New Hampton School’s Contemporary Performance Lab: A Decade of Project Weeks

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Written by Kyle Masterson P’25, Director of Music

A few weeks ago, we returned from our Project Week visit to “The Music City” to record original music and get an inside look at the music industry. I returned home from Nashville in need of sleep but was feeling grateful. Grateful for the amazing students and faculty that I get to share these experiences with. Grateful to work at a school that supports opportunities that truly excite and inspire our students. Grateful for the alumni that continue to reach out and share their experiences and talents with our current students.

While walking on campus over March break, I reflected on my 12 years as the Director of Music at New Hampton School. My memories were filled with students’ faces, performances, discoveries, challenges, and successes. Often, these memories were centered around the adventures we undertook during a decade of Project Week exploration. New Hampton School started Project Week in 2013. As the program took shape under the direction of Mr. Justin Joslin, we headed a few miles north on 93 to Ashland, NH, for our first “Creating Music” project. We worked with Randy Roos at Squam Sound to create our versions of “Otherside” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammar, “Breakeven” by the Script, and “Hell on Heels” by the Pistol Annies. We accomplished so much in short time, recording four songs in under a week. But more importantly, I witnessed our students fully engaged and committed to their craft. They were learning in a way that just cannot be reproduced in a classroom.  They were experiencing “Project Based Learning” before it became a best practice in education and a focus of our current academic program.  It was clear we had something special going on, and I was eager to raise the bar for our next adventure.

Over the past decade, I have helped to create and lead projects in San Francisco, Nashville, Austin, Morocco, Belize, and more. None of these projects would have been successful without the leadership of our Project Week Coordinators: Mr. Justin Joslin, Mr. Jonathan Schwab, and Ms. Cate MacKenzie. While every project had its own personality, there are commonalities between them all. During these projects, our students created lifelong memories with friends and faculty, collaborated with industry-leading professionals in impressive recording spaces, gained invaluable experience in the recording studio, and were exposed to career paths in the music industry where they can fuel their passions for music.

This year’s project was our second visit to Nashville. What made this trip so special? Our recording experience was created and delivered by Ray Aley, Class of ’18, and an alum of our Creating Music: Austin in 2017. Ray was integral to Contemporary Performance Lab during his tenure at New Hampton. He played piano in the ensemble and was a complete professional in the studio, but I was always more impressed by his musical mind, creativity, and drive. Ray left NHS and headed down to Belmont University in Nashville. Upon graduation, he found his way to Classic 77 Creative Company. At Classic 77, Ray serves as a “Production Lead,” where he creates content for high-level artists. This summer, I bought my wife tickets to Tim McGraw. I posted to my social media that we were headed to the concert. Shortly thereafter, I received a text from Ray letting me know he was on tour with Tim McGraw, and he was looking to catch up at the show.

As a teacher, nothing is more fulfilling than seeing a former student achieve success. The opening act, Alexandra Kay, took the stage, and a few moments later, I see Ray center stage wielding his cameras, creating the content he needs to bolster Alexandra Kay’s social media presence. I watched with a smile on my face knowing that Ray was in his element and thriving. During the set break, Ray came out to the seats to say hello. More importantly, he brought me a lemonade from backstage to replace the $10 dollar one that I had just kicked over at my seat. Then, Ray was off to the tour bus to start cutting the video to post on socials.

During our time at Classic 77, we were all blown away by the experience Ray, and the talented team at Classic 77, created for us. Our students were busy recording their original music, creating music videos and ‘mash ups’, designing logos and social media banners, producing “promo’ ads and liners, learning how to take headshots and pictures for cover art, and students heard from professionals in the music industry, including Kiley Dean, an American R&B singer who sang with Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna, and more. She got real!!! She spoke to the students about the realities of the music business and the struggles she faced with body image in a male-dominated industry. As I watched Ray lead this cacophony of creativity, I was grateful once again. I was watching a former student passionately give back to his alma mater. While we all understand the need and desire for alumni to give back to Husky Nation, the normal route is through monetary donations. Ray gave back, expressing his gratitude for his New Hampton experience, with his time, talents, and enthusiasm. For that, we will always be thankful.

We returned from March break this week and will celebrate our students’ work at the Project Week Symposium on Friday, March 31, 2023. We are beyond excited to share what we learned and created in Nashville this year. We will be releasing our new songs and content on Friday morning, so please look to New Hampton School’s social media to check it out! In the meantime, I created a playlist of our “covers” and a playlist of our “originals” to celebrate a decade of student success creating music for New Hampton School’s Project Week.

CPL Covers
CPL Originals

View more CPL photo memories on Flickr.

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