Be they saccharine songs about the object of an artist’s affection or spiteful rants about an ex’s every flaw, both love and breakup songs can be painfully predictable and frankly boring. However, a recent showcase at the Berklee College of Music managed to twist this clichéd subject into the theme for an evening of impressive performances.
On April 7 at Cafe 939 in Boston, Berklee’s best singer-songwriters, chosen from over 100 competitors, performed 10 songs in a free showcase. The show—split up into five songs about falling in love and another five about breaking up—was run entirely by students. Though the resulting atmosphere was relaxed, the students’ effort and skill transcended, resulting in an absorbing concert.
The Berklee Songwriters Club put together the show, from the advertising to the judging. “We organized rehearsals, we organized a house band, we advertised for submissions, we organized judging, got all of the food, and ran the sound check,” said Kayleigh N. Mill, one of the students in charge of the showcase. With the exception of sporadic technical difficulties, all of the work the students had put in contributed to a seamless series of performances.
Michael C. O’Donnell and Adam R. Kronowski, the two emcees, were excited about the opportunities that the student-run event afforded. “It’s all songs written by students, it’s hosted by students. There’s no teachers or professors, it’s all for us by us,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve never done this before, but we just went up and had fun, had a good time,” Kronowski said. Creating a show run by students was particularly important to outgoing head of the Songwriters Club Ben P. Camp, as it forced everyone involved to take responsibility. “I’ve seen kids that were not particularly inspired, but you give them a challenge and they rise up to it,” he said, “and what you hear here is so much better than what I hear kids do for homework in class.”
The performers also appreciated the communal aspects of the show. “It was my first performance here, and it was a great way to meet people in a noncompetitive setting,” said Charles B. Johnson, who performed a song entitled “Squirrel.” The subject of the song, his girlfriend Adrienne Quinn, drove from New York to watch the show. Another singer-songwriter, Matt Politoski, brought a large contingent of friends, who even made signs for the performance.
However, this friendly, collegiate atmosphere did not detract from the quality of the performances, which were delivered by experienced musicians. “Mike Squillante [another performer] played the 2010 Warped Tour, wrote a 14-track album, produced every song, even made his own videos,” O’Donnell said. Andrea Belanger, who also participated in the showcase, is releasing a CD next week and is currently highly ranked in an online poll to book more bands for the Tennessee music festival Bonnaroo.
Both Squillante and Belanger performed during the first half of the show, as the emcees deemed it, the “love-making section.” Fittingly enough, it began with a song intro quite similar to that of Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song.” The set also featured songs by Johnson, Dayley Duran, and Jonathan Downing. While the theme was love songs, deviations were permitted; Duran’s song “Escape” dealt not with falling in love, but rather escaping a horrible boyfriend. However, more faithful interpretations of the themes were also present, such as Johnson’s catchy number about his girlfriend, which culminated in a beautiful four-part harmony.
The second half, or the break-up section, featured more impressive performances by Politoski, Emily Dale, Aleks Georgi, Jesse Beauchamp, and the band Me vs Gravity. Dale, who was deeply involved in the organization of the show, led off with “Should’ve Made Me Stay,” a poignant song about making it “too damn easy to walk away” from a relationship. She was followed by Politoski, who passed time fixing a technical difficulty before his song “Staring Contest” by explaining the name. “Sometimes relationships are like staring contests, where you don’t want to win, because if you do you’re staring at someone who’s not looking at you.” While most of the song was rather subdued, it finished in an angry outburst at the presumed winner of such a staring contest.
Though unique, the Singer Songwriter Showcase is, as Camp stressed, not an isolated event. On April 19 there will be another free, student-run show in Boston: the Perfect Pitch concert. The concert will feature Berklee’s top vocalists singing songs written specifically for them by Berklee’s top songwriters. ”It allows everyone to do what they love,” Camp said.
The ultimate goal, though, is to expand. “I’ve heard Harvard a cappella groups, and I would love to get Harvard kids to come try out for Perfect Pitch,” Camp says. In fact, this year Perfect Pitch will feature its first non-Berklee singer, a student from Boston College. The Singer Songwriter Showcase is just the beginning.