Arts & Culture

Students compose GISP for a second session of songwriting

By
Staff Writer
Monday, April 13, 2009

As Ethan Reed ’12 recorded the final words of his song, “Somewhere A Light Went Out For Somebody,” he looked up and saw Associate Professor of Music Butch Rovan fidgeting with the buttons of the mixing console, he recalled.

“I’d never had an experience like that,” Reed said. “I felt like a professional, recording in Hollywood, making millions of dollars.”

Along with 24 other students, Reed took the newly developed course MUSC 0450: “On Songs and Songwriting,” which Rovan and his wife, Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, co-taught last semester. The course was such a hit that its students collaborated with Rovan and Bergeron to develop a Group Independent Study Project, “Advanced Songwriting,” for next fall.

For their final project in last semester’s course, the class recorded a two-disc set, “Song Sessions Vol. 1,”now on sale at Blue State Coffee.

Ida Specker ’09, another student who took the course, called the CD set “a documented piece of artwork” that she can share with her friends and family. She can even use it to promote herself as an artist, she said.

“It’s rare to end a class with such a tangible product,” Specker said.

The class “weaved together two approaches,” Rovan said. Bergeron led the portion of the class that took a critical approach to analyzing music, while her husband, who has composed music for over 10 years, led the songwriting component.

“We had two different points of views merging in the same subject matter,” Rovan said, adding that working as a team made the class even more fun to teach.

“The chemistry between them was perfect,” Reed said.

Both Rovan and Bergeron commented on the collaborative dynamic between the students and the professors.

“We formed a kind of family,” Rovan said. “The class bonded, and we just had this brilliant collective energy.”

After the course’s conclusion, a GISP seemed like “the continuation of the collaborative experience of the class,” Bergeron said. She and Rovan wanted their next course to allow students to drive the class — and to be driven by it.

“It’s neat to feel that the experience of teaching is shared,” she said. “We have spent the past month or so developing the syllabus together.”

The GISP is composed of Bergeron, Rovan and about 10 of their former students.
Its coursework includes a detailed analysis of a song that students will later use as a model to write their own piece. The group submitted their application to a subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council to be reviewed last Friday.

One goal of the GISP is for each student to write 10 songs over the course of the semester, Rovan wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. The students will also hold two concerts open to the public, he wrote.

Rosalind Schonwald ’12, a Herald Arts and Culture staff writer who spearheaded the process of developing the GISP proposal, said she thinks a GISP will provide a more effective structure for the class.

It is simpler to organize, and it can be smaller, Schonwald said. “If it’s smaller, then we can spend more time in each person’s music.”

The GISP will meet twice a week to discuss readings and workshop each other’s songs, Bergeron said. Students will also use a blog to comment on each other’s songs and to write about the process of songwriting.

“People just want to write songs that can change you,” Bergeron said. “We want to connect to that tradition of songwriting.”