John Lennon’s spirit was at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics Aug. 24. His iconic self-portrait, painted on the side of a big blue bus, appeared to watch as Emily Bryan stood in the courtyard garden and began a haunting melody. As she sang to music composed earlier that day, others played an underlying audio track and videotaped her in both digital and SLR formats. This was one small piece of what would soon be a music video viewed around the world.
The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and a crew of technician-artist-teachers tours the country 10 months a year. Supported by a nonprofit organization, and under the watchful eye of founder Yoko Ono, the bus brings music education to students at no cost. The bus is equipped with the latest and best hardware and software used by the movie and music industries. Supporters include Apple, AVID and Sony.
At the beginning of this year’s tour, the bus made three stops in Washington state—Toppenish, Vancouver and Olympia. Next stops would include Chicago and Boston. David Tang, a teacher at VSAA, helped get VSAA on the coveted list of destinations.
On that warm August day, seven students had the ultimate experience of working on the bus—performing, composing and creating original pieces using the best technologies available. In the morning, five musicians and two videographers “jammed” in the back of the bus. As they played and performed together, the Lennon bus staff miked and recorded the musicians individually.
“It was a new experience,” said Bryan. “I love improvising with other people. I love seeing what it creates—being spontaneous to create music.” Later that day, students performed solo while being videotaped at various locations around the school.
Meanwhile, inside the school, 60 students were engaged in video and music production under the direction of master teachers. In four classes, lasting 2.5 hours each, students learned to edit video and sound. Additionally, in two music labs students learned to record audio and score music. All equipment, fully loaded with software—Macbook Pro computers, electronic keyboards and presentation tools, was brought to the school and set up by the Lennon bus crew.
Lee Whitmore, an AVID representative who had flown in to observe the day, said the traveling crew is usually nervous when starting to work with a new group of students, but not this time. “Your kids were so well-prepared and ready to go,” he said.
Occasionally throughout the day, someone would take photos of the students working and post them on Facebook. “Yoko Ono saw them and just tweeted back,” said one teacher as she walked through the courtyard.
The day’s sessions were set to end at 4 p.m., but at 5 students and their mentors were still creating, polishing and perfecting. Imagination in motion tends to stay in motion. Violinist Selena Walker, a 2011 VSAA graduate, was leaving for Hart University in Connecticut the next morning, but wanted to spend her last hours in Vancouver soaking up this musical experience.
The music video produced by the seven students was posted on YouTube a few days later. The highly professional “Eyes of the Swift” by Calico Buffalo Nickel was viewed around the world.
John Lennon once wrote: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” As the John Lennon bus pulled out of Vancouver, it left more than 60 young people inspired to dream and to create music.
Lennon’s passion lives on.