There is only one John Lennon Educational Tour Bus in the entire country. And this week, the hi-tech mobile recording studio is in Portland, right outside the Doug Fir Lounge. The bus and its crew travel the country offering a musical and educational experience for people of all ages. Andrew Theen took a peek inside the Magical Bus Monday and has this report.
The Lennon Bus is adorned with high-tech gizmos and recording instruments that would make almost anyone wide-eyed. Its three engineering gurus wear shirts that say “Imagine Peace” T-shirts in homage to John Lennon. In the rear studio the week's first workshop is just getting underway.
Brian Rothschild: “We're here today with girls from the Rock'N'Roll School for Girls here in Portland Oregon.”
That's Brian Rothschild. He co-founded the Lennon Bus ten years ago. Since then, it's traveled the country offering a unique music educational experience for anyone—for free. Rothschild says thanks to corporate sponsors the recording equipment on the bus remains state -of- the -art. One of the technicians says the bus is worth $1.4 million but costs $1.5 million a year to operate. Donations, he says, are crucial — but so is the crew.
Brian Rothschild: “Those are the people who actually make the magic happen, who work with the students to inspire what I call something from nothing, we start from scratch at the beginning of the day.”
One of those engineers, Jacob Voelzke, and six of the Rock N Roll Girls are already hard at work.
(Sound of guitar riff.)
Jacob Voelzke: “You know, that second half of that part of where it goes 'dadadadadada' on the second one, try to alternate the chords so it sorts of more harmonized with the bass instead of following it, you know what I mean.”
Jesse Jensema: “My name is Jesse Jensema I'm a producer-engineer here on board the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus.”
Jensema is a veteran of the Lennon Bus. For the past two years, for 10 months of the year, Jensema is on the road. Wherever the bus stops is his home. Each stop, they offer free workshops. The half dozen or so students can be anywhere from 4 years old to 67. Jensema and two other engineers play the role of music teacher.
Jesse Jensema: “They come on board, and we help them write and record an original song, shoot and edit a video, and burn it all to disc so all the students get their own product at the end of the day.”
Kelsey Bunker is the co-owner of the Jupiter Hotel and Doug Fir Lounge. If there's one party reponsible for bringing the Lennon Bus to town, it's her. She says the bus is all about inspiring people to try something new and learn life skills along the way. Bunker says the Lennon bus is already drawing attention.
Kelsey Bunker: “Just standing outside I just ran into a young girl who's a songwriter and says What can I do? How can I get on the bus.' I was like the bus is open tomorrow for the public.
Andrew Theen: “Was she pretty excited?”
Kelsey Bunker: “Yes. Thrilled. I said gather some friends. And she said, 'We could really record something,' and I said, 'Absolutely.'”
Oregon Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo was inspired enough to co-sponsor the bus' stay in Oregon.
(road sound under…)
Castillo says the importance of music and the arts for kids can hardly be overstated. John Lennon had a tremendous influence on her and her generation, she says. And she hopes that influence can continue.
Susan Castillo: “You know, being able to build on that and help young people get connected with what his music and what he was about and providing them an opportunity to then have their role in helping to send out wonderful creative messages to the world.”
But when Executive Director Brian Rothschild talks about the mission of the Lennon Bus, he doesn't mention the word music much.
Brian Rothschild: “Working together, troubleshooting problems, how to be a leader and at the same time how to compromise and work together — and those are all the kinds of skills that you need in your adult life. So in a lot of ways that's the most important thing that we do.”
Andrew Theen: “And you get some good music out of it I'm sure.”
Brian Rothschild “And we get some really good music out of it, too. Of course. There's, you know, all styes are created on board. Things that are more classically based, hip-hop influences, r & b, jazz, pop, we've really worked in many many idioms over the years.”
In the recording studio Jacob Voelzke and the Rock N Roll Girls are hammering out the intro to their song.
(Sound from recording session): (Drums play.) “What's the fourth note in yours. B?” “B.” “Okay, yeah let's try it out on the keyboard…”
At the end of their workshop the girls get a dvd of their video, and chances are it'll be on the website youtube.
The Lennon Bus is open to the public Tuesday and Wednesday. The Doug Fir hosts a John Lennon tribute night on Thursday. The winner of Friday's Battle of the Bands gets to record a song and video in the Lennon Bus. The Bus heads to Salem on Monday.