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The New Orleans Youth Sound Experience Finds A New Home On St. Claude

Matthew Shilling teaches creative and at-risk youth about sound engineering and music production at the New Orleans Youth Sound Experience.

Matthew Shilling gathers his students around a sound board talking about volume and distortion.

“So tell me again what does a fader do?” he asks.  

“It takes away sound,” a student calls out.

“It fades the sound,” offers another.

“We’re not taking away sound, right?” asks Shilling. “We’re dealing with electricity still, right?”

“We’re taking away electricity,” a student guesses.

Shilling nods. “We’re taking away power.”

Shilling tells his students to look at a sound cable and notice how its ends are different.

“You all have seen an extension chord, right?” asks Shilling. “This side goes into the wall, you know that right? And this side receives the other end. So the XLR cables are the same way. One side has the prongs; the other receives the prongs.”

Shilling teaches sound and music production to both creative and “at-risk” youth. His program is very hands-on: his students build microphones and speakers from scratch, to understand how they work, and on the day I came, they were stretching ropes between two cups to experiment with how sound travels. Shilling calls the program NOYSE.

“N-O-Y-S-E,” spells out Shilling. “It’s the New Orleans Youth Sound Experience.”

Eventually, Shilling’s students do live sound recordings with professional musicians. They even work at festivals and get paid. Shilling says he wants his students to find something they love doing, and he wants to give them that opportunity, an experience which makes them think:

“I really enjoy this, and I can make money at this. And I’m going to learn a skill where I can get a job doing something I really love.”

Credit Eve Abrams / WWNO
Evan Martin and Dexter Allen experiment with how sound travels.

Last year, NOYSE got its start with seed funding from St. Claude Main Street, an economic and community development organization which focuses on the St. Claude Corridor. This year, Saint Claude Main Streetis opening what they call the Saint Claude Lab.

“It’s a storefront space on St. Claude dedicated to teaching youth creative and digital media,” explains Jonathan Rhodes, board president of St. Claude Main Street. Rhodes says NOYSE — which currently holds class inside the New Orleans Healing Center, most often at Café Istanbul — will be moving to the St. Claude Lab as its anchor tenant. Rhodes says the mission of NOYSE fits really nicely with the city’s focus on developing a workforce in creative and digital media.

“NOYSE is similar to other after school programs in that it’s going to bring community youth and students from the local elementary schools into the space to learn new skills,” says Jonathan Rhodes. “But it’s different from typical after school programs in that it has this very specific focus — it’s geared very much toward teaching marketable, useful skills to the people of New Orleans.”

Jamal Williams’ high school mentor told him about NOYSE, but Williams says the information was “redundant” because he’d already seen a poster for NOYSE hanging in the hallway at Clark High School, where he is a student.

“Every time I see music written down, I have to stop and read it, and I just get tunnel vision,” says Williams.

Williams is a creative young man, and like his classmate, Victor Foster, who’s already writing and producing his own music, NOYSE is the perfect training ground for turning a passion into a profession.

It was really exciting to be with Matt,” says Foster. “He’s showing me all these things on what to do — on how to go around telling people about a business and trying to promote a business. He helped me to help myself.”

Helping young adults help themselves is the whole point of NYOSE. Dexter Allen found out about the program through a social worker when he was incarcerated. He says he’s always liked music, and he thinks NOYSE will help him chase his dream of recording his beats and raps.

Dexter Allen hopes NOYSE will help him “make a living out of it, try to do something with myself rather than being out here on these streets like a hooligan. Trying to make my mama proud. Get my family out the hood.”

Eve Abrams first fell in love with stories listening to her grandmother tell them; it’s been an addiction ever since.