The Next Generation

Amidst my post-graduate pursuit of a career in audio, I was recently allowed to act as a short-term educator at St. Michael’s Academy, where the film and music programs are both about as refined as can be for a pre-collegiate setting. It was an exciting chance to share my love for audio with a new generation of high school students who were just beginning to explore the field.

I had the honor of both watching and participating in this program, known as Winter Term, as it was first introduced back when I was a student from 2016 to 2019. Winter Term is a three-week period held in January where students can take an array of classes focused on unique topics, such as ornithology, an in-depth study of Jane Austen, pickleball, and even study abroad programs to places like Morocco, Nicaragua, and Germany. This unique high school experience was a key reason why I ended up pursuing audio professionally. As a curious high school kid, I was able to take several music and recording classes where I was not only allowed to but encouraged to try my hand at every available instrument or recording tool. My horizons were expanded early on, providing me with the opportunity to hone my skills and interests before college.

Fast forward almost nine years, and I found myself back at St. Michael’s, this time as a teacher for a class about sound for movies and TV. It was a simple class, just to give these students, mostly freshmen, the opportunity to learn about all that goes into creating the worlds they dive into when stepping into a dimmed movie theater or pulling up their favorite streaming service on the living room TV.

This wouldn’t be my first time teaching an audio class. While at Belmont University, my alma mater, I was a T.A. for the Foley and ADR in Depth class. However, I wasn’t teaching so much as I was manually running the recording sessions and occasionally offering insight to the students– most of whom were my peers. Here, the classroom atmosphere was always casual. But my weeks at St. Michael’s would be my first time teaching a group of kids who had virtually no prior experience and in some cases, lacked even the slightest bit of interest in the subject of sound. I knew going into this month of teaching that my approach would need to be slightly adjusted to cater to this new audience.

I arrived on the first day a little restless and a little intimidated, though I refused to let either emotion show. I had a full PowerPoint presentation of over fifty slides ready and waiting, as well as backup notes and videos in case I, as I often do when nervous, sped through all I wanted to talk about and was left with an excruciating amount of time to fill. I knew I would undeniably steer off the path of my overprepared lectures, but what I didn’t know was just how far off that path this classroom of students would take me.

As previously mentioned, this classroom was filled with a wide array of kids, mostly freshmen, who ranged from sound design aficionados to those who chose the class simply because their best friend was in it. I was concerned this would affect the classroom atmosphere, and it did, but it turned out, only in the best ways. After a few days of icebreakers, small team-building assignments, and generally getting to know one another, I started to see each of their personalities shine. I realized by the second week that following my notes and showing them videos was not going to cut it. These students worked best in hands-on, interactive environments, so that’s exactly where I pivoted. We spent the first week outside building a sound library to use for our own take on a State Parks commercial. We used the state-of-the-art recording studio, iso booth, and SSL console at the school to record lines of dialogue and ADR for a scene from The Breakfast Club. One day, I completely ditched my previous lesson plan and instead held a Socratic discussion about what makes art “good”, where we went from talking about 4’33” by John Cage to the Minecraft soundtrack, and even to Hisashi Indo’s monochromatic canvases. By the third week when starting our final projects (sound designing the “Interlinked” scene from Blade Runner 2049), I was so excited to see how each of their unique perspectives would manifest in their work.

In the short month I was teaching the class, I was continuously impressed at how intelligent, creative, and adaptive my students were. Even the ones who initially weren’t all that interested in sound ended up working together to create some pretty unique work. I was proud of them for just trying things out. Overall, I could tell they were having fun, which was always my ultimate goal. I couldn’t help but think about how momentous it was for me at that age to have been able to experience this kind of class and been allowed to run wild on a DAW or with a mic out in the wild, to create not for a final product, but for the sake of discovery.

It is easy to become blinded by our learned experiences in higher education or our professional achievements, and therefore become closed-minded to new ideas about how things can be done in our industry. If I learned one thing from my students, it’s that often, going in with a clean slate is the best way to get a new perspective, and therefore a unique end product. I often had to practice holding my tongue to offer advice, insight, or opinions. Of course, there are appropriate times to offer those things (especially as an educator), but like in any creative industry, sometimes the best way to learn is to try, fail, and adapt. Learning by doing proved to be the most effective way for my students to problem solve and, in the end, create some very impressive work all on their own.

As a 22-year-old, it’s surreal to see the next generation of creatives on the brink of their own journeys. I’m proud to have played a small part in shaping their paths and grateful, too, for the lessons they’ve taught me along the way. Teaching, it seems, is more of a two-way street than I had previously imagined.

Here’s to open minds and open horizons, paving the way for endless possibilities and mutual growth in our journeys of audio exploration and discovery.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the end products of this class, here is a link to our final Foley assignment: Tennessee State Parks Commercial.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again for my next post here on SoundGirls.

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