Every great adventure starts someplace. In the case of Andy Reed, his musical journey had a pretty inauspicious beginning. Reed’s grandmother, Joan Kozuch, taught catechism classes at Visitation School to children from special education classes. It was in these classes that Andy played his first “gig,” as he provided piano for the hymns and other songs of faith that his grandmother used to teach her weekly lessons.
It was an indoctrination into musical performance and a lesson in inclusion that would stay with Reed. Many of his early musical experiences came at his grandmother’s piano. He found he could connect with the students in these classes with music and he could identify with their own journeys to find their way in the world as part of a larger community. They were kids just trying to get through their day and have a little fun, just like him.
The journey since then has been interesting for Reed, to say the least. As he exited high school, it would have seemed more likely that we would be reading about Reed in the sports section, as an All State High School golf career initially lead to an interest in pursuing the game as a profession. If not for a few ill-timed shots dropped against par and a little leftover financial aid to finance a first guitar, one never knows what might have happened there. But for music fans in this region what happened is we got lucky.
2017 represents the 10th Anniversary of Reed Recording Company, a company started with a portable 16 track studio and a solid gold pair of ears that has evolved into a nationally recognized independent recording studio.
This area has always been known for its top shelf homegrown musical talent. It is fair to say that Reed’s studio has provided would be recording artists in the region the kind of hub around which an original music scene can thrive. An incredible collection of Michigan musicians – many of whom, like Reed, have grown up on the pages of this magazine – now had a place where they could not only make professional quality recordings; they had a place where they could collaborate. It has been a true explosion of creativy and a breath of fresh air, especialy when compared with the cultural void that is “popular” music on the national level.
As a user of his service and a connosieur of the output of his studio, there are many reasons to offer a sincere congratulations to Reed on his business’ 10th Anniversary. It’s a real milestone for a cornerstone in Mid-Michigan arts and culture.
From his roots on Hess Street in Saginaw through his role as a founding member of the Verve Pipe to his reinvention as a singer / songwriter and frontman for the Van Dell Tones, Donny Brown has carved out a well earned reputation as a standout musician and a stand up guy.
Brown and Reed first teamed up in the Verve Pipe, when Reed joined the group as a bass player. One of the interesting twists with the Verve Pipe is that the band toured not only as a pop band, playing their radio friendly rock songs, but also as a children’s act, with an age appropriate set list. Little did Reed and Brown know that this part of their collaboration would come into play in a new and different way at a future date.
The next chapter began when Reed was approached by Mark Lyons, from the Bay County Intermediate School District (ISD) about playing at an event he was organizing. Reed, as he often does for solo “gig” offers, contacted Brown and asked if he wanted to play with him.
Lyons, who has a role with the ISD working with Special Education programs, brainstormed with Reed and Brown, hatching a plan to bring musical concerts to these students, at no cost to their school.
Lyons admits that the run up to the first event was nerve racking. “We’d never had a band concert before and we weren’t sure exactly how the kids would react.”
It turned out any fears were unfounded. The event went amazingly well and the students responded wonderfuly.
As Brown put it “This was musical enjoyment at its purest, rawest form.”
Similar to Reed’s early experience with people with special needs, Brown also had personal experience to draw on that has helped as the vision for AMP began to come together.
“I grew up across from the Lufkin Rule building, which rented space to the Saginaw Valley Rehabilitation Center. This organization helped people with disabilities, ranging from young adults to those in their 60’s. I got to know a number of these people and began to understand what their lives were like.”
He reflected on those experiences immediately when he performed his first AMP show, ‘There was nothing like seeing the kids and teachers open themselves up to the music and show the unabashed joy they were experiencing.”
It was from this simple beginning that Reed, Brown and Lyons thought that this was a show they could take on the road and, with that, a new non-profit was formed: All Music Is Power or AMP, for short.
Drawing on assistance from many of the musicians who have circulated through their studios and various musical projects, the group has now put on shows in 10 Michigan schools, including programs in Midland, Detroit, Jackson, Toledo and Genesee County, in addition to Bay City.
As the word about, the organization is beginning to get out, other school districts have inquired about having AMP shows staged in their area. The program has gotten so much buzz in the educational community that a video about the program posted by Lyons on a Friday afternoon had over 9000 hits by the following Monday morning.
As described by Michelle L. Bahr, Director of Special Education of Midland County ESA in a video interview, “To watch them interact with these kids was amazing. We had a couple of kids that wanted to participate and they (AMP) didn’t even blink, they just handed them a microphone. We have a student who can play the piano and they stayed about 20 minutes after and let her play the keyboard. They interacted with the students so well. They just get it.”
Reed elaborated on this point, “Everybody gets to let their guard down for an hour – the kids, the teachers and the musicians. Donny and I have been doing kids’ music off and on for years, so it really did prepare for this. We can be silly and don’t have to fake like we are rock stars.”
The AMP shows have now developed into an interactive affair, with each a little different than the last. One might include the students calling out a teacher to join the band and sing, while another might feature a student picking a guitar part while a musician like Scott Van Dell fingers the chords. It’s one more way to draw the kids in a completely share the joy of not only listening to, but making music.
Lyons added “We don’t usually organize events where we have 500 kids from an ISD all in a room at once for an hour. With the music you can draw them in. For an hour, we watch the disabilities ‘wash away.’ It isn’t just special for the students. The teachers and administrators react to that, as well.”
AMP is now adjusting to the fact that they potentially have a non-profit “hit” on their hands. Some of the possibilities were illuminated during conversations at the All Area Arts Awards, of which Brown was a nominee. It was at this event the possibility that the group might be eligible for grants to help fund the costs associated with offering the program. Even in an organization run by volunteers, there are costs with taking a rock show on the road.
The excitement among those involved in AMP is palpable. The potential plans are big and the potential impact even bigger.
On March 25, the State Theater in Bay City will host a 10th Anniversary Concert for Reed Recording Company, an event that is doubling as a fundraiser for AMP.
The evening will put on full display many of the aspects that make this story special, from musicians who give of their time and talent to donors and business people who show their generosity to music fans who show their spirit by supporting these events.
It is an interesting and apt way for Reed to cap ten years as a member of this business community. That, in and of itself, is a testament to Reed and the circle of musicians that help make this area so culturally vibrant.
If you look into some of Reed’s recorded work as a solo artist and with the Legal Matters, you can find a common theme in many songs of a desire to be accepted and to be part of something larger. I don’t know if many independent recording studios become accepted as fixtures in the community by “main street,” but that is what has happened here. These are special times. There is power in music and there is power in community. Both will be on display on March 25th at the State Theater.
The 10th Anniversay Concert will include performances by Mike Robertson, Don Zuzula, JD Dominowski, Donny Brown, Laurie Middlebrook, Joe Sullivan, Stephan Colarelli, Brian Carson, Rosco Selley and Nick Piazza, in addition to Reed.
Tickets are available for a donation of $12, both in advance and at the door. Find out more about All Music Is Power at http://allmusicispower.com/.