ST. GEORGE — The Utah Arts Academy launched a new program last year in an effort to help students gain industry experience in music production by writing, producing and releasing their own songs, as well as benefiting from the cathartic aspect of musical arts.
“Music is therapy,” academy songwriting and music production teacher Cameron Stymeist told St. George News. “Once people can see you for who you are, it is really affirming for the artist.”
He said this program, which includes songwriting, music production and releasing singles, serves the students in many ways, everything from personal therapeutic benefits to honing skills of self-expression in a way better received by the listener.
So far this year, three singles have been released by academy students on Spotify. The first single, “You Two Are Cute,” written and performed by Katie Ellis, was released Sept. 22 and has since racked up 3,631 plays.
The second single, “I Wish I Never Let You Go” by Blake Foster, has seen 2,534 plays since it was released on Sept. 29.
The third single, “Wax & Feathers” by Emerson Williams and Finn Lee, was released last Friday and had 1,543 plays.
More singles are expected to be released each Friday from other students or a combination of students.
Those who’ve had singles released said they were ecstatic to be in the program.
Foster said he has always been drawn to music. Born to a mother who is musically inclined, he said he copied her at first and then moved on to his own interpretation and flavors.
“Music can make people feel any emotion. Any emotion –anything,” he said. “It’s so powerful.”
Like Foster, Williams said it was her mother who stoked her passion for music. Her mother wrote her first song in elementary school, which became one of many. Williams started off playing piano and has since switched to guitar.
“Music can be so moving, the way it can tell a story,” she said. “It is like a way of showing your mind to people. Like a journal but in song form.”
Ellis also comes from a musical background in her family, which she said helped establish the foundation for her to develop as a musical artist.
All three students said they plan on attending music programs at colleges with hopes of being in the music industry and still writing songs. They also each praised Stymeist and Drew Williams, who serves as the principal of the academy, for their in-depth understanding of the industry.
“It’s really cool to have staff that knows about the music industry,” Foster said.
Stymeist moved to Southern Utah from Los Angeles, California, after the COVID-19 Pandemic hit with hopes of providing his children better opportunities at school and as a family. After relocating, he continued his work as a music producer, songwriter and musician.
When an opportunity to teach at the public charter school opened, he said he immediately knew he was all in to be a part of the Utah Arts Academy.
It was the exceptional level of talent at the academy that caught him off guard.
“To be able to sing and play is one thing,” he said. “To be able to put your thoughts into melodies — into patterns that are palatable, that people can take in and feel with you — that’s on a whole other level. That’s what these guys have.”
Stymeist said there is no doubt that the primary benefit is on the surface layer, learning how to construct a palatable song for the listener, but it goes deeper than that.
“That is the exact bridge of what we are trying to do here … trying to help people attach their emotions, feelings, moments in their life that meant something to them and be able to express it through music,” he said.
This includes finding the chords that embody an emotion and using melodies and lyrics to structure a song in a way that powerfully communicates that message.
Stymeist said he was proud of the students, not just the ones present in the room, but within the whole school.
“Hopefully, some things that we implement now, the seeds (are) planted,” he said. “The whole world will be able to see the potential throughout this whole school,” he said.
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