The day after the Portland Public School teachers strike began, My Voice Music jumped into action with Music Exploration Sessions. For youth ages 9-13, the sessions at the MVM Studio offer basic instruction and exploration on guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, songwriting, beat making, and recording. It was a terrific way to help kids, families, and caregivers, and the effort is right in line with MVM’s mission of “amplifying young voices and igniting self-discovery through music.” Luisa, age 9, who attended the final session said, “It was great! We played the drums and rocked out and it was really fun!”
Founded in 2008, MVM was the brainchild of Ian Mouser, who found through his work as a counselor at a treatment center for youth that he could change kids’ lives by teaching them how to express themselves through music. Mouser had such success that he started MVM as an independent, non-profit organization to teach kids and young adults how to write, record, and perform original songs and instrumental pieces.
THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series
These innovative classes are held at MVM Studio with satellite programs that reach out to residential treatment centers, juvenile detention centers, refugee resettlement facilities, and the foster care system. Because it positively affects the lives of more than one thousand students annually, MVM has received numerous accolades, including the inaugural Lewis Prize, which awarded $500,000 in 2020 to help build their new headquarters in East Portland.
So, it was a total shock in October of 2021, when Mouser, while on a fundraising bicycle ride across the United States, died after a pickup truck collided with his bicycle in Arizona. Several years before his tragic death, he and the MVM board decided to move MVM Studios from their rented space in the Sunnyside Neighborhood to 89th and SE Stark where programs are accessible to the part of Portland that has the most kids from the most diverse backgrounds and the least amount of resources.
The new headquarters has 4,500 square feet of acoustically-treated space. One room contains the latest in recording equipment plus an isolated room for vocals. Another room accommodates practice sessions, additional recording, and a third practice room is also used for individual and family therapy, with licensed therapist and Satellite Programs Director, Monica Metzler. A large event space is set up as a stage for rehearsal and shows. It’s also decked out with a full drum set, microphones, speakers, synthesizers, and lighting.
“We use music as a tool for having a healthy relationship with yourself and others,” explained Executive Director Amy Sabin. “We have a safe space that kids can come to and use music as a tool of self-expression and coping with the stresses of life. We provide individual lessons that are based around mentorship, are trauma-informed, and responsive to the needs of the participant. In our group programs, youth build a band, which is a great way to learn how to communicate and be in a community – learning how to express yourself, process your emotions, and advocate for yourself while making space for others.”
As the lead singer and songwriter for local band Shadowlands, Sabin has a lot of working experience, and she is just one of several members of the MVM staff who have their roots in the music world. They are eager to work with youth, and have created a wide range of classes.
Here’s a sampling of MVM Studios programs:
- Open Studio is an afterschool program where middle and high-school-aged youth can learn an instrument, write and record songs, and collaborate with others at their own pace.
- Amplify programs allow students to meet weekly and jam, write, and record as a group. This program has three tiers to accommodate participants by age and musical ability. Sessions often include rehearsals for upcoming performances, recording, songwriting, and collaborative jam sessions.
- The Hip Hop Lab meets on Fridays to make beats, write lyrics, record vocals, and practice the art of stage presence.
- Young adults (ages 18-24) can take the Transitions class to further explore their artistic development on a weekly basis. Participants can collaborate with peers and professional working musicians to write, record, explore musical concepts, and rehearse for upcoming performances.
- Let’s Write A Song Together provides a one-on-one experience to work with professionals on an original song.
MVM also has opportunities for three or more rockers who want to form their own band. Studio Director Luke Hall can help them record in individual recording sessions. Students can also work with experienced instructors to learn an instrument, hone their songwriting skills, or go deeper into recording.
“All programs are pay what you can afford with no questions asked,” said Communications Director and Program Leader Trent Finlay. “Because of our generous supporters we have a strong Play It Forward scholarship program. No one is turned away for financial reasons, and if you age out, we’ll find a way to keep working with you.”
MVM Studios serves as a hub and as an incubator for other youth music organizations that share the common mission to amplify youth voices.
“We recently partnered with a youth arts organization called Arts for Learning,” said Sabin. “Most people know it as Young Audiences of Oregon and SW Washington.” This fall Arts for Learning ran a series of weekend workshops in MVM’s building called Live Set hosted by nonprofit Friends of Noise to teach teens live sound engineering that culminated in a live performance on the final day. “Partnerships like these fit our vision to make MVM Studio into a community hub,” said Sabin.
Additionally, on December 10th, My Voice Music is hosting a cross-organizational youth music showcase in the new building. MVM is opening their annual showcase to feature performances by youth served by other nonprofit organizations they partner with throughout the year, such as Friends of Noise, Friends of the Children, Montavilla Jazz, XRAY.FM, and p:ear, an organization that mentors homeless youth through arts and recreation that has six young people performing at the event. The event is open to the public and free, with donations encouraged to support participating nonprofits through Willamette Week’s Give!Guide.
The large event space area in the MVM building has a large painting of Mouser with a big smile on his face. Considering the good work that MVM continues to do, he is certainly smiling on it all.