Ensemble students mob the stage for the finale. Bryan Doan | The Poly Post

Photo essay: CPP music department hosts 21st Songwriter Showcase

By Bryan Doan, May 7, 2024

The sound of chords strumming, drums beating and distant vocals filled the halls of Cal Poly Pomona’s Building 24 as students carefully rehearsed for the 21st Songwriter Showcase April 25 and 26.

This biannual event –happening once every semester– provides a platform for students of all majors to collaborate and showcase their musical talents. Musicians, both new and returning, are carefully grouped together to offer a variety of performances that span various genres.

Among the diverse pool of participants in this semester’s Songwriter Showcase, many joined to express their musical talents, while others saw it as a stepping stone toward their future musical ventures. 

Jessica Garcia, a music industry studies student, who goes by the stage name “The Drama,” reflected on the significance of her participation in the showcase. 

“This is going to be my first time performing, singing in front of people,” Garcia said. “With performing, it’s going to get me ready for a festival that I’m going to throw. It’s going to be called The Drama Fest, where other CPP students play at this event.” 

A typical practice day for these performers is marked by an energetic yet hectic atmosphere, as students move in and out of their respective rehearsal rooms, setting up their instruments and rehearsing their songs for many hours. 

Jonathan Karkafi, an electrical engineering student and first-time showcase performer, shared his thoughts on the challenges of participating in the showcase. 

Performers getting ready in the green room before going on stage. Bryan Doan | The Poly Post

“I have been playing French horn for 10 years, but when it comes to pure theory and composing something from scratch, I had no experience,” said Karkafi. “It was really stressful in the beginning, kind of stressful in the middle and now I am more relaxed about everything but definitely had some challenges because of my lack of experience.”

The participants were divided into four different groups, each comprised of roughly 10 randomly assorted members. This diverse mix of musical backgrounds set the stage for a showcase of creativity.

Arthur Winer, professor of music and director of the showcase, created the event 14 years ago during a moment in one of his classes. 

“I was having a master class, where I had a performer outside the university come in to talk to our students about songwriting, and he was running late,” Winer said. “I had the students go up on stage and just play songs to kill time, and I had kind of a light bulb moment.”

Some members of the “Indie Rag Tag” perform for the crowd. Bryan Doan | The Poly Post

For many students, the creation of a song is a deliberate and intensive process, drawing from a range of inspirations. Some musicians find inspiration in personal experiences, using their songs as a means of expression. These inspirations span a range of genres, including Texas blues, pop, shoegaze and indie.

For other students, personal experiences aren’t always the primary source of inspiration. Gio Raimondo, a music industry studies student, shared his process for creating the original song “Gogogo!,” which stemmed from an idea of paranoia. Raimondo’s composition mainly features a fast-paced rap section transitioning into a slower-paced ballad.

“It’s not supposed to necessarily be about my life,” said Raimondo. “It’s kind of like when you’re a human being and you got like little demons running around just prodding on your brain and being anxious. It’s like stress and sort of a spiral, in this way where you’ve done it so many times where it’s almost like a paranoia in a way.”

For many students, these rehearsals are more than just music; they’re an opportunity to bond with like-minded people who share a passion for music. The rehearsal rooms are filled with laughter. Jokes and playful banter become a staple, taking some weight off the intense creative process.

George Castillo, a music industry studies student, who goes by the stage name “What it was” and an experienced participant of the showcase, shared the experience has been more than just a platform for musical expression.  

“I kind of found myself doing the songwriter showcase for the first time, and I’ve just grown from there,” said Castillo. “I feel way more extroverted than I used to be, and I love all the people I interact with.” 

The last group on stage blow the horns. Bryan Doan | The Poly Post

After weeks of intensive rehearsals, the final day of the showcase arrived April 26 for the musicians. As it marked the second day of performances, many of the first-time performers on the showcase found themselves relieved of nervousness.

A packed theater greeted the ensemble, adding to the excitement and anticipation of the final day for the musicians. As the clock ticked closer to showtime, backstage was a hive of activity.

Some students carefully warmed up with their instruments. Meanwhile, a select few put on their performance outfits and applied makeup. In another corner, some gathered in small groups, engaged in conversations and exchanged last-minute words of encouragement.

The curtain opened and the energy of the theater shifted from anticipation to exhilaration as the first group took the stage. The eager spectators filled the theater to the brim, their applause echoing through the halls as each performance captivated the audience.

“I felt kind of euphoric,” said Thirathat Tosaard, a music performance student. “I really felt into the music, like I just detached myself from all the fear with what’s going to happen and what has happened. I never felt so into the moment when I was playing with these people.”

Pictured in the middle, director of the showcase and music professor Arthur Winer, playing alongside the ensemble in the final performance of the showcase. Bryan Doan | The Poly Post

The final performance of the showcase ended with a jazz performance. The whole ensemble got up on stage and started dancing, which included the director of the showcase Arthur Winer. Triggering a wave of excitement, claps and cheers throughout the whole theater.

As the curtain fell on the showcase, participants reflected on the transformative journey they experienced.

Ali Aldrich, a music industry student who goes by the stage name “A SQUARED,” said the performance held special significance as it marks her final appearance before graduating.  

“I’m pretty relieved because I have a free Wednesday now,” said Aldrich. “But I’m going to be sad because I’m just going to miss being with everyone, and so it’s now going to feel nostalgic.”

Ensemble students mob the stage for the finale. Bryan Doan | The Poly Post

Feature image courtesy of Bryan Doan

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