Ben Hughes ’07 is obsessed.
A music major at Colby, Hughes continues to immerse himself in his passion. All day. Every day. And most nights, as well. “I create, play, and think about music as much as I can because it’s what I love,” he said.
Hughes holds two music-related jobs: music program director at the Boys and Girls Club in Pawtucket, R.I., and music teacher at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island. He also gives private lessons at a rented studio in Pawtucket. After nine-hour work days, he plays at open mic nights around Providence.
Hughes traveled to Kalimpong, India, in January 2007 to participate in Colby’s pilot Jan Plan in India program, where he first taught children about music. The experience was one more step on his musical road.
At the Boys and Girls Club Hughes teaches kids and teens to play piano, guitar, drums, Latin percussion, and how to use digital recording software. He calls his multidimensional class the “One-Room Music Program.” For many of his students, Hughes’ program is their first exposure to music beyond limited exposure in school. “Some of these kids have never even seen a drum kit before, or a piano, even,” he said with a laugh.
When Hughes realized that in spite of their lack of formal music training his students had musical talent that rivaled their passion, he recorded a Boys and Girls Club album, which featured approximately 40 of his pupils. “I want to start a record label out of the Boys and Girls Club and try to promote inner-city artists,” Hughes said.
Hughes also produced a video of one of his star rappers, an 18-year-old who goes by Lil’ Jeff, and it won a “So You Think You Can Rap?” contest on a local hip-hop radio station. Lil’ Jeff was to open for rap stars Method Man and Redman at a December concert in Providence. This, Hughes says, is exactly the type of break his students dream of.
He is also contemplating the creation of a record label to promote inner-city artists. “I want to take [my One-Room Music] program to the next step and find grants to implement it in different Boys and Girls Clubs in different cities,” he said.
Working with the kids at the Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club is rewarding, but it’s also exhausting, Hughes says. “Life in Pawtucket for these kids is really tough. They have problems from A to Z and terrible home situations,” he said. Up until the moment the kids are in the studio they are often running around and causing general mischief. Once they get into the studio, however, they get serious.
Despite these difficulties Hughes feels drawn to working with kids who need him. “I went to high school in Providence, which is five minutes away. You’d go across the world for the Peace Corps to save people in villages, yet five minutes away there are people in abject poverty who can’t afford to live,” he said.
Hughes recognizes that, with so many students rotating through, there is no way to change the lives of all of his students. “You have to do what you can and connect with the few that you can. I can’t change three-hundred kids’ lives, but I can definitely change four or five kids’ lives if they hang out with me every day for six months.
While Hughes admits that he isn’t making as much money as he’d like, he is fulfilled by spreading his passion for music to his students. And he hopes that his love for music will be contagious: “It’s kind of like getting infected with the music disease, and then that becomes the meaning of your life.”
—Lauren Pongan ’09