Rock star David Bowie once said that we write songs in an effort to reclaim the unsayable.
Using music to connect with those around you by looking inward is a familiar notion for students in “Music 201: On Songs and Songwriting,” a class co-taught by Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron and her husband, Butch Rovan.
“Songs can be a tool, like an emotional pocket knife whittling away at worries, hopes and fears,” said Bergeron and Rovan. “Here lies the power of song: the way it defines different parts of our lives; serves as a repository of memory; builds community; gives voice to things we cannot say.”
Now in its third year, Music 201 plumbs these creative depths. It is also an analytical and critical look at the craft of songwriting. Students spend the year studying composition with Bergeron—a trained singer and music historian—and Rovan, a Brown University music professor, multi-instrumentalist, artist, performer and composer.
The highlight of the class is the opportunity for each student to write and record a new song that will appear on an album released at the end of the year. This year’s record, Music 201: Vol. 3, ranges in style from indie folk to bossa nova, jump blues and pop rock. Recorded by Rovan in Fortune Recital Hall, it was produced and mastered by Bergeron and Rovan.
Music major Lucie Bernheim ’24 learned about Music 201 during a campus visit as a prospective student. Her song “Salvation,” which opens this year’s record, began with a single lyrical idea that came to her in a dream: “Would you believe I haven’t learned to drive?”
Of her songwriting journey, Bernheim explained: “The process of writing my song was longer than usual for me. It started with the opening line and I had one other line that I knew I would use—‘the rain on the windshield is a souvenir from the sky,’ which I wrote the night John Prine died.”
Suffering from writer’s block, Bernheim attended a dance show on campus, only to leave early when inspiration struck.
“Something about watching people dance always inspires me,” she said.
Evan Strouse ’24, a music major and Hispanic studies and education double minor, wrote a 13-bar jump blues track centered on his lack of sleep and need for coffee.
“It was one line written as an idea earlier in the course,” Strouse said. “But I decided to write in the genre after having a really inspiring class where we all wrote short blues tunes. It was so eye-opening to work alongside other songwriters and musicians throughout the process,” he added.
Strouse also enjoyed the course’s historical perspective.
“The most fascinating part was how far back we went to medieval and Renaissance times, talking about the beautiful melodies by Hildegard of Bingen or the early notation system created by Guido of Arezzo,” he said.
For both Strouse and Bernheim, the process of working with their instructors was equally invaluable.
“President Bergeron and Butch brought years of expertise and excitement and passion for music that was contagious and encouraging,”
Listen to Music 201, Volume 3 at conncollmusic201.bandcamp.com.