of their audition HERE !

Josh working on a Motown inspired track with production mentor Drew Schultz

Soon after auditions, the small group of the selected producers and musicians began frequenting the N4N studio, and Detroit program director Charity– who moonlights as a performing and recording artist- found herself in need of a band to accompany her for a gig. She realized she’d stumbled upon the perfect opportunity to bring her work of “Producing Tomorrow’s Musicians” from the N4N studio to the real stage. Josh and Allen would share their talents again in a new way- this time as Charity’s peers and fellow musicians.

Allen accompanying Charity on bass.

After spending one hour in rehearsal, the DSA 11th graders played skillfully and self-assured alongside Charity as she performed a few soulful originals at Detroit’s Carr Center. The audience applauded wildly upon learning that the band was comprised of local high school aged musicians. Josh and Allen were such crowd favorites that the next performer, saxophonist Gerald Dixon, requested them to accompany him during his set.


Notes for Notes is deeply grateful to the Motown Museum for the opportunity to develop young musicians through the lens of the Motown legacy and to Detroit School of Arts for sharing its brilliant youth.

We look forward to the magic that will be made by Josh, Allen and their fellow creators during the Motown Mix project.

The N4N Fuss about Elliott Blaufuss

It was a special afternoon when singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Blaufuss stopped by Nashville N4N to share his abundance of knowledge and original music with our youth.
As he strummed guitar chords he originally learned from his father, Elliott belted out melodies and lyrics on subjects our youth could easily relate to – such as society’s obsession with technology and social media as well as a call to action to love those who are different.  

In a short amount of time, Elliott’s warm and soulful demeanor transformed an audience of fans into an audience of friends. 

After his performance, Elliott willingly offered the spotlight to N4N teen artists Stephen, John, and Cory who shared their own musical talents while performing for him. Elliott was impressed with John and Stephen’s knowledge of advanced jazz chords and shapes as they improvised over his newly released tune “Nothin Left To Do but Love” .

Then Elliott listened intently as Hip-Hop artist Cory shared a vulnerable song written about the loss of his grandfather. Creative conversation with youth left this pro artist feeling inspired:

“So what do you say, guys? How about we make a beat?” Elliott offered.

With Elliott on keys, Stephen and John on guitar and Program Director Will Flores leading the session as producer, the artists defied barriers of age, race, genre and experience to collaborate on a track for Cory to later add to with Hip-Hop cadences and R&B melodies. The presence of creativity, talent and potential in the N4N studio inspired Elliott to offer to return as a mentor. And Elliott’s positive energy inspired these youth artists to get right to work on this collaboration track so they can share it with him soon.


Thank you, Elliott. You really are a star.

Can’t wait to introduce you to N4N Detroit youth this spring!

To be continued…

N4N Keeps it Cool with Casio

Youth vocalist auditioning for Motown Mix backed by the sounds of the Casio XW-G1.

The Casio XW-G1 serves Notes for Notes well as our diverse population of youth are always on the hunt for a vast array of sounds. This keyboard is capable of emulating popular music feels that range from Motown classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to current Hip Hop songs like Wale’s “P.Y.T”. With an extremely user-friendly layout, both instructors and youth are able to navigate and explore its numerous options of sound with ease.

Youth keyboardists from Detroit School of Arts selecting a Casio XW-G1 sound to audition for a Notes for Notes and Motown collaboration project called “Motown Mix”.

This easy access to Casio’s XW-G1’s rich variety of sounds and features inspires and empowers both beginning and advanced musicians to keep exploring, creating and playing great music. The Casio XW-G1 can be caught in action daily inside Detroit’s Notes for Notes Studio during keyboard and voice lessons, harmonizing with the bass guitar and drums during jam session, and backing youth during live performances.

Thanks Casio for helping N4N keep its cool!

Mojo in the Morning Makes a BIG Difference!

It was a great day at Notes for Notes when Detroit’s #1 talk show host Mojo in the Morning visited the Studio to hang with youth and work on song intros at the podcast station donated by Mojo himself.

11 year-old Ni’Asia was especially excited to meet him, and even confessed, “I didn’t have butterflies about working with you, Mojo. I had worms. And they were crawling around in my stomach!!!” But work together they did, and they had a great time doing it! Click HERE to catch a glimpse of the fun!

During his Q & A session, youth were surprised when Mojo admitted he still gets nervous during the peak of each show from 7 to 8am because over one million listeners are tuned in. During that hour, he’s always concerned about the content of the show. He wonders if what they’re talking about is important enough to keep listeners from changing the channel?

img_0155The next day on air, Mojo raved about his volunteer experience at N4N and SAY Detroit Play Center as a whole. He even featured Ni’Asia’s song intro to Beyonce’s “Halo” during his broadcast at 7:45am – the most critical hour of the show! Mojo recognized Ni’Asia’s hard work inside the Studio mattered. It mattered enough to share her voice with over one million people!

It was a dream come true for Ni’Asia. She was overcome with emotion when Program Director Charity Ward played it for her later that afternoon when she arrived at the Studio. Do your heart a favor and click HERE to watch her priceless reaction.

Thank you so much, Mojo, for not only donating top-of-the line broadcast gear, but also for your valuable time spent in the Studio to make a real difference, and the kindness of your heart to help share our story. You are an amazing community partner and we are so grateful for your generosity!