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!

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

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!

This is Charity. She is Detroit.

unnamedCharity Ward grew up in a Detroit neighborhood very similar to the home of Notes for Notes. Homeschooled with 3 siblings, Charity developed a competitive edge that would make her stand out and an unharnessed drive to succeed.

By day, Charity is Detroit’s Notes for Notes Program Director and Area Director for Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. By night, Charity is an amazing R&B/Soul Singer Songwriter. All day every day, Charity’s vibe is as electric as her gravity defying hair and her heart as beautiful as her caramel skin.

Take last Tuesday for example:

11:00 am: Charity the Artist performed at DIME for the President of Republic Records and Nick Cannon to showcase up and coming musical talent in Detroit. Charity opted to sing her original song Pretty as it is upbeat, hopeful and very much alive by nature – which is how she views Detroit. It’s a song that inspires people to sing along. To move together. To be part of the action in a positive way.

This is Charity. She is Detroit.

2:00 pm: Charity the Area Director of N4N Detroit stood on stage in Alliyah Hall inside the Detroit School of Arts. She offered a dynamic presentation on the rich history and impact of Motown. A presentation that started with DSA students lounging in their chairs, and ended with them leaning forward to find out more. At the conclusion, Charity announced open auditions for youth to participate in Motown Mix – a collaborative project supported by the Esther Berry Gordy Bullock Foundation. An opportunity for young Detroit musicians, producers, songwriters and singers to contribute to the rebirth of Motown – to take a song that was and turn it into a song that is. The students surrounded Charity after her inspirational presentation. They couldn’t get enough.

This is Charity. She is Detroit.

6:00 pm: Charity the Program Director of N4N Detroit was inside the Notes for Notes Studio sharing her artistic talents to teach a youth girls’ ensemble Who Would Imagine a King by Whitney Houston for the upcoming Christmas program at S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center. They learned the song quickly and sang it beautifully. She said their conviction gave her chills.

This is Charity. She is Detroit.





The rock band NEEDTOBREATHE visited the Notes for Notes Detroit studio after their Meadow Brook stop of Tour de Compadres 2016. The fact this translates to “Tour of Friends” is fitting as Bear, Bo, Seth, Josh and Randall volunteered their time to truly make friends with N4N youth, staff and local donors in attendance. Between breathtaking acoustic performances of original songs off their H A R D L O V E album, the band spent an entire hour talking back and forth with youth to share musical experiences and lessons learned on the road.

The band members spoke candidly with youth, admitting that pursuing their passion is not always easy. While the life of a rockstar often looks glamorous, lots of tough sacrifices have to be made along the way as theyNEEDTOBREATHE N4N Detroit miss their loved ones, especially their kids, at home. Our youth appreciated their honesty and really dug in with insightful questions to find out more. An obvious connection was made during the powerful Happiness – with youth singing along and snapping, because according to Bear, that’s “much cooler than clapping.”

Youth were especially intrigued when they learned band leaders Bear and Bo Rinehart are brothers, and bassist Seth Bolt their best friend since childhood.  The exciting fact they now tour the world together to share their story through song was very inspiring. The incredible bonds of family and friends these musicians share affirmed the value in Notes for Notes’ dedication to forming positive relationships through music.

While it may have been true our youth didn’t know much about NEEDTOBREATHE prior to their visit, it’s a fact they’ll never forget them now. Thanks for taking the time to get to know us, NTB. Much appreciated.