BRADFORD, Pa. — The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford will hold a video release party tonight evening for four original songs written and performed by students — each within two hours.
This seemingly impossible project was completed with the guidance of musicians Crisie Santoni and Craig Smith, who led four two-hour songwriting workshops in October, primarily for students in freshman seminar classes, although all students were welcome.
Each song is a meditation on the theme of diversity.
Now in their 11th year of running these “Songwriting Project” workshops, Santoni and Smith have a method. Santoni guides the students, and Smith provides the musical inspiration.
Santoni begins each session by dividing students in groups and asking each group to complete a very small writing assignment: Complete the sentence “Diversity is …”
During the second session, the students return to report their word to the larger group — “colorful,” “unique,” “life,” “powerful.” These words will likely not even end up in the final song. They are to get ideas flowing, as is the next step.
Second, Santoni asks each group to write a sentence about diversity using their word. During the sharing of these sentences, a student from Bradford talks about how much she has enjoyed getting to know students from different backgrounds at Pitt-Bradford. Another talks about how she loves to see all the variations of people that live in her city.
The next step is a quick vote. Smith presents three different repetitive tracks – one bluesy, one percussive and one full of strings and swirling sounds. The students vote in favor of the bluesy one.
At this point, the work gets abstract. Santoni tells them to listen to their chosen track while meditating on the sentences and that when something comes to them, to just raise their hands and sing or say it.
It is a long, long wait.
“I never worry that we’ll get there,” Santoni says of the wait. “I know the students have it in them.”
Then it happens, a young woman raises her hand and sings an entire verse in a beautiful voice. After singing, the young woman reports to Smith and types her verse into a display screen so everyone can see it.
The “meditation” continues with this additional verse until a student raises his hand and asks if it could be something like a verse by Eminem that he raps roughly – English is his second language. His native language is Russian.
That got the ball rolling. More students raise their hands with raps to perform, and Smith brings them up to add to the group. A group suggests having the Russian student add a verse in Russian. Another student offers Spanish.
Pretty soon, it’s all ironed out, with nothing but the final recording to take place. Smith records the entire group performing some stomps and claps that can be included in the final mixed version.
Santoni video records each student’s individual part in the song. Then it’s over. It feels a little anti-climactic, but the best is yet to come.
Smith will take the recording from the four sessions and mix and edit them into original songs and videos, one from each session. Those videos will be premiered at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Bromeley Family Theater at Blaisdell Hall. The public is welcome.
It’s a long wait from the recording in October to the release in December, but that’s part of the point, Santoni said. “In an instant world, it’s really good to see the process of something,” she said.
Following the release party, the videos will be available at thesongwritingproject.org. A $5,000 grant from the University of Pittsburgh’s Year of Creativity supported the project.