We’ve all got it. That little bass drum pounding away in our chest, driving the beat that is life. So it really is no surprise that music grabs us by the heart, gets our fingers tapping, lips to singing, feet to dancing.
It gets the 80-year-old out on the dance floor and the toddler bouncing to the beat. In the scheme of things, music orchestrates life. From the tinkling notes of “Brahms’ Lullaby” at the birth of a child, to “Pomp and Circumstance” at graduation, “Mendelssohn’s Wedding March” at the joining of two lives, or “Amazing Grace” at funerals, music underscores important moments in life. It celebrates joy. It comforts sorrow.
The truth is, music surrounds us. Stores serenade us while shopping. Elevators hold us captive to it. We turn it on in our cars, and buy songs and ringtones for our cell phones. Dentists provide headphones filled with it while they excavate our mouths. And, admit it, most of us have been known to sing in the shower. But while millions upon millions of folks enjoy music, only a small percentage of people become music-makers.
Professional musician Steve Ono, 61, is one of those, and says his passion for music started early.
“I remember seeing Mickey Mouse conducting on the television,” Ono said. “In elementary school I made bongo drums out of Quaker Oats boxes. I beat them to a pulp.”
Eventually he got a drum set and then moved on to guitar. Self-taught in the beginning, Ono credits fellow member Frank Hicks of the Fresno Folklore Society for sparking his interest in furthering his study of music. Ono graduated from the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood in 1980.
A talented guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger and producer, Ono turns his talent to jazz, folk, folk-rock and blues. Enjoying a decades-long career, he played with several bands, and teamed up with harmonica master Eddie Gordon and violinist Patrick Contreras as well. He freelances now and works as an arranger and producer. Every Friday and Saturday, Ono shares his passion by teaching private lessons on guitar, bass guitar and ukulele at Gottschalk Music Center, 328 Pollasky Ave. in Old Town Clovis.
“Music transcends language,” Ono noted. “It’s about a feeling, whatever it might be. A rhythmic impulse, calming or exciting. Texture and tone – smooth or jarring. It’s about a message through movement, moving together. And we’ve been doing this before we could talk.”
To others who might be interested in making music, Ono is clear. “Just go for it.”
A former student of Ono and a talented musician in his own right, Ben Wiles, 29, began his music-making talents early. At the age of eight he learned piano and then around age 12 he moved on to the guitar because as he notes, “The guitar is cooler than the piano.”
Fans of his indie rock band, “The Jacktones”, are likely to agree. Wiles and fellow band members Ian Suhovy, Ryan Calvert, DJ Shirley, and Kyle Lowe play all the top venues around Fresno and across the state. They recently released their first CD “Unriddled”, and have a growing following on YouTube.
Wiles’ talent on the guitar, mandolin and ukulele is well known, and he accompanies other musicians in the recording studio. Most recently, he recorded with Astrid Plane (formerly with Animotion) on her current release “And So It Is.”
In addition to playing music, Wiles mentors 45 students in private lessons at Gottschalk Music Center. While he has chosen music as his day and night job, Wiles said, “You don’t have to make a career out of it to have fun doing it.”
The sounds of bluegrass are enjoyed all year long around Clovis, and nobody does it better than “Baloney Creek.” Four band members of varying ages and backgrounds come together to create their unique style.
Fiddle player Dalisay Johnson, five-time California state fiddle champ and graduate of Clovis High School, began playing when she was six years old. Filled with energy and love for the genre, Johnson plays in other bands as well, including “Sons of the San Joaquin” and “Back in the Valley.” Johnson’s advice to those interested in playing in a band is simple and direct.
“There is no room for egos,” she said. “Teamwork is essential, along with communication and trusting your fellow musicians to play their part.”
Along with her bands, Johnson also teaches private fiddle lessons, and has advice for those thinking about trying music for the first time.
“Find something you have a passion to learn, but have fun first!” she said.
Ed Bell plays the mandolin in the band. A skilled musician, he also plays the guitar, fiddle and banjo. Originally from Kilgore, Texas, Bell began playing music when he was in junior high. Early in his music career he formed a country band called “Western Express.”
“Music is important because it improves the right brain,” Bell said. His advice for those wanting to be in a band? “Be prepared to work hard. Don’t over think it, just enjoy it.”
Bass player Charlotte Allen, started music early.
“I started piano at age five and have picked up other instruments along the way,” she said.
As a college student, Allen makes time for music because it’s important to her.
“Music is something that is very special,” she said. “When an artist or musician plays and puts themselves into what they are doing, it also shows who they are.”
To aspiring musicians, Allen suggest this: “Take lessons, because having a strong background in theory and technique is essential for mastering your instrument.”
Being in a band is educational as well, she said. “I have learned that I play best when I dial in and focus in on the music. I have also learned to be versatile and work well with others.”
Lead guitarist in the band, Richard Rhyne, has a special connection to music. When he was 13 Rhyne was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease of the eye that causes blindness. By his sophomore year, he could not see the board or read the textbooks. Because the school had no provisions at the time to help him, he left school and music became his outlet, his entertainment and ultimately his path to success. Self-taught, with a true talent on the guitar, Rhyne plays in another band as well.
When asked why he plays, his answer is simple and heartfelt: “I love music. I need to play or I feel like something is missing.”
Clovis High School band member Brandon Hatch, 15, is a multitasker when it comes to music. He plays piano, trombone, tuba, guitar and the euphonium (baritone). At CHS he plays in the Honors Jazz Band, the wind ensemble and the marching band.
“Music has added much to my life,” he said. “It is a way to escape from stress and problems. It has inspired me to strive for perfection, boosted my confidence, and has given me much joy.”
Hatch explained the experience of performing with the band or orchestra.
“You are with a group of people with a common goal, and you are all working together to create something much greater,” he said. “It’s these moments, the moments when you get to that amazing part in the piece, or that melodic line just speaks to you or after the band releases the last chord and it reverberates through the hall. It’s these moments that make me love being in band so much.”
Hatch is interested in a career in music, and says, “I would love to have a job as a composer, especially for films.”
Kassidy Caporusso, 10, loves music and her instrument of choice is her voice. She began singing at age eight when she performed in the play “Cosmic Pinball.”
“I like singing in front of my parents and sister,” she said. “It makes me kind of nervous being in front of a bunch of people, but I like making them happy when I sing.”
Supportive dad Mike Caporusso sang competitively from elementary through high school years, so he encourages her interest in singing.
“Our whole family is musical,” he said. “We have musical instruments – guitars, drums, keyboards – all over the house. Music is good for culture in life. It expands a little beyond what kids have today, the electronics, and it’s fun.”
These talented musicians make it clear that music is a valuable art, one that is not limited by age. It creates joy, provides passion and purpose. But research shows that there is another important aspect to the study of music. Beyond the enjoyment it brings, music teaches the mind to think critically.
Elliott Seiff, an educational consultant for grades K-12, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, stated: “As students learn to read notes, compose music, play an instrument . . .they are also learning how to develop new concepts, build vocabulary and learn a new language.”
This new language, with its symbols of clef, staff, notes, etc. is foreign at first, but broken into smaller pieces reinforces the same skills needed to learn the alphabet, reading, writing and math, Seiff said.
“Learning a musical instrument . . . teaches that taking small steps, practicing to get better at something, being persistent, and being patient, even in the face of adversity, are important for growth and improvement. In other words, the arts teach habits, behaviors and attitudes that are necessary for success in any field of endeavor,” he continued.
Esmeralda Rocha Lozano, Clovis High School director of instrumental music and board member of the California Band Directors Association and Western Band Association, understands the value of the science of music education. But her purpose in educating students goes beyond that.
“For me, one of the most important things about music education is how we get to impact so many lives for the better,” Rocha Lozano said. “Daily, we see hundreds of students walk in our doors. We get to directly impact how kids think, treat each other and work together. What we do and how we do it will impact these students’ lives forever.
“You see, here is the funny thing about music education. In a few years from now, these students won’t remember how to march their shows, play their second flute part by memory, or even remember what their score from a competition was. What they will walk away with are the memories of the people, the places and the experiences.
“We get to teach them accountability, responsibility, how to treat each other, how to be respectful, how to work hard each and every day. I call what I do not so much music education, but lifelong learning. I get to use music as my resource subject. What a great way to serve students and families. With all of this, the bigger picture is that what I do is not just for me or them, but the future.”