2018-09-01 / Start Here

Finding His Groove

Penn State graduate student Sam Lapp wants you to hear the music — and he’ll bring it to you.
Katie Defiore

Ever since Sam Lapp began playing keyboard in high school, he has been passionate about music’s ability to bring people together and serve as a connection point.

“Whether you’re a musician or a dancer or just listening to music, a source of music and a place to come together can totally break down boundaries between people,” Lapp says. “Whether it’s a boundary of language and culture or of ideology, sharing music is, in my experience, one of the most powerful ways to break down the initial barriers between people who don’t necessarily understand each other.”

Lapp, a Pittsburgh native, received his undergraduate degree in engineering from Penn State. Now a graduate student at Penn State studying engineering design, he is interested in finding a way to make more of those music-related connections spark in the State College area. This summer, Lapp was awarded $5,000 through the Emerging City Champions Fellowship to make that dream a reality. The idea he pitched to the program is a mobile music studio called Grooves to Go.

Spud Marshall, co-owner and co-founder of the, an innovative housing cooperative of 20 students and young professionals, told Lapp about the Emerging City Champions Fellowship earlier this spring. Lapp, who has been a resident of the for two years, says he has always been inspired by Marshall’s entrepreneurial spirit to think creatively and pursue projects he otherwise might not have.

The Emerging City Champions program encourages young community leaders to pitch and then pull off a creative project to improve public spaces, transportation and civic engagement in their cities. The program accepts 20 applicants and provides each fellow with $5,000 as well as ongoing mentorship to put their project into motion within a year.

Lapp originally decided not to apply for the fellowship, thinking he had too much on his plate already. He would be spending the month of May in Kenya with the Penn State HESE program helping Kenyan farmers efficiently get their products to market. He would be a house manager of the in the fall. But, on the final day to apply to the fellowship, Lapp was tired of staring at his computer screen — and intrigued by the thought of spending an afternoon pulling a pitch together.

He began thinking about pitching something related to an ongoing project of his called the Groove Room. Lapp describes the Groove Room as a “hackathon but for music.” It was a series of events where musicians spent all day collaboratively writing and recording music with the goal of ending with a finished product.

“It was just a huge success because we had no idea what was going to happen, and people who didn’t know each other came and worked together and collaborated,” Lapp says. “We learned so much about playing and writing music.”

For the Groove Room events, which will continue this fall, Lapp and his friends were able to use Happy Valley Launchbox powered by PNC Bank as the venue. Lapp started to think: What if there was a location in State College meant just for music — a place for recording, collaboration and concerts?

That’s when the idea for Grooves to Go, a mobile music studio — a “food truck for music” — started to blossom. Lapp says the idea is to transform a school bus into a mobile music space accessible for all ages. His vision is for this school bus to travel around Happy Valley, including on campus, downtown State College, Boalsburg, Bellefonte and state parks to create family-friendly outdoor performances.

The bus would also be available as a resource to anyone hosting an event that may need a stage and a speaker system.

“It was really empowering to be that kind of entrepreneur who just does cool projects just because they think they’re cool. It’s something I’d always admired especially in Spud, so it was inspiring for me to get that first ticket in a way.”

Now, Lapp has one year to convert a school bus into a mobile music studio for the State College community. He is still looking for a school bus to purchase, but he says he has already received overwhelming support from the community.

“It didn’t become reality until I realized how much the local community actually wants something like that and is willing to help out,” Lapp says. “I know renovating it will be a lot of work, but as soon as I have my hands on a vehicle, I’m going to go nuts with it.” •SCM

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