Until recently, Tremain Hanson’s singing experience went no farther than the walls of his shower.
“I like singing ““ I’m a shower singer. When I’m singing it’s like me expressing myself,” the Fairfax High School senior said, adding that one of his favorite tunes to scrub to is Beyonce’s “Halo.”
Now, Hanson has expanded his repertoire by attending music classes at Fairfax hosted by YOUTHphonics, a UCLA a cappella group. The classes take place twice a week, and focus on music theory, a cappella singing and performance techniques.
“Our mission is to provide mentorship and musical education to all youth who desire it,” said Sarah Ho, a fourth-year communication studies student and co-founder of the group.
The name of the group combines the word “youth” with “euphonic,” which means pleasing to the ear. YOUTHphonics started two years ago when Ho and a friend saw a need for musical education in public schools that were suffering budget cuts.
Last year, Ho sent letters proposing a UCLA-taught a cappella class to 350 high schools and middle schools in the L.A. area. Fairfax was the only school that responded.
At the time, the high school’s choir had been cut because of budget problems. Though the choir has been reinstated, the school still lacks the resources to make the program fully effective, said Alex Wei, a third-year bioengineering student and YOUTHphonics member.
“Us being there alleviates some of that burden from the school because we volunteer for free,” Wei said.
The a cappella group also exposes students to an offbeat form of musical expression that complements Fairfax’s choir and marching band, said Adriana AlmazÃ¡n, director of the Fairfax after-school program that oversees YOUTHphonics’ class. For example, Hanson said he enjoyed transforming his voice into an instrument during a beatboxing lesson, and Fairfax junior Laura Rogers liked the simplistic nature of a cappella music.
“Today’s music relies so much on electronics and instruments, but this is purely relying on your vocals,” Rogers said.
Additionally, YOUTHphonics’ class makes musical education available to students who have never had an opportunity to explore it, Wei said.
Hanson said he has always wanted to play the piano or guitar, but his family cannot afford lessons. And because of conflicts with soccer practice, he could not join the school’s marching band.
“I never read music before, but now I know the C (note) and last week I was learning three other ones,” Hanson said. “I have a set of things I want to do throughout my life. I want to learn five different languages, I want to travel, and I want to learn how to play an instrument.”
Students in the class come from a wide range of musical backgrounds, Wei said, adding that some have played the piano for years, and some are tone-deaf.
But it is not just their musical experience that is diverse.
“Racially (our program) is really diverse, and then we have the nerds, the non-nerds, the skaters, the long-haired punk guy,” Ho said. “You can’t categorize the group of kids we work with ““ they come from all different pockets of high school society.”
One of the songs the class is working on, “True Colors,” was chosen partly for its emphasis on looking beyond stereotypes.
“The song talks about seeing what’s on the inside and not judging people by first impressions,” Wei said, adding that YOUTHphonics also selected the song because it was featured on the television show “Glee.”
As Fairfax students learn to harmonize their voices, UCLA students learn how to manage a classroom.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a Mr. Schuester to help us teach,” Wei said, referring to the show choir teacher in “Glee.” “But I think our vision for the kids is the same vision Mr. Schuester has for the students: We want to see our students succeed and grow.”
In addition to the class at Fairfax, YOUTHphonics has participated in the Watts Tutorial Program, holding a beatboxing workshop for children in East Los Angeles. The a cappella group also performed for children from low-income, gang-ridden areas at Promoting Individuality Through the Arts Day.
“In other community service groups you do things like help clean up the environment,” Wei said. “(YOUTHphonics) is a different way to serve, and an interesting way to match my passion with community service.”