Thunder Soul at Idyllwild Arts Academy

February 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm Leave a comment

by Marc Kets, Associate Dean of Students

Thunder Soul is a story about charismatic band leader, Conrad “Prof” Johnson, who would turn Houston’s Kashmere High School jazz band into a legendary funk powerhouse that won national and state championships, and ended up touring Europe and Japan where they were treated like visiting pop stars in the mid-to-late 70’s. “Prof” did this by instilling a ‘can do’ attitude into his students, one that spilled over into all spheres of school life at Kashmere High School with the basketball team becoming state champions, the school’s academic program sending more students off to college with scholarships than any other high school in Texas at the time amongst its many other notable achievements. To my mind, this just shows the power of arts education and why it serves such a vital role in educating our young citizens, and creating well-rounded individuals.

This past summer, I was lucky enough along with my wife Jeni, and our colleagues, Shambo Carpenter, George Pratt and Nick Cooper to attend to the screening of Thunder Soul at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award, and I was immediately struck by how important this film is. Take the music away, and trust me the music is incredible – seek out the Anthology on Now-Again Records and hear the power of the Texas Thunder Soul -, and you have a story of the true power of education. Thunder Soul is the testimony to one man’s belief in the students he took under his wing and how he, in many cases, gave them direction and purpose in life. Many of the Kashmere Stage Band alums have gone on to become doctors, lawyers and captains of industry and to a man have recognized and admitted that without the lessons that “Prof” instilled in them that they may not have achieved what they have in life.

It was after a discussion that I had with Eothen Alapatt – a regular visitor to the Idyllwild Arts Academy who is featured predominantly in the film, and who was single-handedly responsible for bringing the band to the fore again by re-releasing the music of the Kashmere Stage Band a few years ago – after the screening that I knew that I had to bring Thunder Soul to our school. Luckily the director, Mark Landsman – who is a Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker who has also worked as a producer and director for Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning documentary television series, 30 Days; for the Sundance Channel’s, Big Ideas for a Small Planet; and on many non-fiction programs for A&E, Discovery Channel, ABC Family and PBS – was also hip to the idea when we approached him and this past Sunday were very privileged to have him came up to the school and screen Thunder Soul for the first time at a high school anywhere, a remark that got a huge cheer from the students in the audience, which was quite a boon for us given that the film will open nationwide on March 25th.

About 75 students and 8 members of faculty braved a bit of snowfall this past Sunday to come to the screening and they hopefully left as enamored with the film as I am. After the screening Mark sat down for a Q&A with the group and he covered everything from the films that inspired him to why he didn’t want to make a film that was about ‘lower-thirds’. Afterwards Mark remarked that many of the questions that our students asked him really impressed him and he has since contacted me saying that he would love to come and work with our students again in the near future as he was inspired by what we do up here on the Hill, something which I hope will be possible in the near future.

It is bringing up people like Mark for our students to meet that makes this aspect to my job so worthwhile. What is great is that our students never miss a beat and always make themselves known and in many cases pitch ideas, hand over email addresses and promise to send DVD’s of their work, all of which pleasantly surprises people like Mark who happily exchange information.

The story of Conrad “Prof” Johnson is by no means a unique one, there are many tremendous and fearless educators around the world who work tirelessly to instill values and belief into their students, and we have many “Prof” Johnson’s here at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, but it is a story that once anyone who has worked with young people in any capacity with simply serve to reaffirm that what they do is vital and serves an invaluable purpose to our communities both near and far. I would strongly and wholeheartedly suggest that all of you go and see the film when it opens as it will make you laugh, it will make you cry and at the end it will certainly make you proud of the work that educators do across the nation and here at the Idyllwild Arts Academy.

Entry filed under: campus culture, Moving Pictures, Music Stuff, special events, student services. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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