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Former teen 'geek' providing sound advice to U.S. churches

June 15, 2004|By MARLO BARNHART

FUNKSTOWN - Mike Sokol would be the first to admit that when he was a teenager, he was a geek. But that trauma has turned to triumph.

"Now the geeks run the world," said Sokol, 49, of Funkstown, who travels the world in his ever-evolving field of audio engineering.

"I'm teaching at colleges where I would never have gotten in as a student," he said.

More importantly, Sokol considers himself blessed to be working in a field he's excelled in and loved all his life.

"I've been a musician since I was 2. By the time I was 10 or 11, I became interested in audio technology - I recorded everything!" Sokol said. "I tormented the nuns at St. Mary's School with my recordings of 'Star Trek.'"

Sokol has written books on acoustic audio engineering and an acoustic musicians guide, both published four years ago by Prentice Hall publishers.

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"Now I'm writing another one on surround audio production," he said.

Sokol, who said he is self-taught, teaches Microsoft engineers and Apple computer people advance surround production.

A graduate of St. Maria Goretti and Hagerstown Junior College, Sokol also took courses through Cornell University.

He and his wife, Linda, have four sons: James, 23, who works at Antietam National Battlefield, and Alan, 13, and 10-year-old twins, Kevin and Mark, all in school. Linda Sokol is finishing up this year as the art teacher at St. Mary's School to devote herself full time to her art.

"At the Antietam Battlefield July 4 program, I set up the audio so there is a delay. The performance sounds great wherever you are, no echoes," Sokol said.

His company is called Fits and Starts Productions. His partner, Hector LaTorre, is the advance man from New Jersey, setting up all the dates.

Sokol's latest career move has been in the field of teaching churches how to improve their audio capabilities to better deliver their message. Six workshops have been planned for this summer, including one that began at Hagerstown Community College earlier this month.

Additional workshops are planned Friday and Saturday at the University of Arkansas, and then through August at Central Carolina College in South Carolina, Ball State University in Indiana, First Baptist Church in Missouri and Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.

"Church audio is so important. After all, it is the word and it must be heard," Sokol said as he worked in his home studio.

Sokol said he has gone to churches on Saturdays, brought in choirs and showed them how to work their mixers and boards to achieve the best sound. The idea of the workshops grew out of those informal sessions.

When he travels, Sokol flies to his destination and ships up to 2,000 pounds of equipment.

"Hagerstown is the hub I work from. I don't go to the big cities, but to places where I can set up classes of about 50 to a class for an eight-hour seminar," Sokol said. "I go out for about 10 days and then teach my way back home."

When he's not traveling, Sokol said he enjoys the quiet life in Funkstown where he and his wife can raise their family in safe surroundings.

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