As a kid in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, Grammy-award winning producer and engineer Larry Mitchell played with two toy instruments: a drum set, and a guitar. However, just one of those toys survived Larry’s childhood. When his mom threw the drum set out the window, for obvious reasons, he held onto his guitar and taught himself to play.
During his musical career, Mitchell has amassed recognition and toured with artists like Tracy Chapman and Miguel Bosé. Despite the demands of touring and practicing, Mitchell takes time once a year to teach a master class at MC.
On March 3, Mitchell taught a masterclass that was open to the public, met one-on-one with students, and held a workshop. The way he approaches the masterclass varies depending on attendance and the number of students in the room.
“I’m big on trying to get people to improvise. When it is strictly structured, they are generally afraid to try things,” Mitchell says. “Learning is about knowing the rules and when to break them. Improvisation is about tearing those walls down, about putting yourself out there, exposing yourself.”
During the two-hour class, Mitchell played some of his songs and answered questions about his technique, and about his path as a producer and musician. “I’m all about trying to figure out what people need to work on, rather than just bang the drum on stuff they might already know,” Mitchell said.
It was a mind-blowing experience. What I knew about music theory … he broke it down to pieces and made it more understandable
Victor Guerrero, an MC percussion major who attended, was amazed. “It was a mind-blowing experience. What I knew about music theory … he broke it down to pieces and made it more understandable,” Guerrero said. In addition to drums and saxophone, Guerrero has been playing guitar since sixth grade.
Mitchell told students he learned to play by going up to musicians and asking them how they had done something. He says, “Technique is a tool: It’s something that you learn to help you create music. It’s not music itself, which about expression.”
Mitchell’s connection to MC is his longstanding friendship and working relationship with Dawn Avery, MC music professor and head of the World Music program. Avery is one of several Native American artists with whom Mitchell has produced albums and toured.
In addition, he has produced world music artists, singer/songwriters, contemporary Christian and gospel musicians, and country artists. That breadth and experimentation is part of his ethos as an artist, and is what he hopes students take away from the class: “I’m hoping music can be fun, and I hope they experiment with it. If you only listen to and play one style of music, you can’t bring anything new to it. Whereas if you listen to classical and play rock, some of those classical ideas will slip into what you’re doing, and you might start creating something that’s new and fresh and different. Experiment and be open to ideas.”