Creating Music with Coffee Beans, Empty Cups and other Common Items Found in a Starbucks Store

A clear Starbucks Frappuccino cup filled with coffee beans makes a random rattling noise, but in the hands of a musician it becomes a percussion instrument.

There’s nothing remarkable about a newspaper stand, until a young man strums metal tongs across the wire rack adding rhythm to the shaking of the coffee bean-filled cup.

An empty milk jug becomes a drum as another musician taps on it with a wooden spoon.

Starbucks challenged eight musicians to perform a well-known song using instruments they had to create from common objects found in a store. Cups, lids, metal milk pitchers, and anything else that wasn’t plugged into an outlet were there to be transformed into instruments for a performance less than two hours later.

“What they came up with is 10 times beyond what I could have expected,” said Sarah Loritz, Community Programs Manager for Seattle Theatre Group (STG). “They jumped right in and showed how well they collaborate, even though they are all from diverse musical backgrounds, and they showed their creativity.”

The challenge was a break from rehearsals for the recent More Music @ The Moore concert, STG’s young artist development program. Starbucks has been an enthusiastic supporter of this event, and other STG arts education programs, since 2003.

The program provides young artists training and rehearsal time with professional musicians and the opportunity to perform at a professional venue, The Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle. About 150 local artists between the ages of 14 and 21 auditioned, and now a select handful are getting ready for the big show Friday, May 9. Meshell Ndegeocello, a Grammy nominated singer-songwriter, returns for a second year as Music Director of the 13th annual event.

“You never know who is going to be the next Macklemore,” added Vicky Lee, STG’s Director of Education and Performance Programs. “It’s our investment in young artists.”

STG provides the young performers with the same production support – marketing, posters, social media, equipment, and lighting – as they would give to a celebrity touring artist or musical on stage at The Moore.

There was no fancy equipment for the Starbucks Music Challenge. With only a steel drum as back up, musicians created instruments in a downtown Seattle store and performed “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

“It was tremendous to watch the creativity of their process as they searched through our space to find the right objects to make good percussive sounds,” said Jed Brady, a Starbucks district manager. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk through a Starbucks again without thinking about the music they created.”

Starbucks history with music dates back to 1995 when the company sold its first CD in stores, “Blue Note Blend,” a jazz collection that included Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The music was paired with Starbucks Blue Note Coffee.

“Music is at the core of the coffeehouse culture and Starbucks is proud to support the various arts education programs at the Seattle Theater Group,” said Andrea Buckmeier, who manages Starbucks hometown community partnerships. “This city’s history is so rich with artistic innovators like Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. More Music @ The Moore is a launching pad for young artist to continue building on those musical roots.”

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Starbucks names first North American Barista Champion: Darcy Todd of Texas