Seal Beach student reaches Music Center Finale’

JJ Lybbert is pictured in a Spotlight studio session, April 13, 2021, in Monterey Park, Calif. (Photo/John McCoy)

The talent pool started at 1,500 student performing artists. It will culminate on May 22 when a Grand Finale performance wraps up the 2021 Music Center Spotlight program. Among the 14 finalists who were part of the finale will be JJ Lybbert, a 16-year-old Seal Beach resident.

Lybbert, who hails from a family of performers, is now focused on the drums and was one of the 14 Spotlight finalists.

Lybbert is currently a sophomore at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. In addition to playing his way into the Grand Finale show, he also earned a $5,000 scholarship, which will help when he takes his talents to higher education in music. He’s dreaming of doing that in New York.

“I’m just trying to prepare myself to get there,” Lybbert said of the Big Apple.

Lybbert started working on drums at around the age of four. He also plays some piano, trumpet and flugelhorn. But the drums have been his primary passion since he first took up music. He grew up listening to jazz greats like Oscar Peterson, Roy Haynes and Joe Henderson, with Elvin Jones on drums, with his older brother Marco.
He also saw Marco perform on piano in jazz bands. Marco, 21, now studies at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University.

“He pretty much hipped me to jazz,” JJ said.

The Spotlight program is essentially a series of preparations and auditions that build upon each other and where students work in teams to perform. For music students, they form bands to prepare. There are also dance, voice and acting categories. The 14 finalists contribute to the Grand Finale, which will stream on May 22, hosted by major performing artist and former spotlight participant, Josh Groban.

Lybbert has already performed and taped his portion of the show. He said it was a great learning experience to see how all the different parts come together to produce a large production. He said he can’t wait to see the finished product himself.

“I’m very grateful to have been selected to do it,” Lybbert said.

Lybbert said that composing music is something he works on. He tries to use melodies to start composing, but he’s also built drum grooves that have become the basis for new songs. While his current passion is jazz, he does not rule out going in new directions. Either way, the music itself continues to drive him.
“It’s really about the feeling and the intensity of the music,” Lybbert said.

The Music Center’s Spotlight Grand Finale Performance will premiere on May 22, at 7 p.m. on via The Music Center Offstage digital platform as well as Facebook Live @musiccenterla.