Stockton, CA—January 2018… Part of the extensive Lodi Unified School District in Northern California, George Lincoln Mosher Elementary School has a staff of 23 teachers and serves 523 students in grades K through 6. Hard-working classroom music teacher James Kooren is responsible for general music education in grades 1 through 6, including teaching the children how to sing, read pitches, and perform on simple instruments. He also teaches beginning band and sixth-grade intermediate band.
But where many elementary school music teachers limit their curriculum to the recorder, Kooren teaches guitar and, starting this year, songwriting and recording. For the latter, he relies on the Mackie Big Knob Studio monitor controller/interface, Mackie MR624 studio monitors, and a Mackie MRS10 subwoofer.
“In our district, there’s no defined curriculum,” he relates. “We follow the state and national standards, and we try to make sure the kids in different schools in the district have common information so if a kid goes from one school in our district to another, they know mostly the same things. But we can do different things from school to school. I used to teach recorder but now I teach my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders to play guitar.”
The relationship between his guitar teaching and recording stems from an unfortunate incident with a silver lining. “I was in an outdoor portable classroom about seven years ago,” Kooren recalls, “and some people broke into our classrooms and made off with most of my guitars. So I set up my own recording equipment, along with some gear I got through our district. I wrote music based on material the kids were learning in their classrooms, turning that information into songs. From that, I put together a CD of 16 original songs, sold it as a fundraiser, and bought new guitars for my class. But I haven’t done a full unit on recording and songwriting before this year.”
Instead of doing a winter concert, as he usually does, Kooren started teaching his students how to write songs from scratch. The school district allocates about $100 per music teacher per year, and Mosher Elementary gives Kooren a little bit more, but most of it goes to band instrument repair and supplies. He tried a few online fundraising options, with disappointing results. So he started calling recording equipment manufacturers in search of donations.
“Mackie was so generous,” Kooren enthuses. “They said, ‘we have something in mind. It’s not on the market yet, but if you can wait a couple of months, we’re going to give you a Big Knob Studio controller and our MR624 studio monitors.’ They were the first to offer us something brand new and promise it immediately. They stayed in touch and delivered as promised.”
Kooren received an even better solution than he anticipated. “With the Big Knob Studio, I think Mackie has made one of the most useful products for multiple situations,” he declares. “It is extremely user friendly, and the quality is amazing. I love how easy it is just to plug in and get going. I’m using the Big Knob Studio as my output device but with its two Onyx mic preamps, you can use it as a two-in, two-out USB recording interface too. It’s great for teachers because it’s compact and lightweight, so you can record something into your computer at home, pick up the Big Knob Studio, run to your school, and use it to work with the kids.”
The Big Knob Studio’s Talkback feature proved an unexpected boon. “I thought recording with the kids would be a long process,” admits Kooren. “I figured it would be a lot of ‘okay, I got that recording, hold on, I’m going to the other room, press Play, listen to it to see if it’s good enough, then run back over.’ But with the Big Knob Studio, I set kids up with headphones in neighboring classrooms, hit the Talkback button, say, ‘that’s great, let’s try it again from the top,’ and we go right back to recording. Then I listen to the results through the MR624 studio monitors with the press of a button. I did not understand how easily that could be done. With the Talkback and cue mix features, everything flows like water.”
Mackie’s MR624 studio monitors, which feature a 6.5-inch polypropylene woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter, were a game changer. “With the MR624s, the sound was so crystal clear,” Kooren praises. “I never really understood the difference good monitors would make before this. I monitored through headphones, and my levels were horrible. Now I can hear everything clearly, and it makes a huge difference.”
The combination of the Big Knob Studio and MR624 proved downright inspiring. “I am excited and energized because of these products,” Kooren confirms. “Thanks to Mackie, I have enough energy to work through the year and know it’s going to be so much better than before. I would suggest the Big Knob Studio and Mackie monitors to every teacher.”