Community School Spotlight: Noah and Larry Klein

Larry Klein, alumnus of the Community School, with his son Noah

Noah Klein, nine, started in the Community School when he was four years old. He now studies piano and music theory with Kathy Sawada. His father, Larry Klein, is a multiple Grammy winning record producer, musician, songwriter, and label executive. He attended the Community School in the 1970s and studied music theory and composition.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Larry, how did being a student here lead to your career success?
LK: I started at the Community School in 8th grade, and it was completely life changing for me. I took theory and composition and it was like I had gone to another planet. For an eighth grader, studying with a university professor and working out of the Hindemith theory book felt like the sky opened. I also met Billy Childs in that class, who has been my friend since that time. We were both very interested in jazz, so we became friends immediately and started playing together.

As far as my career goes, it was responsible for everything, in a way. It accelerated everything for me. It enabled me to focus so much more on every aspect of becoming a musician and understanding how music theory works.

When Noah came along, I was overjoyed to find out that Colburn had expanded their program to include early music education, and that it was a program he could get involved in very young. My wife and I were lucky enough to get him started off with Kathy Sawada, who is an absolute genius with regard to how she teaches theory and piano to young children.

Noah, did you know that story about your dad?
NK: Not much.

What do you think of your music theory lessons?
NK: If you do it one step at a time, you can piece everything together. And if you start young then I believe it’s easier than when you’re older. Especially in music theory.

Does your dad practice with you and help you do your homework?
NK: Yes.
LK: A combination of his mom and me. His mom is a very experienced teacher. I would say she’s much better at teaching the piano stuff, right?
NK: Mhmm.
LK: You were supposed to say no!

Is it nice for you to be in a musical family where everyone can help you out?
NK: Yes, absolutely.
LK: We work together, right? Sometimes all three of us are in the room when you’re practicing.

Do you ever listen to your dad practice?
NK: Yes, sometimes I go in the studio and just listen while I’m playing my video games.
LK: He’s always welcome to come in, I always try to get him to. It’s great when does. Everybody loves it, especially the artists that I’m working with.

Larry, what is it like for you being an alumnus and coming here as a parent now?
LK: I think it’s an amazing institution. It’s hard for me to even describe how important it was in my life—I’ve tried—and so when I come and see this big beautiful thing that has been built from this one little building at USC, it’s amazing to me. The school occupies a very prominent place in my heart because it was a life changer for me and I know that it must be for so many kids who come here. Even exponentially more so now, because now kids can start here at a young age and study all the way to the Conservatory, until they’re adults.

And with such high caliber teachers, too. That kind of thing just wasn’t there before in Los Angeles, not at this level. It performs a huge service to the community, to children and young adults, which helps create a solid foundation in music so they’ll be able to enjoy it, whether or not they want to pursue it as a livelihood. When I come here, I have a great deal of reverence for the place.

Noah, do you think you want to grow up and be a professional musician?
LK: You can be honest.
NK: Pretty much. I haven’t fully organized that yet.

High school’s only a few years away at this point, what do you see yourself doing in high school? What do you like to do?
NK: I like to create things and invent things, and to be honest I like playing video games. It’s my hobby and I like creating things in my video games, but I love playing music as well. Sometimes I’m just like, ‘Uugh piano time,’ but when I actually do it, it’s more fun than I think.
LK: Noah has aspirations of designing video games and we’ve talked about the fact that he could create the music for the video games he designs. The music is important to video games, don’t you think? What does it do?
NK: It changes the mood. Like, in action genres, there’s action music, and in horror genres it’s spooky.
LK: It creates tension.

Larry, why do you think arts education is important?
LK: Because art is what reminds us that we’re human. Art is what reminds us of our feelings, aspirations, dreams, and pain. Without a foundation in the arts, I think that you begin to create a culture of numb human beings. It’s so incredibly important for children to be exposed to art in a well-taught and well-guided manner. That’s just the beginning of it, but I really think that especially as a child gets older, to be grounded in arts is to be able to express everything about who they are.

Noah, what do you think? Can you apply what you learn in your piano lessons, like concentration and practice, to your other school studies?
NK: Yes, pretty much yes. I learned intervals in piano and actually two or three weeks ago, we started talking about intervals in math at school. It helped me understand better.
LK: I think that it helps you with focus too, right?
NK: Yes, because I space out sometimes in school.
LK: All kids do that, so studying music helps. I think it’s so important, and especially in our country where the arts are being chopped away from public schools, a place like Colburn is invaluable.

Do you have music classes in your school, Noah?
NK: Yes, we actually just started recorder in third grade and we are doing a little bit of music theory, occasionally.

Do you think you have a better advantage since you come here?
NK: In my school, yes. Only about four other children in my school have the greatest music education, but yeah. This place is fantastic.
LK: At Noah’s school, a lot of the kids go to School of Rock and places like that. That enables them to start feeling what it’s like to play with other kids, but they miss that foundation of music theory and the basics of how music is put together so I’m a firm advocate for the Colburn School to all the kids. It’s tough to convince them of the drive. I tell them it’s worth it, but we don’t mind it. What channel do we listen to?
NK: The Beatles.
LK: So I’ve successfully inculcated him with the Beatles repertoire on the drive to and from Colburn, which is a good course on songwriting, don’t you think?
NK: Yes.

What’s your favorite Beatles song?
NK: Maybe “You Can Drive My Car”?
LK: Yeah, you were singing that the other day, right?

Larry, what’s your advice for students or musicians who may want to follow in a path similar to yours?
It’s invaluable to get a solid theory foundation and a good keyboard foundation. When I was at the Community School, my teacher was always nagging me about my piano skills. I never really tackled upping my game piano-wise, and it’s still a hindrance to me now, so I realize that she was right. In my work, I’m kind of omnivorous as a record producer, songwriter, and arranger, so I work with everyone from classical to jazz to pop musicians. The education that I got very early at the Community School continues to be invaluable to me. It created the template that I work from, whether it’s ear training or compositional concepts. Everything that I do is informed by that solid foundation that I got from the Community School.

Noah, is there anything else you want to add?
NK: Pretty much it’s amazing. Really amazing. Music has been passed on for generations, in other families as well. It started out with just languages and cavemen speaking teaching each other, and it came into this. How did it get here? I wonder.
LK: That’s a good point. It’s communication. Music makes you feel things, right?
NK: Yes.
LK: He’s a very musical little guy. Even now, when he’s playing his piano pieces, he’s very connected to the music. It’s wonderful for me to see.