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Roving Music Studio Spreads Lennon Legacy

  • Faiza Elmasry

The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, seen here in Washington, DC, is on the road 10 months out of the year.

The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, seen here in Washington, DC, is on the road 10 months out of the year.

Young musicians learn to make music on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus

The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a music studio on wheels. The non-profit project, partially supported by Lennon's widow Yoko Ono, is a tribute to the former Beatle, who was murdered on December 8, 1980.

The bus travels across the country, giving young people a unique opportunity to learn how to compose, perform, record and produce songs and videos.

On the road

The Lennon bus has been on the road, 10 months out of the year, since 1998, visiting schools, colleges, community centers and music festivals.

This year's tour - marking Lennon's 70th birth anniversary - is sponsored by Mont Blanc, a high-end writing instrument maker. The company has created a special edition John Lennon pen, and spokesman Jan-Patrick Schmitz says supporting the bus tour was a natural fit.

"We looked at John Lennon as one of the musicians of the last century that probably has inspired so many generations, so many people. And when we were working on this project, we came across the John Lennon bus, which is a very interesting thing. Particularly today, with so many schools having very restricted budgets, very often the arts education programs are the first ones suffering from these budget restraints," he says. "John Lennon would have his 70th anniversary this year. If he would still be amongst us, he would probably have been full-hearted behind that program."

The latest bus tour started in October.

"Since we started - and we kicked it off in New York - the bus has already been to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami. And the bus actually will tour multiple times across the country throughout one year," says Schmitz. "We have agreed with the schools to actually pull the bus into the school yard or in front of the school." The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a complete professional music studio on wheels.

The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a complete professional music studio on wheels.

Musical bus stop

"I said there is absolutely no way a professional recording studio on a bus will fit in our school parking lot and I was completely wrong," says Linda Riehl, who works with students and teachers at Grady Middle School in Houston, Texas, where the bus made a stop. "The bus shows up early in the morning with professional musicians who were exceptional in working with our students and pulling out the hidden talents that we knew they had, and I think they now realize that they have as well."

Eight students who have played music for at least two years were selected to participate in the musical experience. Riehl says it was remarkable.

"I would go on the bus to see how everything was going. They would simply wave to me and move on," she says. "I mean, they were engaged completely in the process and at the end of the day they were videoing themselves for a music video portion to go along with the music. They were left to use their imagination. At one point, they were on the corner of a street with guitars and sunglasses and they were actually assuming that rock star persona. They did complete a rap called 'This is How We Roll.'"

Seventh grader Dyllon Johnson, who plays percussion, participated and says his friends wanted to know all about it.

"Every day they were all coming up and asking me, 'Hey, Dyllon, what was that big bus outside in the parking lot?' I think it's helped me a lot in making and writing music. I actually wrote two or three songs after it," he says. "We made our own song from scratch with all the lyrics and with the computer and everything. We actually played our instruments throughout most of it."

Working with the musicians on the bus also profoundly influenced Jordyn Pursell, a 13-year old clarinet player.

"When I first walked in, I was really shy, but they were so nice that it was really hard to be shy. Now that I'm done this, I want to see what other recording studios look like. I just want to keep on playing."

After experiencing the magic of creating and recording music, the students say they dream that someday they will become musicians, able to touch and inspire people's lives, just like John Lennon.