Di Chiro has found a niche
The room is about 20 x 13 feet, but seems smaller with all the stacks of equipment; computer monitors, soundboards, rainbows of wires, all labeled. There’s a worn, cream-colored couch leaning against the back wall; at the front, a pane of glass that serves as a good-sized window into another room. This room is covered in black foam, with pyramid-shaped puffs that rise off the ebony in neat rows. Stacks of instruments lie patiently in all four corners.
Bob Di Chiro spends a lot of his time here.
He beams now, hands on his hips, his black boots pointing in different directions.
“That was a good set up,” he says. “You guys did it real fast.”
He is talking to two boys, both Ashland high school seniors. One of them, Jaxon, sits in a chair in the first room, holding a bass. The second, John, is through the glass, behind a drum set.
“We’re going a little softer for this song,” Jaxon says.
Di Chiro, 53, looks at him through softly tinted sunglasses, his legs crossed, a wry grin on his face.
“Oh yeah? Well, you guys did your rager already, so …”
The two begin playing, bass notes and drums coming through black speakers. Di Chiro stares at a computer monitor, watching the notes transform into visual illustrations he will later adjust, while his head of black and gray curls nods with the music. With each drumbeat, little lines of LED lights, yellow, and green and red, hop across black boards, illuminating the once vacant lines of clear half spheres.
Di Chiro has been helping high schoolers put together musical recordings in Ashland since 2001. His recording experience began in Los Angeles. With the success of bands like Sumner, Chrysalis and Les Deux Love Orchestra, the recording process hastily struck a chord in the young musician.
“The minute I walked into my first real recording session, I just went ‘This is home,’” Di Chiro said.
Over time, Di Chiro became more and more fluent with the language of recording. He learned from some of the more prominent engineers of the era, one of which did the original Eagles recording of “Hotel California.”
“I got to the point where I would just stay in the studio as long as we were aloud to,” Di Chiro said. “A lot of cats would play their parts and split. I’d stay for days and watch these guys. I would just live in the studio with these engineers and just learn.”
A few years down the road, digital recording was born. Right about this time, a wealthy businessman who did recordings on the side hired Di Chiro to learn about the new technology.
“He literally put me into a room in his house with all this brand new gear and the manuals and said ‘I need you to learn how to use all this new stuff, and then we’re going to start making records at my house,’” Di Chiro said.
Over time, Di Chiro added these new elements of digital recording to his expertise. Eventually, he was as much a veteran at it as he had been with the older technology.
“At that time, you could not get around the equipment unless you had a record deal because it cost millions of dollars,” Di Chiro said. “We entered this era with this digital recording where it became this consumer product.”
— — — — Bob Di Chiro works on his music software in the recording — studio at The Grove.
In 2001, Di Chiro and his wife Julie moved up to Ashland. Julie had just been offered the position of Ashland School District’s superintendent. Di Chiro followed, leaving a life of recording and performing behind him.
“It looked like a great opportunity and a great living situation for both of us,” Di Chiro said.
Upon hearing of Di Chiro’s experience with recording in L.A., the original heads of the Grove, Arnie Green and Debbie Wilson, approached him. Originally conceived by Steve Grovman, a local musician and community activist, the Grove recording studio’s construction was completed in 1999. Shortly thereafter, Groveman died of colon cancer. The room stayed empty, save for a tape recorder and small keyboard.
“He insisted on a music room,” Di Chiro said. “His idea was ‘what a great way to get at risk kids in the door, have them come in and make music.’”
Di Chiro promptly saw the room. At once, inspiration took hold of him.
“I walked into the room, and they told me what the concept was,” Di Chiro said. “I just got it immediately. I just went ‘Wow, what a genius idea. Kids are going to come here like nobody’s business.’”
Di Chiro agreed to help pick up where Groveman had left off, but with one request. He wanted to make the studio state-of-the-art.
“So that way when [kids] come, there’s no excuses,” Di Chiro said. “This ain’t no baby thing, it’s like a record contract.”
Wilson and Green agreed. The three immediately began writing grants to local foundations and charities. After receiving a combined $7,000 from the Sharky Foundation and the Ashland Rotary Club, the Grove had its first computer and microphones. It just grew from there, with other additional grants also provided by Jim Madison of the Rotary Club.
“He’s been key in getting us funding,” Di Chiro said.
With very little advertising, Di Chiro mostly relied on word-of-mouth. High school kids began flocking to the studio, some on field trips, with most looking for internships to fill the hours for their senior projects.
“I offer the kids the ability to learn anything they want,” Di Chiro said. “I’ll teach them both sides of the glass. They got instantly what a great deal this was.”
In five years, Di Chiro has turned the studio into exactly what he saw it as in the beginning. Several of the high schoolers he’s taken under his wing have gone on to become engineers. Technologically, he recently attained a Macintosh G5, enabling him to have three computers in the studio. Still a musician, he also has the capability to make recordings and send them over the Internet to L.A. He also plans to get better microphones.
“We keep upgrading,” he said.
Still, despite anxiousness, Di Chiro is happy with the Grove’s evolution, and content with its current capabilities.
“The main concept [of this] is making ourselves available as adults, but not having this stigma as an adult,” Di Chiro said. “It’s a real blessing to me to be able to have an association with these kids on this level.”