Jory Strothers already appreciated the legacy of Mac Miller, whose songs helped put Pittsburgh on the contemporary pop-music map.
Now he’s got one more reason: The late rapper’s namesake Mac Miller Fund has contributed $100,000 to The YMCA Lighthouse Program, which Strothers credits with improving his creative and technical skills and giving him a musical outlet.
“It’s like a therapy session for me every time I get here,” said Strothers this week, during one of his near-daily visits to the Lighthouse, headquartered at the Homewood-Brushton Y.
Strothers, 18, is an education student at CCAC on the North Side and lives in the Hill District. But starting last year — when he was still in high school — he began taking two buses across town to Lighthouse, with its professional recording studio, half-dozen instructors, and community of youths interested in music. The studio is outfitted with keyboards, an upright piano, drum kit and other instruments. Lighthouse teaches DJing, audio-recording and more.
About 100 students each year pass through its doors, about 40 of them regulars, says James Brown, the Homewood-Brushton Y’s director of youth development. The entry point for many is the Audio Arts Club, which meets after school on Mondays and Wednesdays. There’s also a visual-arts club and a CCAC film-production class.
“We’re excited about that idea of this being a creative hub for kids across the city to come here, to connect, to meet like-minded peers, to collaborate, make art and music,” said Brown. All the Lighthouse programs are free.
The $100,000 grant was announced this month by the Pittsburgh Foundation, which administers the Miller Fund, established by the rapper’s family after his death, at age 26, in September 2018. (It was the second round of grants by the Fund.)
Brown said that half the grant will go toward general operating funds for Lighthouse. The other $50,000 will be used to re-launch the Tuff Sound Recording Apprenticeship, a collaboration with local recording studio Tuff Sound aimed at aspiring audio engineers.
“This is really dedicated for young people ages 16 to 24 who see themselves somewhere in the music industry, whether it’s as an artist, or they want to be an actual engineer,” said Brown, who added that the skills are also applicable in podcasting and broadcast journalism.
The apprenticeship, which includes classes, lab time, and stipends for participants, has been on hiatus for lack of funding, said Brown. He said the apprenticeship is a rare way for young people to learn audio-recording without taking expensive classes or unpaid internships.
The YMCA launched Lighthouse in 2007 in unused classrooms at nearby Westinghouse High School. As interest grew from kids from other schools and neighborhoods, the program moved to the Homewood-Brushton Y. The recording studio, complete with isolation booth for recording vocals, was built in 2016.
Strothers said he originally came only to take a class in DJing. While he now DJs professionally, he discovered there was more to learn at Lighthouse, from beat making and production to marketing. Strothers has recorded and released music under his rap name, J The Anomaly, and is working on a full-length album. Prior to an open house this week at Lighthouse, he was awaiting a horn section to record a part for one of his songs.
He said he appreciates Lighthouse for the community, too. “It's always, the next day, ‘What’s new? What’s new? What’re we gonna do next? What’re we gonna do next?’” he said. “We never, like, stop, we keep on going.”
“I’m honored to be part of this program,” he said. “With the Mac Miller Fund coming and giving money to Lighthouse, I just feel like they just opened another door for Lighthouse to get better suited with other music programs all around the world.”
Lighthouse is currently accepting applicants for the next session of the Tuff Sound Recording Apprenticeship, which starts Feb. 4. The application deadline is Jan. 20.