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Helix High’s Mike Benge teams students with pro-bands

Video features members of War, B-Side Players, San Diego Latin Jazz Collective, and others

“The band room was their sanctuary,” say Helix High School music director Mike Benge.
“The band room was their sanctuary,” say Helix High School music director Mike Benge.

Trombonist Mike Benge has been a director of music at Helix High school for ten years, and the 40-year-old musician was also hyper busy leading the San Diego Latin Jazz Collective and touring with the B-Side Players when the Covid-19 disaster struck. Everything changed overnight.

“I started thinking about what we could do realistically, for our students, and how we could engage them. This was going to be hard on them. The band room was their sanctuary — the kids were always either socializing or working on their instruments in practice rooms.”

So Benge hit on an idea, in addition to keeping up with each other via Zoom interactions, why not collaborate on a video that showcased the students and invited select members of working pro-bands like War, B-Side Players, San Diego Latin Jazz Collective, Pacific Mambo Orchestra, and Karl Denson.

“So I just picked up my phone and called some of my dearest friends. And they were all into it. The attitude was basically, ‘anything for the kids.’ I didn’t tell the kids that all of this was happening. I just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to make a video, and I’m going to send you guys a click-track. I want you guys to play along with it. Use headphones and do it in the driest room of your house. Use the best phone you’ve got and then send them to me.’ I tried to give them as much knowledge as I could. I just had them follow my instructions, and they all sent individual videos to me. They didn’t know about all the pros who were contributing until the end. We made sure to respect the concept of social distancing. We take that very seriously.”

So Benge set out to make a music video, even though he had never done anything like that. Did he know what he was getting into?

“I had no idea. I had to sit for hours watching YouTube trying to figure it out. I put everything in Logic which is a recording program. I had to learn how to edit everything, and I spent the majority of the quarantine watching videos trying to figure this out.”

What kind of time are we talking here?

“Hundreds of hours. I lost track. Halfway through, I wanted to give up, but I was too far down the rabbit hole. I still had a long way to go. I gotta give props to the people that create these videos. Our project was just one song using more than 25 musicians.”

So how did the project come out?

“As a video, it is pretty basic, which is fine by me, I was way more worried about the audio. But as soon as I finished, my piano player said, ‘Let’s do the next one.’ But I needed a break. I need a few weeks to not stare at a computer screen.”

How has the pandemic affected the music students at Helix High?

“A lot of educators came together to try and make this as easy as we could for them. Because we know it was going to be hard. I’ve reached out to students and made personal calls to families to check in. We’re trying to be conscious about their wellness. Just trying to be there for these kids. We’re trying to put together some kind of graduation and awards ceremony this week. The school has been working hard and just trying to be there for them during this difficult time.”

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“The band room was their sanctuary,” say Helix High School music director Mike Benge.
“The band room was their sanctuary,” say Helix High School music director Mike Benge.

Trombonist Mike Benge has been a director of music at Helix High school for ten years, and the 40-year-old musician was also hyper busy leading the San Diego Latin Jazz Collective and touring with the B-Side Players when the Covid-19 disaster struck. Everything changed overnight.

“I started thinking about what we could do realistically, for our students, and how we could engage them. This was going to be hard on them. The band room was their sanctuary — the kids were always either socializing or working on their instruments in practice rooms.”

So Benge hit on an idea, in addition to keeping up with each other via Zoom interactions, why not collaborate on a video that showcased the students and invited select members of working pro-bands like War, B-Side Players, San Diego Latin Jazz Collective, Pacific Mambo Orchestra, and Karl Denson.

“So I just picked up my phone and called some of my dearest friends. And they were all into it. The attitude was basically, ‘anything for the kids.’ I didn’t tell the kids that all of this was happening. I just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to make a video, and I’m going to send you guys a click-track. I want you guys to play along with it. Use headphones and do it in the driest room of your house. Use the best phone you’ve got and then send them to me.’ I tried to give them as much knowledge as I could. I just had them follow my instructions, and they all sent individual videos to me. They didn’t know about all the pros who were contributing until the end. We made sure to respect the concept of social distancing. We take that very seriously.”

So Benge set out to make a music video, even though he had never done anything like that. Did he know what he was getting into?

“I had no idea. I had to sit for hours watching YouTube trying to figure it out. I put everything in Logic which is a recording program. I had to learn how to edit everything, and I spent the majority of the quarantine watching videos trying to figure this out.”

What kind of time are we talking here?

“Hundreds of hours. I lost track. Halfway through, I wanted to give up, but I was too far down the rabbit hole. I still had a long way to go. I gotta give props to the people that create these videos. Our project was just one song using more than 25 musicians.”

So how did the project come out?

“As a video, it is pretty basic, which is fine by me, I was way more worried about the audio. But as soon as I finished, my piano player said, ‘Let’s do the next one.’ But I needed a break. I need a few weeks to not stare at a computer screen.”

How has the pandemic affected the music students at Helix High?

“A lot of educators came together to try and make this as easy as we could for them. Because we know it was going to be hard. I’ve reached out to students and made personal calls to families to check in. We’re trying to be conscious about their wellness. Just trying to be there for these kids. We’re trying to put together some kind of graduation and awards ceremony this week. The school has been working hard and just trying to be there for them during this difficult time.”

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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