Elon University’s Elon Electric Ensemble will present its Fall Songwriter Showcase at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 in McCrary Theatre. Students will perform original music, including indie, pop, rock and folk songs.
This is the fourth year that the ensemble will hold a fall showcase solely featuring original music.
Students have taken composing classes to help develop their songwriting skills, such as “The Art of Song Craft,” which focuses more on the musician side of the industry, and a composition and orchestration class, in which students learn how to write for an orchestra and to compose classical music.
Todd Coleman, associate professor of music and director of Electric Ensemble, said students begin by coming up with lyrics and the basic chord structure and melody.
“We will sit down and discuss, ‘Do you imagine having drums, bass, background vocals?,’ and we work with the songwriter but also heavily on the musicianship of the people in the ensemble,” Coleman said.
The ensemble was created in fall 2009 after Coleman realized that music production majors did not have many performing opportunities outside typical ensembles, like orchestra and band.
For their first concert that year, the ensemble’s performance was called “The Birth of MTV,” an ode to the early 1980s. The group will also perform cover concerts in the spring, a great educational opportunity, to Coleman.
“A lot of students in our program have had the experience of playing in a band before, but they tend to play slightly simplified generic versions rather than really learning the details that make the songs amazing,” Coleman said. “I try and pick genres and styles of music that will benefit them that way.”
Before attending Elon, junior Brooke Greenberg found a video on YouTube of a performance from the ensemble. She knew she wanted to pursue music and perform her original songs, so she auditioned for the ensemble her freshman year.
“I get to come to class and play my own music and my peers’ music, which is what I imagined college would be like coming in as a music major,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg will perform her original work in the upcoming showcase with a new perspective on songwriting she gained this summer while interning in Nashville.
When she began writing songs in eighth grade, she focused on writing pop and up-tempo music. After discovering different genres of music while in Nashville, she was inspired to write deeper lyrics and more intricate guitar parts.
“I heard what other people in the professional field were writing and how it sounded so much more professional, so I tried to mimic that and use them as inspiration,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg’s song writing process begins with a chord progression on her guitar. She then adds a melody and sings gibberish, and often a lyric will come to her.
“Sometimes I start with a title because then I know exactly what the song will be about,” she said. “My song on iTunes, ‘You Already Knew,’ I came up with the title first and the melody for the verse and eventually was able to fill in lyrics.”
Senior Addison Horner is a part of several other ensembles, including Camerata, elan, marching band, and Elon Music Ambassadors, but the electric ensemble is the closest thing Elon has to a rock band for him.
“Electric Ensemble has the most pop-rock set up,” Horner said. “It is the only ensemble where I can take actual music that I have written and perform it in a full band setting.”
Coleman said the most rewarding aspect of directing the ensemble is seeing students’ growth over time.
“Different light bulbs come on about what makes a decent song idea an actual great performance,” Coleman said.
He also said that the ensemble gives students an opportunity to be exposed to a variety of music, such as performing a fall country concert.
“Country is an acquired taste, but the students really engaged in the material and had a good time,” he said. “There’s this notion that there’s good and artistry in all kinds of music.”
Horner has been a member of Electric Ensemble since his freshman year, and has been with some of the members for the past four years.
“The chance to have that interaction with them and watching songs grow and develop over time has been a really incredible way to bond with people,” Horner said.
Greenberg said the ensemble gives her the ability to bring her songs to life. When composing a song, it is just Greenberg and her guitar — but when she brings it into the ensemble, instruments like bass and drums and vocal harmonies bring the song to life.
“It is so cool to see my vision for a song and how it evolves and eventually becomes the song that we perform,” she said.