In Pound for the Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local music community members about what "gear" they use to create their signature "tones" in our community.
Regina Nixon, Executive Director for Phoenix Conservatory of Music (PCM), has always had a passion for music and education. She is, without a doubt, your prototypical self-starter and a natural networker. And even though she is working hard and doing big things for our community here in Phoenix, you wouldn't know it by her humble demeanor.
Nixon comes to us from Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was there her musical journey started, as she knew at the age of 5 that she wanted to be a singer and that her life was going to involve music. She used to even host diorama style concerts with her Jem dolls in her bedroom as a girl. Eventually, she started singing in her fourth-grade choir when her family moved to west Phoenix from Wyoming.
Regina has always been surrounded by a family full of musicians, and in her house you either sang, played, or did both. However, as time went on, she realized she was more passionate about the education side of music rather than performance. She always found herself taking the "teacher" role when she was with her music buddies. And that certainly translated into so much more for her life, and the lives of others as well.
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Nixon started at PCM in 1999 teaching weekly guitar classes for PCM at community centers. In 2004, she was given her current title of executive director when the former owner decided to pass on the business to her. She started in her house and eventually got a two-room office in central Phoenix for office-only work. As she continued the quest, in 2007, the school grew into a facility on I-17 and Northern Avenue where they could do both lessons and administrative work in the same building. In 2012, the school easily quadrupled in square footage and moved just across the way to their second-to-last-stop in their first location at Metrocenter Mall. And it was right around this time that things really started taking off.
Regina gave the school a new look with the new location. And with the new location came some amazing new partnerships, including the school's acceptance into the Berklee City Music Network, a network of schools nationwide providing quality music education at little to no cost hosted by Berklee College of Music. And in 2017, with all of this new work in place, the school relocated to a larger and more permanent space in Metrocenter Mall. And in their new location, their lesson rooms are better, they can be louder, and they even have their own recording studio. And it is all a testament to Nixon's, as well as her staff's, dedication to the "guiding the tribe" mentality in an effort to help young people begin to actualize and achieve their dreams.
Every fall and spring, Phoenix Conservatory of Music hosts auditions for students grades four through 12 to build their ensembles for their upcoming year. Students are welcome on any instrument, including vocals. And once again, the costs are extremely minimal, and there are scholarships and financial aid for those who qualify, so no one who wants to join will be turned away. Rather, they just have to promise to be dedicated and willing to make their regular rehearsals and music theory classes.
Recently, PCM began hosting auditions for their next round of rocking students for all of their ensembles, including their prestigious Berklee College Prep Program. These auditions will continue through the month of August. With the new music year and all of these auditions already beginning, New Times was able to get some words in with Regina via phone and email about the school's sound, her role as executive director, and their upcoming audition schedule.
Phoenix New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Regina Nixon: For us, the secret weapon is about every part of our team working for and in the best interest of our students. That fact that these young people have more than one caring adult relationship outside of their immediate family truly makes all the difference in the world.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
We have a new Fender Bass amp and that is my favorite. Sounds great. Super lightweight. Easy to load and unload.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
Our tools have less to do with gear and more to do about building resilience, grit, and helping students see their own potential.
We just checked out PCM's rendition of “Got My Mojo Working.” Super-groovy, and the kids are just incredible players and singers. What is your process to get them stage-ready to perform like this at such a young age?
It’s truly about the rehearsal process, and taking them through the steps of team building, collaboration, active listening and learning to trust in themselves and each other through making mistakes, identifying problems, and overcoming obstacles.
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In 2004, you were basically handed Phoenix Conservatory of Music and the role of executive director without any prior experience. And you have been able to grow PCM from a two room office space in central Phoenix, to now operating in a huge, permanent facility at Metrocenter Mall and being the only school in Arizona to offer the prestigious Berklee College Prep Program. What are some of the major steps that you have taken as an executive director to grow PCM into one of the premier college prep programs in Arizona with no prior experience?
As an executive director, I truly try to model the values we want to instill in our students: understanding our potential and knowing we are constantly evolving and learning, persevering through hard and difficult times, and facing the future with humility, an attitude of gratitude, and eternal optimism. It has been such a journey, and every year it continues to grow and provide access and inspiration to many young people in our community. Major steps for me on this journey was realizing it is a process, and that like everything, an evolution. Taking the time to constantly learn new skills and further develop my own capacity so that I can better serve the organization and find and develop relationships with mentors to help guide my way. This is not just one person’s doing, but in every step of the journey I had people to help guide the way so that together we could bring this fantastic resource to our youth.
PCM is holding auditions for your Berklee College Prep Program until the end of August for students grades four through 12. Any words you wish to share about the audition process or the program with our readers?
This program is accessible for any student who has the desire to learn and grow. It’s a commitment, but if you are willing to show up and to work, you will improve. We have financial aid and scholarship for students in need, so cost is not a barrier to participation.