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Students hone their creativity in new songwriting ensemble class

by Linda Lenhoff,

Songwriting ensemble

Students in Willamette’s new songwriting ensemble get to delve into what matters most to them through songwriting, work together with other musicians, and show off their creativity onstage under the spotlight.

After performing solo in their bedrooms for so long during the pandemic, these students enjoyed working together and pushing their original songwriting skills to new heights.

Artist Associate Michael Gamble, a longtime songwriter and professional musician, teaches the course, which six students signed up for the first day.

“It’s great to give the students an opportunity to work on their own music with other bandmates,” he says. “The songwriters are encouraged to write their own songs and to present those, rather than doing ‘covers’ because the connection with your own performance and working with other bandmates is more connected to your goal as an artist.”

Gamble says students “work with others to hone in the sound of the particular piece, the length, arrangement, and instrumentation.”

“I hope students gain the experience of being able to bring their song to an ensemble and to show it to them in a way that they're vulnerable to other people’s ideas and influences. They literally work on other people's music. Some of the students have just been ‘bedroom producers’ or working with a digital audio workstation. They haven’t had much experience working with others and seeing how that feels.”

Students in the class have loved exercising their songwriting muscles.

“It's been a really valuable experience for me to play music with extremely talented people,” says Karina May BA’24. “This group has pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible.”  May says that since the start of the semester, she’s “started experimenting with different styles and hearing/playing other people's songs has shown me a lot more about songwriting.” 

Guitarist Carter Penny BA’23 agrees, adding, “I've learned how to carve out a niche in the song. When you're playing with so many other instruments, it can be easy for things to sound messy, so one of the important skills we focused on is trying to find a unique part/idea that you can play that adds to the song. Also it’s important to remember (especially in such a large ensemble) that sometimes knowing when to not play can be just as important."

For their finale, the ensemble performed to the theme “Heartbeats” on Dec. 8, in front of an enthusiastic crowd of family, friends, students, and the community at the Rogers Rehearsal Hall. 

Penny says he was “particularly excited about this concert because I get to play a variety of instruments,” adds Penny, who performed on piano, mandolin, and lap steel guitar. “This will be my first time ever performing live on piano, which is pretty nerve-wracking since I’ve only been playing since the start of this semester.”

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