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DJ Davilla on the Beat

9-year-old Jeremy Davilla loves coming into the Notes For Notes Studio whenever he can. Besides rocking out on the drums, Jeremy’s favorite instruments are digital. He enjoys making beats on the Maschine (a beat-production workstation) and the beat-making station (a combination of synthesizer, drum machine, and loop station).

Jeremy’s favorite new addition to making beats is playing and remixing them with the Traktor DJ controller. While he’s only just made his “DJ debut,” Jeremy can’t get enough of certain songs and loves playing with the effects and spinning the jog wheels to make his own style of remixes. Check out the short video below!

Godwin “Ghost” Produces

Over the last few months, the Notes For Notes Studio in St. Paul has welcomed a wide variety of young artists to come in and exhibit their musical skills. Some were one-visit wonders and others saw the amazing opportunity our free recording studio offers and are continuing to utilize it.

One member, Godwin Agbara (14), specifically stands out in my mind as a Studio VIP. During the summer, Godwin would make the trek to the West Side Boys & Girls Club once or twice a week – as often as he was able to – coming all the way from Apple Valley ( a 30-minute car ride! ).

I remember the first time I met Godwin. As he came through the studio door and into the Mix Room, I began asking him some basic questions to gauge his interest and experience in music. I can’t recall his answers because they were nearly inaudible. I could, however, tell that Godwin had a reason to be in the studio.

He had a timeworn, dog-eared black notebook and a very honest, sincere voice. I knew that Godwin had a lot of creative ideas to express musically. The hard part was figuring out how to let him open up so that we could create a musical canvas he felt comfortable putting his heart and soul on.

Although he was noticeably nervous his first few times coming into the studio, Godwin really began to  shine once he was able to find his voice behind the songs he had written. Godwin and I had multiple discussions about the meaning and experiences behind his writing and discussed the feelings and emotions the music should convey.

After hearing his recorded voice back for the first time, Godwin started coming into the studio even more frequently, with a greater sense of belonging, and with a much greater confidence in his musical abilities.

The first finished song Godwin and I created is called, “Disconnected.” It’s the story of an abrupt end to a personal relationship, where the narrator fears that although he has “a million words to say,” he will never have the chance to say them to the person they’re meant for. It’s a beautiful heartfelt song that allows the listener to feel the sustained anguish of not knowing the reasons for a good thing’s end. I personally love the way Godwin uses his words sparingly to create a feeling of open-ended mystery and ceaseless wonder. Listen for yourself below!

Godwin chose to go by the name of Ghost and the Phantoms for his current recording project. He prefers to remain anonymous, while still accrediting the help he received from other artists in the Notes For Notes Studio during the making of his first record. I’m greatly looking forward to helping Godwin continue his musical endeavors and find ways to express how he feels even if there’s no one to listen to him at the time. Sometimes music makes the best psychiatrist.

International Music Lovers Unite!

Towards the end of summer programming in Saint Paul, a large population of our members got the chance to explore the beautiful sounds of nature through the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities’ Camp Voyageur. Voyageur is a year round environmental education center that is owned and operated by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, providing BGC members the opportunity to experience activities in nature like insect study, canoeing, outdoor survival, paddle-boarding, archery, and more!

Although the St. Paul Notes for Notes™ Studio did miss a large selection of daily members during these weeks, we also got the chance to connect and explore music from an international perspective. The studio was graced with 5 international volunteers who traveled all the way from Germany to be a part of the Camp Voyageur experience. During the time they weren’t surrounded by wilderness, they spent their afternoons hanging out with Notes for Notes members singing karaoke, showing off technical metal guitar solo skills, and teaching a few of our members how to drum like madmen.

"Owl" and "Hoops" serenading the studio with a duet performance.

“Owl” and “Hoops” serenading the studio with a duet performance.

The best part about having international students in the St. Paul studio was their ability to connect with our members and show them that music is a passion that transcends language; an art form that can be practiced and enjoyed wherever life may take you. Although some of our members got some laughs out of our guests’ accents when performing American pop songs, they were definitely taken aback when they heard what a couple of the campers were able to collaborate and jam on with electric guitar and drums. I’m willing to bet that the majority of our St. Paul members had never heard metal music before. After seeing their awestruck faces watching a volunteer whose name I cannot pronounce shred on the studio’s Les Paul, I knew that they had just been introduced to a whole new world of music.

And that’s what music is all about: making new connections and discovering new ideas through a shared passion for listening and creating sounds based on your perception of the world around you.

I can’t wait for more opportunities to introduce our members to ideas and genres they have never experienced before.


Notes For Notes at the Knicker Open

On Monday the 17th, a crew of 9 Notes For Notes members and I voyaged to a far away land in Bloomington, MN. Bloomington is home to our nation’s largest shopping center: The Mall of America. It’s also the site of the 25th Annual Knicker Open, a special fundraising event for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. Notes For Notes St. Paul was lucky enough to get an invitation to perform at the event.

Since 1992, the Knicker Open has hosted prestigious golfers decked out in colorful knickers competing for an array of coveted awards and prizes, all for the benefit of their local Boys & Girls Clubs. Over the 25 years of the Knicker Open, golfers and sponsors have contributed over $1 million to BGC programs that have allowed the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities and Notes For Notes be where they are today!

Before our performance, our kids we’re excited to help out at the event in different ways. Some of our group greeted guests and passed out tickets, others helped at the bag drop, and a few helped out with book donations. According to the kids, it didn’t feel like work at all! Some of our teens even got to meet Al Lenzmeier, the founder of our West Side Boys & Girls Club.

When our performance time rolled around, everyone was ready to roll. This time around we we’re even more prepared than last time. Equipped with microphones and some fresh dance moves, our whole team was ready to rock.


Notes For Notes is on the golf course!

The crowd loved our rendition of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Anthem “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan. it was an uplifting and patriotic performance that got everyone in the mood to compete and celebrate.

For the rest of the day, our kids received compliment after compliment and got to spend a beautiful afternoon out on the Minnesota Valley Country Club golf course playing games against golfers and riding around on golf carts – a first for many of our members!

All-in-all, we had a great day representing the Notes For Notes Studio in our West Side Clubhouse and can’t wait for the next performance.

Check out the gallery below to see some awesome photos from the event!

Special thanks to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities and photographer Leah Fontaine for making these magic moments last forever. You guys rock!

Open Mic Nights

Every Friday, members of the West Side Boys & Girls Club have the opportunity to perform their favorite songs on stage in front of a live audience of their peers. It’s a time where we open the door to many members at once and allow everyone with a desire to perform have their time to shine.

20170206_164238These Friday afternoons are a time of great energy and excitement for the boys & girls of Saint Paul. Even those who are more timid enjoy being a part of the group by participating as an audience member. One of the best parts about open mic would have to be the program’s ability to draw in new faces and give those who are often bystanders the opportunity to get involved, even if just for a few minutes!

20170707_150758Past acts have included karaoke covers of popular songs, drum solos, songs sung entirely in Spanish, keyboard covers, and freestyle rapping.

It’s awesome to see so many young people interested in music and truly enjoying being able to do it in their own, unique way.


the following photo credits go to Akeelah Miller. Thanks, Akeelah!

the following photo credits go to Akeelah Miller. Thanks, Akeelah!


Check out some of the candid shots one of our members (thanks, Akeelah!) snapped during a recent open mic night below!











St. Paul’s Debut Live Performance

This last Monday, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities celebrated the 15th Annual Morrissey Hospitality Golf Classic at the Hillcrest Golf Club in Saint Paul. In the past, this annual fundraiser event has brought in over $250,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities! This year, the event featured beautiful weather, delicious food, and a debut performance from the West Side’s Notes For Notes Ensemble.

The week leading up to the event, our ensemble dealt with some last-minute changes with some of our original superstars being unable to make the date of the performance. Needless to say, the team handled these variations like pros and quickly adapted to their changing roles. It was an honor to have Notes For Notes debut a live performance at such a large and important fundraising event for the Twin Cities’ Boys & Girls Clubs. Our young performers definitely felt the nerves as well as the rush of performing for the first time in front of a large audience.

We arrived at the Hillcrest Country Club a little before 11 AM with a sense of summer and excitement in the air. Our ensemble had their fifteen minutes of fame taking pictures with attendees and staff members and then dove into full focus-mode. This part was hard, as there were rows and rows of cool golf carts, beautiful scenery, a swimming pool (that our ensemble so-wanted to cannonball into), and the smell of lunchtime wafting through the air.

11-year-old General cant wait until the day he can take a cart out on the green!

10-year-old General cant wait until the day he can take a cart out on the green himself!

The crew kept it together, though, and we’re able to give a memorable first performance for the St. Paul Notes For Notes’ debut. Our ensemble featured General Thompson (10) on cajon, Serena Hines (11) on djembe, Lydia Sanchez (11), Liliana Guerrero (9), Marcquia Love (11), and Ciera Johnson (10) on vocals. After hearing so many members of the club singing this tropical tune from Disney’s Moana, we decided that “How Far I’ll Go,” would be the perfect piece for an acoustic performance on the Hillcrest Golf Course. The performance kick-started the day for the golfers as well as the drive in our youth for more opportunities to perform!


Check out the West Side Notes For Notes Ensemble’s performance from Monday below and stay tuned! The kids tell me their next performance is going to be “wayyyy better!”



Don’t Hate, Collaborate!

One of the best parts about working in the Notes For Notes Studio at the West Side Boys & Girls Club is the members. Everyday I get to meet new kids with big ideas and different levels of skill. Today I spent time preparing a group of young girls for a performance of one of their favorite songs from the soundtrack of Disney’s “Moana,” as well as guided and produced multiple tracks for some talented young rappers.

Life in the studio is never boring, but perhaps the biggest issue our members face is antagonism and rejection from other members of the club.

Notes For Notes offers a safe haven for young artists wanting to express themselves through music and it’s always disheartening to hear of ridicule and trash-talking when it comes to a piece of work one of our members has worked hard on.

The recurring members of our Saint Paul studio have come to accept this as part of the music-making process and are constantly offering advice and encouraging each other in their musical endeavors.

A group of young men with ambitions in modern hip-hop have taken the experience of receiving negative feedback and turned it into an fun, uplifting new track called “Haters Gonna Hate.” 13-year-old Donterris first came up with the idea one day in the studio while free-styling over a new beat I made. The idea was so catchy that other members of the club began singing along and wanting to add their own parts to the song.

This sort of collaboration and positive messaging is what Notes For Notes is all about.

Donterris’ great attitude and ability to bring out the best in others makes him a huge force in the fight against negativity. So far, Donterris has teamed up with 11-year old Eric and 12-year-old Davian to spread the positive message to others through rap. Check out a preview of the trio’s first track below!


The Future Songwriters of Saint Paul

As the recurring members of our Saint Paul studio continue to learn more about the music they love, their curiosity continues to grow. I came into the Boys & Girls Club this Friday to see a line of nearly 20 youth eagerly waiting outside the studio door. Word spreads fast, and as soon as our studio members began sharing their musical accomplishments with their peers, the floodgate opened.

The newest and most coveted program to draw a crowd is our creative song writing workshop, where youth ages 9 and up can gather in a small group setting to learn about the creative process behind creating a unique and original song.

LeeSandra Cyrus drafts lyrics to her new song "Tropical, Junior."

9-year-old Lee’Sandra Cyrus drafts lyrics to her new song “Tropical, Junior.”

The first step to writing an original song is, of course, figuring out what you want to write about! Group brainstorming sessions have become a staple of the initial process, allowing everyone to have their input written down, where all ideas are good ideas. After we’ve filled a page with potential subjects, each song writer will naturally eliminate options they don’t like and start searching for inspiration and information on the subjects they do.

So far, members have chosen subjects such as cars, dirt bikes, bullies, family, science, and iced tea. Once an idea is born and some initial lyrics are written down, the youth have a chance to experiment with different sounds and musical styles using virtual instruments, audio samples, and loops on Ableton Live.

Saint Paul Program Director Eldon instructs 11-year-old General and Julian on the basics of Ableton Live.

Saint Paul Program Director Eldon instructs 11-year-old General and 9-year-old Julian on the basics of making music with Ableton Live.

This select group’s desire to learn and create has inspired other Boys & Girls Club members to do the same. Almost everyday I meet a new young artist yearning to get in the vocal booth and create a lasting portrait of themselves through sound. With the technology and instruction these youth receive at this point in their lives, they’ll be far ahead of the competition once it comes to creating musical pieces of work outside of Notes for Notes and my direction. I cannot wait to share the first tracks these talented young musicians have brought to life. Years down the road, they’ll look back and be able to see and hear how far they’ve come, as well as the importance of continuously working hard for something you want.



From the Stage to the Studio

Our Saint Paul studio is located in a historic cultural location in the Twin Cities. The border of the West Side, an area now called District Del Soul, was a hot spot for Mexican and Central American immigration during the last century. The foundations and institutions set up by these families hold significant value to this day, bringing city-wide visitors to experience the cultural flavor and unique character of the area.

Our two newest tracks come from a young trio by the name Rafael Rivera y Sus Joyas Nortenas. Rafael and “his northern jewels” are a band composed of brother Rafael (14) and sisters Kenia (12) and Litzi Rivera-Mendoza (11). The history of District Del Sol not only reflects their family’s story, but is also celebrated and brought to life in their music!


The talented trio came to Notes For Notes as previous club members who were extremely excited about the addition of a music studio to their childhood Boys & Girls Club. After practicing intensely and developing a full live show, the band’s performances from Minneapolis to Green Bay, WI have prepared them for a professional recording environment.

Rafael in Record Mode

Rafael records multiple instruments almost every night he comes into the studio! Previously writing and recording his music through the GarageBand app on his iPhone, the transition from the stage to the studio has been one that Rafael made fluently.

With big ambition, incredible talent, work ethic, and studio etiquette, the potential in these 3 is huge. I cannot wait to see where their dedication to music takes them. These first tracks are just a small piece of the work Kenia, Litzi, and Rafael have planned for the studio.

Listen to Rafael’s original song, “Te Fuiste” below!


The Power of Music

As a universal language, music has been connecting people all over the world, combating language barriers, religious beliefs, and race for thousands and thousands of years. The oldest musical instruments found to date are ancient flutes from over 40,000 years ago. The ancient flutes are evidence for an early musical tradition that likely helped modern humans communicate and form tighter social bonds, researchers argue.


In 2017, youth have more ways than ever before to connect with each other and share similar interests. At the Boys & Girls Club in West Saint Paul, I’ve witnessed a lot of friends coming together over their love of music, but more importantly, I’ve seen kids who had never met before become great friends just by playing around with different instruments in the same room together.

Goofy Guitarists

9-year-old Daniel Tolson and 10-year-old General Thompson get goofy after an afternoon guitar class.

Through programming at Notes For Notes, new friendships have blossomed and kids have teamed up, not just in the studio, but outside of it as well, proving that music has the ability to create lasting bonds even after the studio’s doors are closed. Different aged kids from different schools with different skill levels in music have been performing together, helping one another and devising plans for their musical futures through the use of the Notes For Notes facility.

Talent Show Performers

14-year-old William Bailey helps 9-year-old Selina Fredrichs sing the hook for “See You Again,” while performing with 10-year-old LeeSandra Cyrus on drums for the 2017 Spring Talent Show.

That’s just the power of music in action. Kids can be cruel to one another, but given a positive learning environment they forget why and become focused on the task at hand. Whether it’s forming a band to play a favorite pop song, coming up with questions for a new podcast, or just laughing about how funny the sound on a synthesizer is, music continues to find new ways to bring people together, regardless of predispositions.