Writers jam with musicians at Make.Shift

By Kai Veiera da Rosa

Whatcom’s first Writers and Musicians show occurred Thursday, May 25 at the Make.Shift project space in downtown Bellingham.
Dr. Melanie Sehman’s Contemporary Music Ensemble and Professor Joanna Kenyon’s creative writing class combined song and poetry to create WCC Writers and Musicians event.
At the beginning of spring quarter the music department and creative writing classes created a collaborative project combining poetry and music.

One of the first assignments for the creative writing students was to create a poem. Once their poem was done, the students sent them to the Contemporary Music Ensemble, Sehman said.
“The students in the contemporary ensemble read through the poems and picked out the ones that spoke to them,” Sehman said.
When the students of the ensemble received the poems, they were assigned to create a response to the poems by composing an original song.
“It’s all over the map,” Sehman said. “We had some solos, some duos, and trios.”
Performances included classical depictions, guitar solos, brass instruments, and electronic instruments.
Before each music performance students from the creative writing class read their poems that would relate to the music that followed.
“This is new, but they’re used to doing something similar,” Sehman said
The creative writing students have been doing a variety of different writing projects during spring quarter, the first being a different descriptive poetry project.
The students of the contemporary ensemble were required to perform at the Writers and Musicians show, but they would not be graded, Sehman said.
“Students won’t be seeing A, B, C, or D on their paper,” Sehman said. “What’s important for these students is actually just doing it.”
Students who partook in the show were all at different skill levels, but that was exactly what she wanted to see, Sehman said.
“The goal of this show is to get students who are at a diverse array of ability levels and experience to come and create something together,” Sehman said.
In the past, Sehman has had her students come together through basic improvisation. Sehman said this is a good first step in getting comfortable with other musicians before shows.
“Students sit down with other instruments and see what they can make,” Sehman said.
Composed and written music is often practiced along with improvisation by students during the quarter.
One of the pieces played at the show was a “composed improvisation.” The students created the basic song structure prior to the show, but the notes and who played what was improvised.
“We try to explore that area in-between improv and composition,” Sehman said.
The music department often collaborates with other departments so we are used to the challenge so putting it on isn’t that hard, Sehman said.
The Writers and Musicians show was held at Make.Shift Art Space, a nonprofit organization in downtown Bellingham.
“We too are a nonprofit organization, so the Makeshift gives us a break on the rental,” Sehman said.
The most physical part of actually organizing the show is moving all the equipment back and forth, and managing her students, Sehman said.
“The hardest part overall is the creative process, and getting students to create their own work,” Sehman said. “Growing up in a public school system, students are often subjected to read music already made.”
Sehman wants to get her students away from reading music that is written on the page Sehman said.
“It’s not very often students are asked to create their own work,” Sehman said. “I tried to create a space where students feel safe to try out stuff.”
The contemporary music ensemble class strives to preserve creativity by looking and familiarizing themselves with the tools that allow creativity Sehman said.
Kenyon said she wanted to thank Make.Shift for giving a “nice rate” on the rental price.
“Make.Shift has always been really great to us,” Kenyon said.

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