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Laying down Celtic tracks

Faith Zamora, Zena Greenawald, Juan Fonzeca, Jessica Moore and Jonathon Wheeler at work in McNary's Studio M. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
Faith Zamora, Zena Greenawald, Juan Fonzeca, Jessica Moore and Jonathon Wheeler at work in McNary’s Studio M. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

McNary High School senior Jonathon Wheeler got his first wireless microphone when he was in fourth grade.

He connected it with his keyboard and it worked beautifully. Eventually though, it gave out. When he returned to the store for a replacement they only had wired mics. He brought one home and plugged it in only to discover that one wouldn’t work.

“My mom took me to Uptown Music and Shane Hall showed me the equipment that I needed. So I got a small mixer and it had all these knobs and I just got into it by experimenting with it,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler is now one of three students – seniors Juan Fonzeca and Jessica Moore are the other two -– at the school whose contributions to the fine arts go largely unseen but effect the overall quality of everything from theatre productions to concert performances and podcasts to music albums.

“I’ve always loved music, but I’ve never considered myself a star. With this, I’m still enjoying doing what I love and I just work behind the scenes,” said Fonzeca. “The concert wouldn’t be the concert and the musical wouldn’t be the musical if it weren’t for us.”

While Wheeler got an early start in the field, Moore and Fonzeca were pushed into a trial by fire their sophomore years.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of music, but I never found the one thing I enjoyed doing. When I took the recording arts class that’s when I thought, ‘I found it,’” said Moore.

While Wheeler spends much of his time in the sound room of the Ken Collins theatre, Fonzeca and Moore can often be found on the other side of the school recording audio and musical performances from an isolation booth.

“I came in with nothing but knowing choir music. I didn’t know the software and I barely knew how to hold a mic,” said Fonzeca, who now works a sound board and mixing software with ninja-like skill.

That’s not to say that the trio haven’t had setbacks along the way.

“We lost one of the first recordings we ever did because we didn’t save it correctly, but you need to fail so you can learn better. We’ve failed a lot, but we’ve succeeded so much more by learning from our mistakes and becoming better,” said Moore.

They’re also passing on what they’ve learned to the up-and-comers in the program, or as Moore likes to call them, “the minions.”

“We knew some basic things because of theatre, but it was like being a baby in the deep end of the pool,” said Zena Greenawald.

“We started with the theatre, but we really sort of discovered all the other stuff after starting there,” added Faith Zamora.

For fellow minion Rose Nason, getting involved with the recording arts program was as much a matter of practicality as expanding her horizons.

“I just wanted to have more knowledge of all of it. That way if I end up some place where no one knows anything I can come in to it and start the work, even if we have to branch out from there,” Nason said.

Taking on the role of teaching what they’ve learned has added new dimensions for the three seniors.

“Since we have a recording arts and engineering class, we’ve all had to take a crash course in how video cameras work and how the editing works. We have to learn it and immediately turn around and teach it,” said Wheeler.

While they get their names in the production credits for most of their works, Fonzeca and Moore said the pet projects, which are often small individual recordings, are their favorites.

“My favorite part is coaching people to get ready to record. Juan and I will find someone whose voice we really like and we think has potential and then we’ll slowly build them up into the studio,” said Moore.

Part of that coaching draws on their own experiences as members of the school choir, explained Fonzeca.

“Choir has definitely helped because we can pick out when someone is playing or singing something wrong. Being able to do that is a huge part of getting good recordings,” he said.

Both Moore and Fonzeca are planning to attend Clackamas Community College to study recording arts; it’s one of the few places that offers the degree as a major in Oregon.

They’ve both already traveled up to take a tour of the program and liked what they found.

“It felt like home because some of the problems are the same ones that we have here,” Fonzeca said.

Wheeler has no intention of pursuing it as a career. It started as a hobby and he expects it to stay that way while he pursues a career in law enforcement.

Still, he relishes watching the audience during a theatre performance.

“When I’m doing live stuff, I get satisfaction from seeing people enjoying the performance and taking something away. I like having a small part of that. I was able to contribute to someone else’s day,” Wheeler said.