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Feature Stories

'The Day the Music Died' from LBCC Budget Cuts

From Issue: Volume XX - Number 20
10/5/2012


By Kirt Ramirez

The Commercial Music Program at Long Beach City College may soon be cut, which would leave a hole in the legendary curriculum that has trained many students for the work force, in this, the entertainment capital of the world.

Sadly as the state slashes the amount of money it gives to educational systems, schools all around must start operating with less funding by discontinuing programs, laying off faculty and making other reductions.

Perhaps unknown to the average citizen, the Commercial Music Program is a one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art set of courses unlike anything offered elsewhere locally. In fact, most colleges don’t offer such a program with high-end equipment, studios and hands-on training.

Wherever music is enjoyed via speakers; whether it be at a mega concert venue, a local pub or restaurant, or Disneyland, people behind-the-scenes must get the sound out through a series of cables and by using the mixing board to get it just right. To work the many knobs, levels and buttons on the console requires education. It’s technical and complicated.

Whitney Houston’s greatest hits could not have been made possible without trained recording engineers and record producers mastering the songs with precision and detail. Putting together a song is quite a task; the vocalist, backup singers, microphone placements, the instruments, keyboards, computer programs, studios, record gear, special effects and sequencing, all require instruction.

The History: Former LBCC Music Department Head Priscilla Remeta hired George Shaw in 1978, who was a recent graduate of the Music Program at the University of Oklahoma with a PhD in music education.

Discussing the beginnings of the LBCC Commercial Music program, Shaw said, “I started teaching at LBCC part-time while working professionally in Los Angeles. I saw a need for a vocational-oriented program that would give students the skills and tools to enter the professional world of music. I was the first person hired in the program.

“With Mrs. Remeta’s support, I wrote the initial curriculum, did the groundwork, and went to Sacramento to get state certification for the program. In that sense, I guess you can say I created the program.”

Shaw sounded troubled that the world-recognized program he helped build might soon be dismantled.

“People come from all over the world to study Commercial Music at LBCC, from Japan, Europe, all over,” Shaw said. “I’m very, very proud of what the program has done over the years and how many people have benefited ... I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”

Shaw has seen many students go on to work for major recording companies, become stars themselves and work in high-end media positions. The program has taught many students, including a reporter.

Asked about his music business teaching philosophy, Shaw said, “Students have to get as close to professionals as possible. Up close and personal works best.”

This is why Shaw has brought pros to LBCC to perform and speak with his students.

A trumpet, bass and keyboard player himself – who performed with Wilton Felder, Larry Graham, Ronnie Laws, Frank Potenza, Dizzy Gillespie, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Eddie Harris, Patrice Rushen and Marvin Gaye to name a few – Shaw has many friends in the business, which in turn has helped the students.

One day Shaw went to LBCC Foundation President Ginnie Baxter to see if funding could be secured for Dizzy Gillespie to do a concert at the college. Baxter asked how on earth he would get Gillespie to come to LBCC. Shaw responded, “I’m gonna call him.”

Some of the big names Shaw has brought in to speak to the students include Nancy Wilson, Gillespie, Cab Calloway, Milt Hinton, Bill Watrous, Lionel Hampton, Patrice Rushen, Tom Scott, David Sanborn, Wilton Felder of the Crusaders, Larry Graham, Ndugu Chancellor, Michael Sembello (who performed his 1983 hit song “Maniac” at the campus), Dave Isaac and Dave Hampton (technical director for Prince.)

Shaw added, “Dave Hampton spoke to my Music Business class last week.”

Shaw recalled one humorous incident that involved record producer Benjamin Wright’s Rolls Royce being hit by a student in the LBCC parking lot.

Meanwhile, many students have made a name for themselves in the music industry: Rickey Minor from the Jay Leno Show, highly acclaimed trumpet player Wayne Bergeron, Stanley Smith of the Bernie Mac Show, Rex Silas who worked closely with Janet Jackson, Cornelius Mims bass player with Kenny Loggins, Nikki Harris who worked with Madonna, Dorian Holley with Michael Jackson, “Skee-Lo” Antoine Roundtree, A.J. Luke and Warren G all came out of LBCC’s Commercial Music program.

Veteran Audio Production teacher, Nancy Allen, who, along with instructor Charles Gutierrez, may be laid-off, expressed sadness and frustration at what is happening to education. Allen has taken the students to conventions and studios around the world in addition to her real-life, hands-on teaching.

Allen started the website www.savelbccrecording.org which details the program’s success and includes petitions and testimonies from the students in hopes of swaying the Board of Trustees to leave the program alone.

Veteran Commercial Voice Instructor, Tom Dustman, who was the second teacher hired after Shaw, said, “The proposed cutbacks at LBCC will be tragic. I can only speak for the Music Department of course, but the cuts will decimate one of the most well-known and highly respected Music Programs in the United States. I am saddened beyond words.”
Veteran instructors Maurice Love and Wayne Brashear expressed sorrow as well.

kirt@longbeachcomber.com