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New company gives high school students a look into music industry

The Harmony Lab classroom at Red River High School bares a rare scene in comparison with other high school classrooms. As some students sit in front of computers wearing large headphones, tapping their fingers to the beat, others are watching vid...

Ben Irvine
Senior Ben Irvine plays an electric keyboard in the Harmony Lab at Red River High School in Grand Forks. Nine juniors and seniors created Harmony Lab Publishing, a company designed to give students a taste of the music industry. Photo by John Brose.

The Harmony Lab classroom at Red River High School bares a rare scene in comparison with other high school classrooms. As some students sit in front of computers wearing large headphones, tapping their fingers to the beat, others are watching videos on YouTube or playing a few chords on a piano in the corner of the room. In most classes, these students would be violating a plethora of rules. 

 But not in this room.

   Students in Brad Sherwood’s music class are gaining hands-on experience with music production as they compose songs and plan marketing campaigns for their new company, Harmony Lab Publishing.

   In the class designed to introduce juniors and seniors to the music industry, each student is assigned to maintaina particular department of the company- including marketing, public relations, graphic design, choral arrangement, production, instrumentals and more.

   “I just thought, let’s do the whole industry thing with producers, instruments, vocals and technology, and we just took it to another level,” Sherwood says.


   After weeks of preparation and collaboration, the students record tracks combining their individual instrumental, vocal and organizational talents in the school’s state-of-the-art studio. The class will learn the technical side as they record, layering vocals and music to create their masterpiece.

   “We’re all really excited about it, because none of us would have had the opportunity to record,” senior Abby Beczkalo says. “We’re really fortunate Mr. Sherwood lets us use all these tools.”

   Senior Karly Ritland agrees and says the class is beneficial, even for students who won’t choose a career in music.

  All work and all play

   Michaela Meland and Lena Brakeo enjoy coming into the classroom each day to see what entertainment Sherwood has set up for them.

   “Every day, he has a kind of YouTube video playing,” Meland says. The videos include songs that energize and open the sleepy eyes of the students for the start of their 8 a.m. class.

   Then the students get to work.

   “It’s pretty much like a normal class,” says Brakeo. “Except you’re learning what professions involve in case that’s what you want to do.”


   Each day holds a special study. Ear training to help distinguish notes, theory analysis and choral arrangement are studied on specified days during the week, and students put them to use each day with their designated assignments.

   Jack Jeno was putting together a choral arrangement by ear on a recent Thursday morning, as he listened to the song, “Pompeii” by Bastille, chosen because it’s one of his favorites. With the popular music program Spotify on one corner of his computer screen, he used the music notation program Finale to place his notes on virtual sheet music.

   “The program is fairly new,” he says. “It’s a process, but we’re working on it together.”

   Finale is a top-of-the-line program used by music professionals across the world, and has been the preferred method of sheet music creation for decades.

   Jeno keeps himself busy with the school theater program, teaching himself piano, flute, sax, guitar and violin. He says he finds the class helpful in putting together arrangements on his own time when he practices playing his favorite songs, playing the notes solely by ear.

  A passing grade

   It all sounds like fun and games in Sherwood’s class, but a grade must be earned. Along with the usual quizzes and tests on theory and programs, the marketing group has an important role.

   “We’ve got to get 1,000 hits on this video to get an A,” says Beczkalo.


   She has the duty of managing the marketing and PR side of the company. With numerous theatrical endeavors under her belt and a love for music, she has taken on the grueling task of getting the word out about the new company by using social media and websites such as YouTube.

   Sherwood hasa full understanding of the power of social media and, along with his students, wants the world to know the influence of the new company. The more hits or views a YouTube video receives, the likelihood it will be seen around the globe increases.

   “I don’t care if they hit the video 1,000 times themselves, as long as it goes viral,” he says.

   After posting the videos, Beczkalo says she used social networking sites such as Facebook to increase awareness. “We just posted it on our Facebook pages and we got a lot of hits from there,” she says.

   After posting in December, the class has nearly 300 hits so far. With asemester to go, the students have a bit of time to spread the word about the new company they have formed.

  Planning for the future

   What was once a yearly class teaching basics is now apreparatory dive into an industry where many students dream of achieving success, but would otherwise have to await college for the experience.

   With a keyboard in his lap, Ben Irvine practices his chord progressions using Finale. The senior contributes his musical talent to the class, but also shines as a graphic artist.


   “I created our company logo using Microsoft Word,” he says.

   But even with his obvious graphic design talent shining through, it’s not the career goal Irvine has in mind. “I want to study technical theater,” he says. “But what I really want to do is make my own recording studio afterI graduate.”

   A duo working on theory for the upcoming recording session, Max McCann and Adam Giebner put their music and theater backgrounds to good use by hammering afew chords on the piano as they create a combination with vocal harmony.

   “We can add in or take things out without destroying the composition, Giebner says. “We create something more out of something really simple.”

   Giebner plans on pursuing his interest in music by studying music education at North Dakota State University after graduation.

   His comrade, McCann, is no stranger to music and theater: leading his church choir in song, singing in the Grand Cities Children’s Choir and taking lead roles in community and school performances such as the upcoming Pippin. But his plans are different from Giebner’s.

   “I plan on studying chemical engineering at UND,” he says.

   The class varies with future goals and experiences, but all of them share a mutual interest of music that will never fade.


Max McCann and Adam Giebner
Max McCann (left) and Adam Giebner practice combining harmonies with piano instrumentals they created for an upcoming recording session. Photo by John Brose.

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