Kevin Oates is a familiar face around Portland. He is often seen walking through the West End, enviably put-together, on his way to his office in the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra (MYRO) rehearsal space above the State Theater. It’s obvious that Kevin is passionate about music and his work with kids in the community. In an impressively short time, Kevin has formed the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, working with musicians such as Guster, and is launching a nationwide network of youth rock orchestras this year. We sat down to discuss Kevin’s background, his style (how he went from pukka shells to a sleek black wardrobe), and his approach to designing the impressive MYRO spaces.
"I have this drive for redefining education
and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra became that engine for me to demonstrate my approach to applied education."
Birds Say by Darlingside
Best place for brunch
Ruski’s or Palace Diner
Favorite place ever visited
Cremona, Italy (home of Antonio Stradivari, maker of the modern violin)
Best fashion find
Fashion find, meh, but the black leather couch that is in the office. Thank you Maine Craigslist.
Hair salon of choice
Crow’s Nest Barbershop. The one and only Frank the Barber.
Best part of living in Maine
Being in an environment that supports and encourages new ideas and the ability to bring them to life with a community that is there to help. Otherwise, Ruski’s
THE MAINERS: Tell us about The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra. You went to school for music education, taught for a few years, and then decided to launch this. What was that progression like and how did this idea come about?
KEVIN: Prior to launching MYRO in 2014, I had already been teaching for 6 years both in upstate New York and in Maine, while also performing and recording with artists from across the country. I realized that students, especially orchestral students, never had the opportunity or knowledge for this type of application of their instrument, and I wanted to provide them the opportunity to see what is really out there for them. I have this drive for redefining education and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra became that engine for me to demonstrate my approach to applied education.
THE MAINERS: Did you grow up in a musical family? Do you have a first memory of knowing that this is what you were going to do with your life?
KEVIN: I started cello just before my 5th birthday, and picked cello on my own, so that’s definitely in my DNA. My older brother, Matty, (currently kicking butt as the social media voice for Shipyard Brewing) played violin and my mom played piano, so music was always an integral part of our household. Dad said he played the stereo, but seriously he is the reason I went into education. The man knows how to command and engage a classroom like no other, and I knew since 8th grade that I wanted to be a music educator. As far as MYRO, this was not the path I was planning, but I’m beyond satisfied that this is the path I’ve taken.
THE MAINERS: We met in your new office, which you had literally just finished putting the final touches on. (The Liquid Nails on the shelves was still drying!) Can you tell me about this space and why you decided to expand, and how it functions for what you’re doing with The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra.
KEVIN: This space was something I’ve stared at for years because from the outside, these windows are the beautiful ornate framing to the State Theatre marquis. When I was offered up this office I couldn’t say no. I needed to create more room in our rehearsal studio since it was beyond crowded with all of the students and desks, etc. On top of all of that I’ve been wanting to give our rock star students in MYRO an area to relax during rehearsal break that they could enjoy being in. They work incredibly hard for MYRO, so they deserve rock star treatment.
THE MAINERS: Your space is so bold, curated perfectly, and makes such a statement while remaining incredibly professional. How did you approach the design process? Have you always had this aesthetic and does it carry through to your home? How do the kids react to such a cool space?
KEVIN: I’ve always had a desire for interior design. I love mid-century design mixed with modern elements, and obviously some youthful accents were necessary since we are a youth education program. I approached designing these spaces by basing everything off of black, white, and light wood tones, and doing it all on a budget. We may be a startup non-profit organization, but with the right budget and research, you can get a high-quality looking space without breaking the bank. Creating a space that anyone comes into and is inspired by it is crucial for creative success. The first time the students in MYRO walked into these spaces they were ecstatic. I wish my home looked the same, but since I spend 90% of my life in these spaces, I put all my energy into creating an environment like no other. Maybe that’s a goal for 2018.
"I started cello just before my 5th birthday,
and picked cello on my own, so that’s definitely in my DNA."
THE MAINERS: Black. It’s everywhere. You wear it, it’s on the walls, etc. Tell me your relationship with this achromatic color…
KEVIN: Musicians wearing black is just a must. I can’t say I’ve always been this way but honestly it started when I got this one leather jacket about 2 years ago. Ever since, my wardrobe has just become more and more black, maybe it was inspired by the black walls that were already painted in our studio, but who knows. To quote This is Spinal Tap, “How much more black can it get? The answer is none. None-more black."
THE MAINERS: It’s not just your spaces that make a statement, your personal style does as well. You look amazing every time I see you walking down the street. What has your style evolution over the years been like? How does what you’re wearing now reflect where you are in life?
KEVIN: I feel like I can describe my style as “Mark Zuckerberg if he were a rock star.” I basically wear the same style of jackets, shirts, pants shoes every day, but have multiple of each to make it simple yet strong. I want to make a statement with my style + grooming wherever I go. You can still look professional and put-together, yet have your own personal touch without looking “average.” To give you a sense of the positive progression of my style over the years, I started 15 years ago wearing yellow plaid polyester pants with pukka shell necklaces and red paisley button up shirts. Enough said.
THE MAINERS: How do you feel being budget conscious affects your style? Or does it at all?
KEVIN: Budget conscious is the definition of my personal and interior style. Because I don’t make a salary yet for Maine Youth Rock Orchestra and having to currently piece together multiple projects to make an income, designing and dressing on a budget is currently where I’m at. I’m okay with it for now, but over the years would love to support small businesses and local designers more and more. It’ll get there.
THE MAINERS: What has been one of the most exciting things that has happened since MYRO began?
KEVIN: Two moments stand out from the rest. First was, hands down, performing with Guster at Thompson’s Point in 2017. I was a die hard Guster fan in high school, and they reached out to us to perform with them for that concert, so it was amazing to come full circle with that experience in front of 5,000 people. Secondly, was taking MYRO on tour with The Ballroom Thieves in 2016. It was the first time in history a youth orchestra has toured with a band, and I brought along my close friends from Herman Mantis to document every moment of the tour, which is now in a documentary series on YouTube called Orchestrating Change.
THE MAINERS: It must be pretty amazing to have this idea not only become a reality, but be incredibly successful. What’s next for MYRO?
KEVIN: It’s humbling to have something you created be supported and loved by the community around you, both locally and from away. I never knew that 4 years later we would be where we are today, and I couldn’t be happier. The goal will be to launch youth rock orchestras across the country over the next years, creating a network of students who are interested in learning application of their instruments and life through transformational experiences. This is just the beginning.
Learn more about the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra