At 20 years old, Utah’s ambitious Soundhouse music program is now older than its students
Caleb Chapman’s program celebrates 20 years this weekend with shows featuring Victor Wooten and Journey’s Steve Smith
SALT LAKE CITY — Over its 20 years, Caleb Chapman’s after-school music program for teens, the Soundhouse, has performed on multiple continents — including gigs in the Netherlands, Cuba and, later this month, in China. He and his teenage musicians have headlined Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center’s jazz club and numerous other big-time venues.
Given these kids’ resumes, and their expertise, Chapman said audiences usually assume the young musicians rehearse every day for hours on end. But each of the Soundhouse’s bands only rehearses for two hours once a week.
“These same kids that are at the Soundhouse playing music, they’re also playing football, they’re also student body officers, they’re also in their church youth groups,” Chapman said. “They’re active in their communities, doing a lot of different things.”
This well-rounded approach, he said, is part of the reason Soundhouse has been so successful. The program commemorates its 20th anniversary this weekend with shows at Lone Peak High School in Highland and Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo. The Provo shows will include Journey drummer Steve Smith and Saturday Night Live Band member Christine Ohlman, and Saturday’s Lone Peak show will feature renowned bassist Victor Wooten.
Chapman estimates the Soundhouse’s various bands have hosted more than 300 guest musicians over the years. These visits started in 2002 with the legendary jazz saxophonist Bob Berg, then trumpeter Randy Brecker in 2003, “and then it just snowballed,” Chapman recalled. “We reached out to them to inspire the kids, but what they all tell me is that when they come out to the Soundhouse, they’re the ones who get inspired.
“Every band at the Soundhouse plays a different style of music,” he added. “So these guest artists, when they come, they get to play everything from hip-hop to rock to pop to jazz to funk to fusion. So I think it’s musically pretty exciting for the artists in that regard as well.”
The Soundhouse started in late 1998 at a small brick building in American Fork, when Chapman was still in college. He and other musicians would teach individual music lessons to 50-60 youngsters. After a few months, though, the students suggested creating a full band. The Soundhouse plans on opening similar studios/programs in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville.
While Chapman feels like the Soundhouse model is replicable outside of Utah, he thinks Utah was the ideal incubator: Utah’s religious background, which prioritizes music from a young age, combines with a large youth demographic and a focus on youth development to create a hotbed for the arts generally.
“All you have to do is turn on any of the reality shows, and you’re going to see tons of Utah people,” he added. “Whether you’re talking about ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol’ or ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ these reality talent shows are always packed with Utah people, and there’s a reason for that.”
But, at least in the case of Chapman’s program, it’s not because the kids are rehearsed to death. According to Chapman, nearly all of the young musicians that come through his program earn college scholarships — and not just for music.
“They have these life experiences from all the other things they’re involved with that they’re able to bring into their music experience — which makes their music that much more exciting and meaningful and expressive,” he said. “Our argument is, you can’t make great music if you’re not living life at the same time.”
If you go …
What: Caleb Chapman’s Soundhouse 20th anniversary
When: March 15, 6 and 8 p.m.; March 16, 7 p.m.
Where: March 15 shows at Velour Live Music Gallery, 135 N. University Ave., Provo; March 16 show at Lone Peak High School, 10189 N. 4800 West, Highland
How much: $10