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Mr. Illko on Music Program, Grammy Award

Music teacher Mr. Illko, left, performs with students at the release party for WISH Academy’s first studio album,2023, in April 2024.

WISH AcademyThe past year has been very eventful for the WISH Academy music department, and for the music teacher, Mr. Markus Illko. On March 15th,The Aviary’s Nicholas Steinman sat down with him to discuss the recording and release of the department’s first vinyl album,2023 (also available on streaming), the department’s successful biannual concerts, and Mr. Illko’s personal success, which saw him winning a Grammy Award as part of instrumental group The String Revolution and embark on a press tour earlier this year, and more. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Could you describe a bit your journey to becoming a music educator?
So the journey actually started as just a musician. I always wanted to play guitar. I started to study guitar when I was like 15, started at university when I was 16, finished university when I was 19, and I just wanted to play concerts. That was the first thing. So I got into [performing] music, and then eventually I started teaching when I was 20 or 21, and I enjoyed it.

It was always part of being a musician. So that’s actually where this whole thing led into becoming a music educator as well. I think it’s important not just to play, but also to teach.

That was in Austria, correct?
That was back in Austria, yes. And in Spain.

So when did you come over here [to Los Angeles]?
I came over here in 2013. I got a job offer to come over here to Los Angeles to work on some movies. So I did music for movies for several years.

Moving on to the WISH music department, I wanted to ask—who came up with the idea for the themes of the [fall] concerts to be the decades?
To be honest, I don’t remember how it came along. I think it was a mix between students and myself. Because some people wanted to play ‘80s songs, some people wanted to play ‘70s songs, [and] it was important just to have that. And it’s good for the concert. It’s fun. If you have a theme, it’s way, way easier. … It’s also more fun for the students to dress up.

So do you think you’ll have ‘90s and 2000s concerts in the future?
Most likely, yes.

Is there anything you’d like to tease for the Spring Concert that’s coming up in a few months?
For the Spring Concert, it will be kind of a mix of different genres, a mix of different times. It’s just very important for me that the students choose most of the songs. But it will be a mix of different genres.

The Spring Concert is now scheduled for the evening of Thursday, 5/24; more information will be released soon as it approaches.

Moving along to the album [2023] that came out this year, how did the idea for that come about?
I did that for a different school 10 years ago, and I thought it would be fun to have again because you learn so many different things if you were in the studio. And it’s nice to have something in your hand. You know, it’s not just on Spotify or on Apple [Music]. And it’s a completely different working process as well. So I thought it would be nice.

What are some of the things you think the students who did that last year learned?
I think [they] learned a lot of the music business. I think [they] learned a lot of work in the studio. I think they learned a lot about musicianship—you know, if you work towards a project and a final product. I think students learned a lot of the entire mixing and mastering process as well.

The post-production process for the album did take quite a few months. Were there any challenges that you encountered with that?
Time was the biggest challenge. Because it took several months to edit and to mix the entire album.

And how much of that was you, would you say?
All. I did all the mixing and editing.

What does it mean for the album to have been mastered [prepared for release] at Abbey Road Studios?
They have the best gear. I mean, they have been around for a long, long time. They recorded, mixed, and mastered the Beatles, and any big artist you can imagine. I think it’s just important to work with good people, with professionals.

Do you foresee doing another album in the future?
We definitely want to do it. We’re working on the next one. 2024, it’s called.

Is this going to be a more yearly thing now?
Well, let’s see. But this won’t be a vinyl—the upcoming one—it will only be digital.

Are there any other things people should look forward to for that?
Well, this time it won’t take me as long to mix and edit it, because students need to do editing. It’s completely student produced. I will just help.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal projects?
Sure. I’m working on a lot of different projects. I’m working on reggae artists; I’m working with some pop artists as well. I’m working on some film scores [music written or arranged specifically a movie] [and] some advertising scores. I’m working on some game music as well—and I’m working on a new album with my band, The String Revolution.

What was it like to win a Grammy [with The String Revolution] and embark on a press tour?
First of all, it’s a huge honor, because 18,000 people voted for you, or part of those 18,000 people voted for you. And you know, I was in the same category as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the song from Oppenheimer. And then in the end, we won—this is a huge honor. And it’s very surreal to win a Grammy.

How do you manage all of that? It sounds like you have a ton of stuff you’re doing. What’s your secret?
I don’t sleep very long. I only sleep like five hours, four and a half, five hours max. Every night, every day. … And trying to do sports every day.

What’s the most important lesson you’d like students to take away from your classes?
Well, in the best case, they have a way to express themselves, and have a good time while doing it, and learning to work with each other, and learning to enjoy life. Because if you make music, you make music because you enjoy it and you want to have a good time. For me, that’s always the most important thing. You need to be happy. And if that’s a good outlet for you, music, then it’s perfect.

To close, do you have a favorite musical artist to share?
I love the artist Avishai Cohen. [His music is]—I wouldn’t say minimalistic, but it has different rhythms, and they’re playing against each other. You know, you have a 7/8 against a 6/8 [time signature]. You have a 3 quarter [note] rhythm against a 4 quarter [note] rhythm. So that’s just, for me, super super interesting. So I have a lot of respect for these guys.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yeah, maybe that I would love to hear if someone has not been in my classes yet and they have some musical instruments they play, or they would like to sing. They should just pass by [and], like, audition. I will also audition for a new choir, honor choir. Yeah. So we’ll set up just the honors choir, and people can audition right now.

Well, thank you; have a great day. I really appreciate it.

~ Nicholas Steinman with Mr. Illko

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