Most young composers only dream of learning songwriting from a master like Rosanne Cash, daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash. Brown made that a reality on Oct. 4, when Cash and her husband, John Leventhal, taught a songwriting masterclass and performed selections from their Grammy award-winning music at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.
During this program, the first of the Brown Arts Initiative’s Songwriting Series, Cash and Leventhal critiqued four original songs performed by student songwriters.
“The idea of mixing a master class with a concert was so interesting. … It was kind of a magical combination,” said Joseph Butch Rovan, director of the Brown Arts Initiative. “Rosanne herself was very excited and interested in that format. … Afterwards, she said that she had been listening to her own songs in a different way … (after) teaching songwriting.”
The concert took place just days after the Las Vegas massacre, which did not go without comment. Before the student songwriters took to the stage, Cash discussed her op-ed for the New York Times published Oct. 3, in which she implored country musicians to oppose the National Rifle Association and to “pull apart the threads of patriotism and lax gun laws that (the NRA) has so subtly and maliciously intertwined.”
“This horrific event happened in my shared office space of music festivals,” she remarked. We “have the right to speak out as citizens,” Cash said, defying those who tell her to “shut up and sing” — which, Cash added, is “anatomically impossible.”
This dialogue elicited impassioned applause from the audience. “I was amazed that so many people knew (the op-ed and) had already read this piece. I mean, it just had happened the day before,” Rovan said.
The program returned to the young songwriters — Jamie Atschinow ’20, Madeleine Olson ’18, local musician Anthony Savino and Northampton High School senior Galen Winsor — who performed their original songs and discussed them with Cash and Leventhal. These musicians are all students in a songwriting workshop taught by Julian Saporiti GS.
Cash and Leventhal “were so kind to all of us and the feedback was super constructive,” Olson said. “I’m definitely going to use their comments to keep writing (my) song.”
“I hadn’t performed an original song for anyone before the workshop. So to suddenly be singing it in front of a crazy talented, professional performer was pretty intimidating,” Atschinow said.
After the workshop portion, Cash and Leventhal performed selections from their repertoire, including “Money Road,” “Etta’s Tune” and “The Sunken Lands.”
Cash’s “lyrics are amazing. They’re full of really powerful, succinct details that immediately paint a picture,” Rovan remarked, adding that the masterclass and performance bolstered the initiative’s “goal of connecting across the campus and the community.”
“It’s really exciting that the arts initiative is getting these kinds of people to perform here because it’s an amazingly intimate, small environment (in which) to hear this kind of music,” said Jeffrey Brock, an audience member and director of the Data Science Initiative.