Seba performed in Broadway’s School of Rock The Musical and in Wes Anderson’s next film.
Seba Stephens is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bass, and piano, but there will always be a soft spot in his heart for the drums. It’s the first instrument that he learned how to play, and it’s the instrument he used to earn a General Music Studies professional certificate from Berklee Online, becoming the youngest student on record to do so. Did we mention he’s only 10 years old?
“If I was on an island, surrounded by water and everything, I would definitely pick a drum set if that was the only thing I could bring,” he says.
When Seba was in third grade, he asked his parents Everett and Mariela Stephens, if they could homeschool him so that he could attend Berklee Online. In addition to earning a Berklee credential, he performed in Broadway’s School of Rock the Musical and in Wes Anderson’s next film.
Everett Stephens shares what it’s been like to have a son who took to music so young and so fast, and why Berklee Online was the solution for keeping him challenged.
How It All Started
It all began when Everett and Mariela asked Seba what he wanted for his third birthday, to which toddler Seba replied, “Tambores!” The Stephens raised Seba speaking Spanish and this meant he wanted to play the drums. After taking multiple trips to Guitar Center to let Seba bang around on the display instruments in his pull-up diapers, they knew he was serious. Everett and Mariela got him his first junior kit, which cost about $300.
“You should have seen his face,” says Everett. “He didn’t stop playing. Ever. Morning, noon, and night. He was chasing something we couldn’t see, but it was in his blood.”
Seba and his family live in Memphis, Tennessee, and there’s no denying that growing up surrounded by the city’s rich music history has rubbed off on him. He grew up listening to blues greats like B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Albert King, Koko Taylor, and Muddy Waters, but his big-time hero was Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police.
“Stewart Copeland and The Police were the reasons I was hooked on drumming,” says Seba. “The Police songs are full of so much cool drumming and styles.”
There was one moment when Everett realized that Seba was on a different trajectory than most kids his age. When Seba was three-and-a-half, Everett and Mariela heard a huge crashing noise and screaming coming from their drum practice room/home office. They walked in to discover the junior drum kit kicked over and Seba in tears. When Everett asked Seba what was wrong he said: “Daddy, I can’t get the tone I need from these drums!”
“I’m not a musician, but knew his ears were demonstrating something special, given the level of frustration around tone,” says Everett. “This was all rooted in the fact Seba was trying to sound like Stewart Copeland, and his $300 junior kit wasn’t getting the job done.”
They replaced the junior kit with a TAMA drum kit similar to Copeland’s and enrolled Seba in drum lessons, but a few months later his teacher said that he was advancing too quickly and there wasn’t a program that they offered that could meet his ability.
“Rather than absolutely pushing him, we actually pulled back a bit at this point to simply let him start exploring music more in a broader context,” says Everett. “He was anxious to start his own band, but he was four, and I jokingly told Seba he needed to at least be in kindergarten before he started his own band.”
Once he reached kindergarten, he did in fact start his own band, The Becomers. Everett says he was practicing a minimum of 40 hours a week on drums, bass, piano, and vocals, with some guitar and saxophone thrown in the mix. When Seba was in first grade, he received his first paycheck from a local gig at a brewery.
In Comes Berklee
In the search for a solution that would meet Seba’s voracious appetite for music, Everett discovered Berklee’s Summer Programs in 2020. He was able to enroll Seba with an age waiver (usually students need to be at least 14 years old). Shortly thereafter the pandemic hit and the Summer Program transitioned online. Seba studied rock bass with Steve Bailey and Victor Wooten, practicing four to six hours per day, six days a week just to keep up. After Seba completed the Summer Program, Everett assumed that Seba would need a break; instead he asked if they could homeschool him so that he could take more courses with Berklee Online.
“I was in shock,” says Everett. “Here’s my very socially engaged little musician asking us to withdraw from third grade in order to attend Berklee Online. I pushed back, mostly to gauge his response and commitment to that proposal. He never wavered or relented.”
The Stephens family made some significant life and career changes to accommodate homeschooling Seba, but they have no regrets.
“We realized two things: Seba had the talent and drive, and Berklee was willing to give him a chance. We had to make this happen, and it’s proven to be the best educational decision we’ve ever made.”
“That was one of the most challenging so far,” says Seba about the Afro-Cuban Drums course. “Oh my gosh. That one was so fun. I learned so much from that.”
“I didn’t know what to expect with such a young student, but Seba quickly showed an amazing talent, maturity, and a great willingness to listen and learn,” says Mark Walker. “He is such a nice person, no ego, always professional and respectful to everyone . . . Seba is already going places; with his mindset and talent, there’s nothing he can’t accomplish.”
School of Rock and Wes Anderson
Seba took a brief hiatus from his Berklee Online classes in 2021 to perform in Broadway’s School of Rock the Musical, which had a four-month run at the Tuacahn Amphitheater in Ivins, Utah. Since Seba could play several instruments, the casting director created a special role for him where he could be in every scene, while also understudying the drummer and guitar player roles. He was performing in the show every other day.
“For the musical part, it just came naturally,” says Seba. “It just felt good to be playing music, acting with all these people that I just met and they’re all around the same age. And it was really cool because I like the movie too.”
While Seba was in School of Rock the Musical he was called in to be in Wes Anderson’s next movie, which will be released in 2023. While Seba can’t say much about this project yet, this was an exciting opportunity for him because he loves Wes Anderson’s stop-motion movies Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs.
Now that Seba is back in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, he is playing in bands with his friends and writing original music. They hope to create an EP in the near future. He was also invited to play with Memphis All-Stars, a local band frequently gigging in the area.
Although college is still far away for Seba, he says that he wants to graduate from Berklee. But in the meantime, he plans on taking more online courses.
“I kind of wanna take a guitar course at Berklee, and I think I actually might,” says Seba. “Or I might do another bass course, but that’s why I just wanna stay at Berklee!”