The echoes of voices and instruments linger in the hallways of Building 24 as student musicians rehearse for the 20th Songwriter Showcase Nov. 17 and 18.
Members of the class ensemble take over various classrooms to rehearse. The four randomly assigned ensembles consist of roughly 10 students each, dedicating a few hours of their day strumming on guitars, beating on drums and singing into microphones. Although many of them begin their journey into the course as strangers, they are quickly able to build an electrifying chemistry with one another.
The four bands explore music outside their boundaries as they sacrifice their preferred genre to play for their peers in true comradery fashion.
Guitar player and returning showcase member Jackson Munger further explains how he approaches the class.
“It’s kind of a wacky process,” said Munger. “You always have people from last semester and then you always have new people coming in so you spend a big chunk of it getting the whole band chemistry together because different musicians play differently.”
This year, Munger played in a band that performed primarily rap and R&B. Like most of his peers, this process pushed him out of his comfort zone.
“Rap and R&B isn’t something I specialize in, but that’s why I like playing because it forces me to play in different styles I’m not nearly as used to and makes me think with my instrument in a different context,” said Munger. “It challenges me as an artist.”
It is clear that every artistic decision is careful and intentional. The musicians use their unique experiences and knowledge to assist each other and garner new perspectives. One band in particular, The Showstoppers, performed a lively Latin tune courtsey of Alessies Avina. Although other band members had little experience playing Latin music, Avina applauds that they were able to adjust and keep up.
“I wont lie, in the beginning I was a little scared,” said Avina. “ I know the guys (band members) are more like rocker, so it was a little hard to teach them the rhythm, some of the bass line and how the song flows and stuff like that. So it was little rocky at first, but it was really cool to see how it turned out on stage, everyone really liked it.”
The other bands had similar experiences feeding energy and ideas off of each other throughout the semester. On a typical rehearsal day, the atmosphere is chaotic, and spirited students hustle to set up their instruments and chat with their classmates. Any unsuspecting hallway pedestrians are engulfed in an explosion of musical talent and the clatter of laughter.
The chaos intensifies in the final weeks leading up to the and a hint of nervousness is now present.
Nov. 16, the day everyone has worked so hard for, has finally arrived. As the musicians pace back and forth behind the stage, the lights in the theater dim and patrons begin to pour into the rows of seats. Family members, friends and appreciators of music await patiently behind the drawn curtains.
As the musicians comfort and laugh with one another, any anxiousness in the air is drowned out by excitement. A group of students pass the time by playing card games in the green room while others wait outside chatting.
Bass player and songwriter Arianna Torres was a first-time class member. Just before her performance, Torres contracted a cold; however, the artist managed to keep a collected attitude and performed her original song, “At Least I Warned You.”
“I think it’s just one of those things you remember that you love to do and the nerves go away,” Torres said. “My song started out with improving. I just started singing it, and I liked it so I decided to develop it into a full song. I really like what it’s become.”
Torres and other songwriters and band members took turns on stage illuminated by the red and blue lights. They delivered sharp and utterly unique song performances.
The ensembles played their final performance Nov. 17. Since it was the second day, nerves had died down as everyone knew what to expect.
Sasha Saenz performed an original song, produced, and played various instruments throughout the showcase. Saenz, who goes by the stage name HersheyBoy, sang her original song titled “Rendezvous,” a slower paced ballad that mesmerized the audience.
“I came in with a very much unfinished song,” Saenz said. “It’s really fun because even when you believe you have this idea in mind, you get to work with these amazing musicians that really bring in a different element.”
The showcase ended with an energy-packed rock performance by Damian Torres. The performance triggered an uproar of excitement as members from both the audience and ensemble rushed to the stage dancing and thrashing around resulting in a dance party.
Now that the performance is over the musicians have gained not only work experience but also close friendships with one another and valuable viewpoints.
Arthur Winer, director of the showcase, started the class 14 years ago and has heard hundreds of hours of original music from his students over the years. With only about 20 songs selected to be in each showcase, Winer must be selective with his choices and what he looks for.
“I’m looking for originality, a good sound structure, and if it’s catchy,” Winer said. “ It can be any style. We’ve had rap, we’ve had country, heavy metal, Broadway, even Latin style. It’s subjective, but I’m looking for what I consider a good song or a song with potential.”
The Songwriter Showcase is open to every student with a dream of one day performing in front of an audience and on a stage.
“The songs often start off as a person in their bedroom with a ukulele, and they end up in this band treatment over the course of the semester,” Winer said. “There’s nothing like it in the music department or even the university really.”