Music Alumni Gives Back to Music Industry

October 7, 2013

By: Savannah Jones

If you ask 1993 alumni Richard Maxwell what he’s done in the music industry since graduating, be prepared for a long answer. From songwriting, playing in clubs, to conducting, it seems like Maxwell has done it all, but for the past six years he has focused on giving back to the music industry as creator and facilitator at Contemporary Music and Sound (CMAS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

“CMAS is a small record label run out of a school, run by students. They write, record, produce and do live shows,” Maxwell said.

In 1998, Maxwell began teaching at Arcadia High School in Phoenix as the band director (a few years later taking on the orchestra as well) but was asked to expanded his role by teaching guitar, which he eventually expanded to include songwriting and music theory classes. However, he noticed the large demographic of students interested in contemporary music were being ignored. He decided to turn over the traditional ensembles (he secretly still misses conducting his two symphonies) and create a new music program teaching high school students the skills they would need to work in the music industry.

He envisions himself less a teacher and more as an executive producer, teaching students to “expand creativity, rethink the approach to what they write.” Students at CMAS come from all backgrounds of music, from punk rock to blues, even classical. Some students have trained since they were two while others are just beginning their musical experience. Maxwell does not turn away students because they don’t have any formal training; he cares more about their ability to “share their creativity.”

Maxwell allows students to tailor his lessons to their own style of music. All works are original and students are not limited to any style or genres. Students play impressive half-time stadium shows with fog machines and lasers for Arcadia High’s football team. The students perform at concerts around Phoenix, from coffee houses  to large clubs for packed audiences. Unlike an average school band, the students organize everything themselves. Some students focus more on being artists, others on being producers, but all learn music theory, song structure, recording studio techniques and live production.  Students even earn as much as 15 hours of college credit as they also expand their resume´s.  Maxwell often teaches lessons for college students and other teachers and brings CMAS students along to help teach.

He credits the success of the program to the students’ “sense of pride and involvement.” Alums often come back to visit the school. A former student, who toured with Blink 182 and The Warped Tour, recently came back with her tour bus and put on a concert for the students. Maxwell admits much of his philosophy for teaching comes from Bradley University professors like Molly Sloter, and Drs. Vroman, Heinemann, Kaizer and Jost.

“I feel really good. It’s not about, ‘Did you make it or not?’” Maxwell said. “It’s, ‘Do you like what you do or not?’ It’s not easy but if you throw your ego away the world will open up to you.”

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