Bob DiChiro mixes music at The Grove studio in Ashland, where youths have been recording music for free since 2000. - Jamie Lusch

Jammin' at The Grove

Myles Marcus, age 9, doesn't like the sound of the last note he played on the piano. So he stops and asks if he can start the piece again.

"Hold on, let me reset," says a voice from the adjacent room.

Welcome to the recording studio at The Grove, a youth center in Ashland. Young musicians have been using the studio free of charge since it opened in 2000. Their goal is always the same: to leave with a CD of their own music in hand.

The studio consists of two rooms separated by a wall. Myles sits at a black piano in the sound room. A microphone picks up the music he plays and sends it to a digital recorder in the control room, where the 18-year-old recording engineer for this session, Walker McAninch-Ruenzi, is stationed.

A large window in the wall allows performer and engineer to see each other. The entire space is wired so they can talk back and forth as if they were sitting shoulder to shoulder.

"I'm having issues on my end," McAninch-Ruenzi tells Myles.

Specifically, McAninch-Ruenzi has been having trouble setting the metronome in his computer so it will change tempo at the precise points where the piece demands. Myles can hear the clock-like clicking through his headphones. He has tried several times to play the piece. But the tempo keeps changing at the wrong time, throwing him off.

Finally, McAninch-Ruenzi thinks he has it. "OK," he says. "Go."

And the pianist begins.

A third participant in this scene sits behind McAninch-Ruenzi, plucking a classical guitar. Bob DiChiro is the adult in charge who spends two afternoons a week at the studio.

"I have an ability to work with kids," he says, "and I have skills that they want."

DiChiro, a professional recording engineer who has worked in the music and film industry in Los Angeles, receives no pay for his time at the Grove.

"Bob taught me everything I know," says McAninch-Ruenzi, who first came to the studio as part of his senior project at Ashland High School.

Another of DiChiro's trainees is Darrell Lambertson, 17. He has been coming to the studio since January, "learning slowly" how to run the recording equipment. Already he has recorded everything from "scream music to soft stuff," he says. He has dropped by to check in with DiChiro. Seeing that he isn't needed at the moment, he disappears to another part of the Grove.

Lambertson attends Lithia Springs, a school for juvenile offenders, says DiChiro. He gets to come to the studio as a reward for good behavior. "If I could help him get a college scholarship, it could change his life," says DiChiro.

Next to enter the control room is Myles' mother, Sara-Linne Simpson, carrying a bag of food. Her son follows right behind, and plops onto the couch. "I'm starving," he says. It's break time.

For their intense hour of work, Myles and McAninch-Ruenzi have produced two minutes of music. The recording plays through the speakers in the room, as the young pianist eats his snack. He composed the piece himself, inspired by a raft trip on the Upper Klamath River, he says.

DiChiro studies the sheet music. "That's a pretty sophisticated number for a little guy to write," he remarks.

"Working with Bob has been invaluable for my son," says Simpson. The boy's goal is to record an entire CD of piano solos, she says. He plans to sell copies of the CD and donate the money to the Access food bank. "Because he's always hungry," she says.

Budding musicians are getting "a real studio" when they come to The Grove to set down their music, says DiChiro. Everything is state of the art, including the 32-track digital recorder. Guitar amps and an array of musical instruments are scattered around the sound room. "This way, even kids who don't have their own stuff can use the studio," says DiChiro.

The facility is officially known as the Groveman Recording Studio in memory of Steve Groveman. It was to be his pet project within The Grove, which he founded. He died of cancer in 1999.

"There was only the room and a four-track cassette recorder when I first got here in 2000," says DiChiro. "But I caught Steve's vision."

Grants, along with donations from the community, paid for the high-tech equipment.

The Rotary Club provides $500 annually so DiChiro can update gear and replace broken parts. He dreams that some music-loving philanthropist will take the studio under his or her wing so it can realize its full potential.

"Do you know how I can get in touch with Paul Allen?" he quips.

Over the years, DiChiro has recorded groups of rappers, a 28-member choir, a marimba ensemble — to name just a few of his collaborations with creative youth. Kids use the CDs they make at the studio to fulfill senior projects, to enter competitions or just to impress their peers, he says.

"Sometimes a band will come in thinking they're going to record 10 songs and have a CD just like that," says DiChiro. They learn, instead, that it often takes more than one session to nail just a single song. Being a recording artist demands patience and focus, says DiChiro. But once the kids understand the game, they are up for the challenge, he says.

Just ask Myles Marcus. Fortified with fast food, he heads back eagerly to the piano to work some more.

DiChiro says the studio receives little fanfare, yet teachers know to give a call, and kids keep showing up with their dreams.

"This little program has quietly gone about its business these years," he says, adding that he fits as many comers as he can into his limited schedule. A high school Spanish class is coming by the next day to record a song, he says.

But first there's today's business to finish. A boy is waiting at the piano for his cue from the engineer.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at

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