Every Wednesday evening, soulful melodies escape from a rehearsal room at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, as a new music program educates and prepares aspiring student musicians for a potential career on stage and in the spotlight.
The Wednesday night class, which is called Afro-American Song Traditions, is one of five main classes offered by the Creative American Music Program. The program, founded in March by Bruce Hornsby, a Grammy award-winning songwriter, performer and UM alumnus, aims to help educate aspiring songwriters and performers in the Frost School of Music. Class subjects include Modern American Pop Music and Anglo-American Song Traditions. While Hornsby has been known to attend some of the classes and offer advice to the students, other well-trained instructors, such as Nicole Warling, a professor in the Frost School of Music, critique and provide guidance in order to help their students perform to the best of their ability.
“The jazz drumbeat is kind of sloppy,” Warling told a student during an Afro-American Song Traditions class on Oct. 1. Many students laughed, encouraging Warling’s honest comments. She added, “It’s sloppy, but it feels right.”
Warling explained that the purpose of the class is to expose young musicians to the history of Afro-American song traditions.
“In this class we study field hollers, spirituals, gospel, blues, jazz,” Warling said. “Bruce [Hornsby] and I are on the same page. You need to take things apart to see how they work.”
When advising students on writing songs in the Afro-American tradition, Warling tells her students to “get the flavor of it and make your own interpretation.”
Freshman Ben Goldsmith said that the class has inspired him.
“Keep in mind how simple the blues are. With pop music today, it’s important to know that something simple can be catchy,” Goldsmith said.
The program, however, does not simply instruct students in music theory and history. Students write and perform their own material and receive feedback by not only their professor, but students as well.
Jessie Allen, a junior in the program, writes original piano music and has presented it to her classmates and professor.
“I wrote this song two weeks ago,” Allen said. During class, Allen began to sing over her slow piano melody. When she finished, another student raised her hand and suggested a chord change.
Many students in the program find it beneficial to receive feedback from their peers, in addition to their professor.
“It’s really good to have fellow songwriters critique your stuff,” junior Elaine Maltezos said.
As for Afro-American music, Maltezos said she is inspired by the emotion and the vocals.
“I like the idea that music doesn’t have to be tight and strictly regulated. It can just be free and convey so much emotion.”
Warling said that performance is an important aspect to the curriculum.
“I am a big advocate of practical application,” Warling said. “Learning theory for four years at school puts you in a sheltered environment. The students should be able to get out there in the real world and perform.”
Many of the students are competing in a songwriting contest that will give the winners the opportunity to perform as the opening act for the Bruce Hornsby and Friends concert. The concert will take place at the BankUnited Center at 8 p.m. Thursday. The students will also be performing “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” as well as their own musical material at a Books and Books location on November 1 and 8. For details, visit www.booksonbooks.com.
To learn more about the Creative American Music Program, please visit http://www.creativeamericanmusic.net.