Music department welcomes students of all interests and skill levels.
By Elisa Espinoza
Whatcom Community College’s music department provides students the opportunity of developing their music skills through different classes.
Melanie Sehman is the head of the music department and the only full-time music faculty. Continue reading A symphony of creative possibilities→
The local music scene in Bellingham features an arguably extensive and diverse collection of musicians in the area. Two Whatcom Community College students, Henry Dotson, 18, and Teo Crider, 24, have been writing, recording, and performing music in the Bellingham area for years.
“I’ve been playing music for over a decade,” said Dotson. “I’m only 18… I started when I was eight.”
Dotson said his music in the past has been stylistically different than his more recent work. He said that since he began playing music, he has performed with different bands across many genres from punk rock to his more recent acoustic singer-songwriter style.
“I started writing songs about the time I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “And then over time they developed and [I started] writing better things.”
Although he continues to collaborate with other bands, recently his attention has been on his solo project under the stage name Honey Dotson. Though he said he enjoyed his experiences with past bands, Dotson also expressed the benefits of having a solo project.
“My main focus right now is Honey Dotson,” he said. “When you’re playing with other people that aren’t necessarily on the same page as you, it’s tough.”
Dotson said he just released his newest solo album. The eight-track album, “Presenting Honey Dotson,” was recorded over a period of roughly seven months at Bellingham’s Puget Street Sound (what is this?) with the aid of local band Gypsters.
Dotson said that the members of Gypsters, with the help of online donations, are attempting to move their equipment into a space at the Alternative Library in downtown Bellingham to form a studio where musicians can record for a fraction of normal studio prices.
“Eventually it will be a community recording studio, open to anyone,” Dotson said. “It’s definitely very affordable.”
Dotson said that hard copies of his album can be found at Everyday Music in downtown Bellingham, while digital copies are available on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon, among other distributors. “Whatever your music player of choice is, it’s there,” he said.
Dotson said that his main songwriting influences, ranging from artists of the 1960’s and 70’s to several more modern artists, are evident throughout his new album’s 26-minute runtime.
“I would say it’s definitely like folk rock,” Dotson said. “It’s very heavily influenced by Paul Simon. Randy Newman, too, is a big influence in my writing.”
He mentioned that there are several more unconventional instruments on the album, including the trumpet, saxophone, rain stick, cello and glockenspiel, played by Dotson and several friends.
“I’m really pleased with how the album turned out,” he said.
He added that his album is also streaming in its entirety on YouTube and Soundcloud, which are accessible from his website, because it is more important for his music to reach new people than it is to exclusively sell the album.
“I feel like if you’re just solely selling the album on places like iTunes and Spotify, you won’t make enough money through them to make it worth it, and you’re keeping people from actually hearing your music,” said Dotson.
Dotson said that his live shows normally consist of a fairly minimalist setup.
“When I’m playing Honey Dotson shows, it’s me [singing] and an acoustic guitar. Occasionally a backing band as well,” he said.
His backing band is currently composed of his friend, Nate Malick, on drums and Gypsters guitarist Ian Reed on bass.
Honey Dotson will be performing at Bellingham’s Underbelly Festival, which is scheduled for June 13-15, which Dotson describes as “an all-ages festival.” He will be playing the morning of June 14.
Teo Crider, 24, is the singer and guitarist for the band Candysound, a group that he says draws influence from many indie and punk rock bands.
“Candysound is kind of like reverbed indie punk music,” Crider said. “We get compared to bands like Built To Spill and Modest Mouse.”
Crider said they recently finished “Now + Then,” the newest in a series of Candysound releases.
“We recorded it over a year of writing, demoing and touring. Then we tracked it this fall, mastered it in the winter, and then released it in the spring,” he said.
After playing in punk bands throughout high school, Crider said he also started a solo project under the moniker Porch Party. He described it as “kind of a lo-fi feel” and compared its sound to Elliott Smith and Nick Drake.
He said that Elliott Smith’s songwriting had a major stylistic influence on his music and that Porch Party led to Can
“I started recording solo music in my bedroom for a couple years. That kind of turned into the basis for Candysound,” Crider said.
Since their formation, he said Candysound has performed at popular local artist competitions such as Experience Music Project’s Sound Off! in Seattle, and has released several EPs and singles, eventually leading up to “Now + Then.”
Crider said Candysound has played a variety of shows in the area, spanning many different types of performances from house shows to venues like The Shakedown.
“Once you step in, you realize that everyone in this town is musical,” said Crider, describing Bellingham’s music scene. “The best way [to find new music] is to just to go shows.”
He said that the album recording process is long, but he wants to keep recording and “just keep playing fun shows.”
Candysound will also be playing the Underbelly Festival in June.
“We’re playing Friday night, a solo set with [Danbert Nobacon] from Chumbawamba, which is going to be fantastic and weird,” Crider said.
For Candysound’s future, Crider said he wants to continue recording music. He mentioned that after finishing “Now + Then,” he would love to follow it up with a “fun summer EP.”
Henry Dotson’s “Presenting Honey Dotson”can be found on his website, www.honeydotson.com, and Candysound’s “Now + Then”is available on candysound.bandcamp.com, along with many of their past releases.
Last fall, Whatcom Community College hired new music instructor Melanie Sehman: professional percussionist, mother, wife, and Washington state native.
After only three quarters at Whatcom, Sehman says she is staying busy as the music department’s discipline lead, advisor for the Music Club, teaching three courses, and staying active as a performing musician.
Sehman, 37, completed her undergraduate studies at Central Washington University. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in percussion performance, Sehman said she moved to Phoenix to get a master’s degree in music performance from Arizona State University.
She then moved to the East coast upon gaining admission to the Eastman School of Music, a professional school of the University of Rochester in New York. There, Sehman completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in performance and literature.
After graduating from Eastman in 2006, Sehman moved to Queens in New York City to pursue percussion performance and music education, beginning her teaching career at City University of New York in Queens.
She said that after teaching in Queens from 2006 until 2013, she packed up to move back to Washington state.
Since she began teaching at Whatcom last fall, Sehman has become deeply integrated in Whatcom’s music education, teaching a variety of music courses.
This quarter, she is teaching American Music Survey, World Music, and Music Theory III, which is the last in a three-course music theory series that Sehman has taught since fall quarter.
Sehman said she plans on “using music as a way to connect with the community.” She recently has made connections with the Bellingham Chamber Music Society, a collective of professional musicians in the Bellingham area that formed last year.
The group performs once a month in the community and Sehman says she wants to bring them to Whatcom to perform for the school sometime next year.
Sehman also said she hopes to start a Class Piano course, where students with varying levels of musical experience and backgrounds can come together in a semi-guided piano session.
She said that Whatcom already has upwards of 15 Yamaha keyboards and the only necessary thing to start the course is a room in which to store them and hold the class.
“The class would be open to anybody,” Sehman said, explaining that the class would mainly emphasize “getting your fingers going” rather than music theory or any other formal training.
Aside from her educational career, Sehman is a performing percussionist. She says that while she focused on classical music in college, she started “gravitating toward new music” after college, such as contemporary chamber music, or as she puts it, “weird music.”
Sehman says that although she plays some piano and does some singing, her love is for percussion. “The variety inherent in percussion will keep anybody,” she said.
Sehman is also the advisor of the recently-formed Music Club at Whatcom. The club meets weekly in Heiner 210 from 4-5:30 pm for student-led improvised musical sessions with a variety of instrumentation and musical training.
Sehman said the club is organizing a record sale due to a large donation of vinyl records the club received from a community member, which span many eras and genres.
She said the sale will involve the club setting up tables with the records, allowing anyone on campus to flip through them.
The records will be sold for 50 cents each and all proceeds will go to the Music Club to help fund club activities. More information on the club is available at Student Life.
Outside of her educational and musical careers, Sehman and her husband, Steven, have two boys, a 4-month-old and a 2-year-old.
Steven is a fellow percussionist and music instructor who teaches in Western Washington University’s music department, alongside Western’s Fairhaven College.
She said her husband also took over her classes at Whatcom while she was on maternity leave last winter.
Sehman said that outside of her professional career, playing with her sons, hiking and reading murder mysteries are among the things she loves to do most.
She plans to continue broadening Whatcom’s music department, focusing on “diversifying course offerings [and] responding to student demands,” she said.
She added that she hopes that in the future Whatcom could offer more varied musical courses, such as a History of Jazz or a 20th Century Music class.
“[I want to] have music be a bigger presence on campus,” Sehman said. “That’s probably my biggest goal.”
More information on Melanie Sehman including her current and past projects, recorded music, and video-recorded performances can be found on her website, www.melaniesehman.com.
Edward Chatterton, 62, got his master’s degree in history at Western Washington University and is now a history instructor at Whatcom Community College. What separates Chatterton from most other teachers, however, are not the steps he took to get to where he is. Chatterton’s uniqueness lies in what he has done since then. Chatterton is the creator and instructor of the second-year honors history class titled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll: The Role of Popular Music in Societal Change in The U.S. 1954-2013,” or History 295.
“My goal is that students will not take their music at face value but start looking at the deeper meaning, not just in music but how they experience it,” Chatterton said.
The class explores rock music in the 50s and the effect it had on American society and young Americans, as well as how rock music has changed over time and the rock music industry today.
History 295 isn’t like many 100 or survey-level classes that are held on campus, Chatterton said. “It’s a 295 level class which means there’s a certain type of student that’s targeted. We try to explore topics in greater depth and I strongly encourage more interactions between students both in and out of classroom,” Chatterton said.
The concept of an honors class may seem daunting to some, Chatterton said, but if students are interested in the class and are not honor students, or students with a GPA of 3.50 or above, Chatterton will still consider them for the course.
Jen Shore, 25, is a Whatcom student enrolled in the class.
“I was underneath the required GPA level but had taken a class with Mr. Chatterton before. He asked me if I would be interested in taking history 295. I wanted to be a part of the class but told him I didn’t think it was possible. Ed got me in anyway,” Shore said. “I think he’s just looking for people who can make meaningful contributions to his class.”
When Chatterton was 18 years old he attended the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival in Byron, Ga. The festival held performances by artist such as B.B. King, The Allman Brothers Band, and Jimi Hendrix.
The festival proved to be a monumental moment in Chatterton’s life, he said, and years later he would end up writing his master’s thesis on those experiences.
“Our relationship with music shapes who we are as a society. [Music] shapes interactions between cultural groups; music changes culture and culture changes music,” Chatterton said. “It’s only as I get older and start to look back at that cultural event [the Atlanta Pop Festival] that I start to wonder why most other historians have never heard of it,” Chatterton said.
Chatterton runs the class like an “honors seminar,” he said, where he lets the students themselves be a large part of the driving force behind the curriculum.
“There are no exams all quarter, the majority of your grade comes from your final research paper,” Chatterton said.
The class is focused largely on narrowing down a topic for the students’ research papers and class discussions or “think pieces,” he said.
“My objective with the research papers is to have no one on this campus know more about your topic than you do,” Chatterton said.
He said one of his favorite “think pieces” he does is playing his students the song “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd and asking them what they think the song is about. “It’s really cool to hear what people have to say,” he said.
Shore said after taking the class her musical experience has drastically changed.
“I never really grasped the concept that music was so reflective of society. I mean, I had an idea, but a lot of people take it for granted,” Shore said.
As for research papers this quarter, Chatterton said he was excited about the number of directions his students have chosen to go.
“One student is looking at the phenomenon that is ‘American Idol’ and how it’s changed pop culture, while another student is exploring the links between classical music and metal,” Chatterton said. There’s also a student exploring Grunge Rock in the early 90s in Seattle and another looking at the relationship between musicianship and IQ.
Along with research papers and “think pieces” the class discusses in depth the effects of rock music on racist and sexist cultural norms, he said.
“Part of what I’m seeing is how rock music explodes these racist ideas, and to some degree gender roles too,” Chatterton said. “Look at Chuck Berry, who was a middle-aged, lecherous black dude writing music for 15-year-old white girls.”
The class will also look throughout the quarter at the conflict that arises between rock music as an art form and rock music as an enterprise.
“One example is ‘Tutti Frutti’ sang by Little Richard; here you have this makeup-wearing, loud, screaming, scare-the-hell-out-of-white-people African American dude. Then you have Pat Boone, who is this lily-white dude. Who, later, re-recorded exactly the same song, same words, and same beat,” Chatterton said. “Pat Boone ‘sanitized’ ‘Tutti Frutti.’ The conflict is between sincere music that comes from the heart and music the industry is just trying to make money with.”
Another example Chatterton used is the song “Spend the Night Together” by the Rolling Stones. By the time that song got on the radio they had to change their lyrics to “I want to spend some time together.”
“They had to change their lyrics, but we all know what they meant,” Chatterton said.
Chatterton also compares and contrasts the marketability or “corporation control” of music from the mid-to late-1900s to now, he said.
“Right now something major is happening within the music industry. It’s being democratized through things like YouTube and Pandora,” Chatterton said. “Allen Stone and Macklemore have no record deal. They’re not packaged like some bands and I think that’s a great thing. It takes me back to the 60s when musicians were experimenting all over the place.”
However, Chatterton said he still doesn’t deny the power of marketability and the corporate grasp on some areas of modern music.
“If Katy Perry weighed 300 pounds and had buck teeth she probably wouldn’t be where she is today. Corporations will always try to package music to make a profit,” he said. But due to the internet, record companies can’t say, “‘this is what you’re going to buy’ anymore,” he added.
Another major topic the class covers is the British Invasion, or the popularization of British bands in America.
“The simple answer to what the British Invasion was is The Beatles,” Chatterton explained. “By the 60s our rock was very ‘sugar coated,’ whereas The Beatles had been influenced by our music in the 50s. So in a sense, The Beatles brought American music back to America through a British filter,” Chatterton said.
Chatterton admits that when The Beatles first gained popularity he wasn’t the biggest fan, but later in life he discovered the cultural significance of their music.
“When ‘Sgt. Pepper’ came out I was still into Hendrix, I thought that was ‘wimpo’ music,” Chatterton said. “Later, I did a research paper while I was studying for my masters and I got footage of kids from all around the world talking about what they thought about The Beatles. They all said the same thing, they loved it. The music transcended language. It transcended communism and capitalism,” Chatterton said. “I don’t think we’ll have cultural impact in music like that again.”
Chatterton said he was concerned with today’s music growing into more of an individualistic experience.
“In the 1900s music was more social,” Chatterton said. “Today you have 37 kids getting off a bus and each one of them have a set of ear buds in. There’s no common musical experience with that.” At rock festivals Chatterton said there are a number of bands playing on 4 or 5 different stages. People are then forced to pick and choose who they want to see, dividing themselves. It’s not the same as “if you’re one band and have 400,000 people digging you,” he said.
“The soundtrack to our lives is heard solo. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know, but I do think that something is lost,” Chatterton said.
The official student newspaper of Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington