“If you have an iPad, then you have a recording studio,” said Max Alper, teacher and founder of Sonic Arts For All.
Alper, a Brooklyn College grad student, is on a mission to teach what he calls “the most prominent musical language of our time” to those who need it most, using the technology that we use every day.
Sonic Arts For All is Alper’s nonprofit that brings digital music to K-12 students, people with special needs, and financially underserved communities. “We wanted to appeal to general outsider students who feel like they aren’t welcomed in your typical music class,” said Alper.
This month, Alper is launching his dream music program at Brooklyn College’s Center for Computer Music — workshops for kids and families in Flatbush and Midwood.
“My goal is to get kids with complementary interests working together, in whatever capacity they want — either as a collective of producers or a band. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do there since I was an undergrad at Brooklyn College,” said Alper, who works as a special needs music technology teacher.
Alper’s vision for SAFA’s Brooklyn College music workshop is unique — to introduce higher concepts of composition and music theory, while relating them back to the fun and interactive side of making beats. He believes that music technology is the perfect medium for every type of learning style, and he’s been proving this theory for a while.
“In one program, we time we spent 10 minutes making a song and then the kids wanted to spend the next 50 minutes running around playing the songs for all their friends. They were so excited; the technology makes it that much more accessible to put out a musical idea,” he said.
SAFA’s programs teach composition, arrangement, and production through listening exercises, interactive lessons and independent projects — like composing a 16-bar rhythm or an entire concept album, culminating in a portfolio of recordings for each student.
“The fundamentals in music such as theory, ear training, and orchestration can be taught through modern interfaces, whether it’s an iPad, a smartphone, or a basic PC,” Alper said, and a lot of the equipment is accessible for people of all income levels. “The world of digital apps is huge, and you don’t even have to spend any money a lot of the time. Garage band is only $5, I mean — my mom uses it!”
For SAFA’s workshop in Flatbush, Brooklyn College is providing all of the equipment.
For Alper, digital music is a great equalizer. “My whole ethos that this is all the same language, whether you’re a professor or Skrillex or one of these kids. We’re all using these interfaces to do the same thing — have fun, make music, and hear ourselves in an non-traditional way,” he said.
Alper also works with kids with Down’s Syndrome and Autism on personal recording and performance projects. “A lot of the nonverbal kids use iPads to communicate — they get the interfaces, touch screens and iPads. When they finally hear themselves speak or sing, or a beat they made, that’s when the lightbulb goes off.”
Alper seems to have a special knack for making everyone belong. “Everyone has a different way of expressing themselves and picking up information,” he said, “as a teacher, you just adapt your way of communicating.”
Alper told us that he had his own struggles at school, until he found a musical outlet that spoke to him. “I think no one should fit into what we consider the standard public school curriculum. I’m the most musical person out there — I sang before I spoke — but even I struggled to learn piano and formal theory,” he said. That’s when he discovered garage band, and found that his musical mind translated onto a digital interface.
Alper teaches as a way to pay it forward. “I couldn’t have graduated college and gotten this far without my family and teachers supporting me as an artist,” he said, “so I want to provide that support for other kids who may not have that privilege.”
In addition to their program at Brookln College, SAFA is beginning programs throughout the city this month, including a group class for teenagers at Powrplnt in Bushwick beginning August 11; and a program for kids with autism at the Atlas Foundation in Manhattan.
For more information, visit the Sonic Arts For All website and awesome videos on their Facebook page. To sign up for SAFA’s Brooklyn College program, email Max Alper with the subject line “SAFA! One-on-One” and be sure to ask about sliding scale tuition costs for students and families.