The Live! Story
By Mark Meneses
The Live! atmosphere isn’t what you’d first expect when you hear the words “music school.”
I remember when I first decided to begin playing music; I was uncomfortable with the notion of older women with accents smacking my hand with a ruler as I played the wrong note on a scale. It was one thing to listen to one of my favorite pop songs and learn the chords through tablature, a whole other thing to think that someone would reprimand me for even using the word “pop” in their proximity. But when I met Juan Diaz, I was surprised.
But when Live! Modern School of Music sprang up, it was nothing of the sort. I had taken lessons with Juan Diaz, current music director, at a run-of-the-mill music academy for over a year when he decided to buy the old business. It wasn't achieving anything that the old traditionalists weren't already propagating; sure, a music school has to teach music first and foremost—but did convention have to play a part of it? The teachers were nice enough, and the students were engaged, but it was missing the form and function of what brings “modern” into “music.” He recognized this and took the initiative.
After a name change and a few hundred hours of art direction, the new school’s aesthetic was established, and Live! became that much closer to the modern school of music we now see. This was, of course, back in 2007. I recall entering the school back then into what was structurally just a hallway with a few practice rooms. The revamping of the school had immensely changed the mood of the old academy: more students enrolled, younger teachers applied, and the musical emanation resonated strongly throughout. But the aesthetic change wasn’t the only thing that needed to be updated.
Kids wanted to learn to play guitar, bass, drums, how to sing, what to do behind a piano—it was the perfect segue to do something more. Of course kids loved music; it’s the reason they were there, to learn how to play and perform. Perform. Performance.
It was inevitable that the next step was to create bands. Live! needed to not just have its own students; it needed to have its own show. Most musicians play for themselves, but ask any active guitarist and they will tell you that it’s the stage that they crave. Why would this be any different for a young musician? Juan began to think. Wouldn’t kids love to participate in a performance, to slam on their guitars and jump to their songs? Isn’t this inseparable from music, to put on the Show?
Everyone was doing recitals; we had concerts. I was part of Live!‘s first one myself: I can remember myself, short and chubby, without any idea of what to do on a stage; I was barely able to turn on a microphone, let alone address an audience. But that’s what Live! was setting out to do: to make music more than practice, to make it performance. Going onstage for me was the most natural thing that could have happened in that single moment.
I found out firsthand that music was conversation, that it’s a language in and of itself that has the agency of being able to carry across an entire audience, big and bright, the same way weather can encapsulate cities and carry them across a dimension of its own. To perform was metaphysical.
And then we had more concerts. And still more students enrolled. Two practice rooms were converted into band rooms; more bands were meeting and practicing; Live! saw friendships spur and develop over music and instruments, and the outcomes were musically monumental.
But still more needed to happen. At the time we had our location in a small space, between a well-established hair salon and a dry cleaners. It wasn’t ideal to be having band jams while middle-aged women were settling into hair dryer machines with wet nails next door. We couldn’t accommodate more than one band rehearsal at a time. Pianos took up more room than teachers in such a tight space. And isn’t there that saying in real estate about location, location, location?
Juan turned to new locales. The dream was becoming bigger for him: he had established a program that taught contemporary music, creates a live atmosphere for students wanting to perform, and what missing if not a space for kids to learn songwriting and to record. It was set that Live! would move from its small one-on-one space to a larger atmosphere with enough room to let creativity erupt—and without noise complaints.
We packed up and brought it to Sans Souci, a move not measured in distance as much as in space. The studio was built; we had a percussion room, a keyboard room, and any of these could accommodate any size band. Our classes grew bigger and our staff grew closer. It was a change in atmosphere for the most part: a creative, engaging arena where kids, teens, adults—anyone!—were able to come in and make their art. It was then that Juan reached out to me, no longer as a pupil but as a friend; he invited me to come work for the school, to bring my talents into the court that he had created. You see, what Juan had created was no longer only a music school; much more than that, it became a place for networking and creating, a place as much for learning as it was for teaching, and not just music.