This interview is part of an ongoing series highlighting specific classes available through the Center for Musical Arts. Watch the interview or read a transcript below. 

Center for Musical Arts: Hello! We are here with Michael Lenssen, who is going to tell us a little bit about the classes he has coming up in winter and spring of 2021. So, Michael, what are you working on these days?

Michael Lenssen: Hey. I’m working on a lot, as usual. This spring, I’m offering a brand new class in addition to my normal private lessons. I teach trumpet. I teach composition. I teach theory, which includes jazz, and all that can kind of be a crossover. I also teach the electric wind instrument.

Center: You’re going to have to tell me what that is!

Michael: My friends have lots of names for it. They call it a disco kazoo. 

Center: Okay. [laughs]

Michael: Pretty much, it looks like a clarinet, but it’s a synthesizer, so it can sound like anything, absolutely anything. I have a patch that sounds just like Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica. I have a patch that sounds like Jaco Pastorius playing the bass. Cello patches, flute, patches, whatever. Then in addition to that, I’m starting this new class called Composing with Computers, which is really geared at modern composers, meaning anything that’s not a traditional orchestra/big band/acoustic ensemble.

I was first introduced to recording through my college audition process, and I was definitely doing it at a lower-quality level than some of my peers. I’m sure things have only accelerated since then. And the same thing is very much true in the professional world, that back in the ’90s, bands would show up to this label or the studio with a demo, and now demos are finished. Demos sound like final songs. So there’s kind of this — it’s not necessarily a requirement, but there’s this amazing advantage to being able to create the music to sound almost like you want it to sound, just on your laptop. That can include recording yourself, that can include virtual instruments, and that can include so many different things.

It really has changed my life as far as composition goes, I can lay down a basic drum track, and then using synthesizers and using this technology, I can mock up a bass part, guitar part, keyboards, and then when I go and play my trumpet, even if all the other instruments are somewhat fake, the trumpet’s real, because that’s my main instrument, and it has a real quality, even if it’s not 100% acoustic instruments. Then it’s also very easy to go in and mute that drum track and record a drummer playing.

Center: So who would be the perfect student for this class?

Michael: This class is really geared towards anyone who’s interested in fleshing out their compositions to a greater level than they’re currently able to. So that might be a beat. It might be, “I have this really simple flute line, and I want to take it and turn it into a hip hop thing,” or, “I have this acoustic guitar and vocal song, and I want to hear what it would sound like with a full band,” or, “I want to record a string quartet where I play all the instruments.” There’s so many options.

Center: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of opportunities there. Well, is there anything else that we should know about these spring classes?

Michael: I don’t think so. I’m just really excited to bring the program that I started at Justice High School a few years ago over to [the Center for Musical Arts] now, because I think it’s a huge direction the world is going, and I think the more instrumentalists and practice musicians that can also develop technology skills, the better, because that just means that the people making our music in 20 years are going to know what they need to about music and playing an instrument, right?

Center: Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you so much. It sounds like a wonderful class.

Michael: Thank you.