By Shelby Casey

Corey Wheeler sat down in front of his piano at home and began recording as he sang about a past love. The recording arts and music industry major crooned out the lyrics to his composition “Annabelle” as he accompanied himself on the piano. 

At the start of the spring semester, Wheeler thought he would be performing his self-written composition for a live audience as the signature performance for his Songwritinng Class Showcase. It was to be the first annual concert of its kind, presented live on April 21 in Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall.

But because of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, music and theatre professor Paul Young decided to get creative. Although his students could not perform their compositions in person, he still wanted them to have an outlet to present their creations to the public. He directed the student composers to generate a video of their composition being performed. A playlist of the 14 songs and videos was then compiled and uploaded to YouTube, so that they could be shared with a broader community.  

“We believe hope, emotion, community, and the necessity of ‘social distancing’ should not have to mean we remain ‘socially distant,’” said Young. “Music should not live in isolation, even while we all must do so for now.” 

The songwriting class (MUSC 465) is a collaborative class with a focus on music and lyric writing. Students are taught about melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic analyses of popular songs to assist them in their writing. They also gain knowledge related to marketing, creating demos, and publishing of songs.

Young encourages his students to embrace their creativity and push the boundaries of what they believe they are capable of as a songwriter—including virtual recordings of their music to share broadly during a global pandemic.

Many students were surprised by their own growth during the semester and grateful to have the outlet.

“I have always been an instrumentalist, but I was hesitant to consider myself a songwriter,” said Wheeler. “But I’m getting more comfortable with the idea, and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve done in this class.”

This songwriting class and playlist are not akin to a TV talent show, recital, or competition. Singers are not judged, and perfecting stage performance skills is not among the primary goals in the course. Songwriting is about crafting music, messages, and meaning into songs, which the students excelled at,  Young said. 

“If the song lends itself well and can speak to its widest possible audience, the listener should be able to imagine it being performed by just about anyone befitting each song’s unique melody and message,” Young said.  

Daniel Hernandez talks to a student via zoom as he is lit up by a Halo light for audio recording.
Student Daniel Hernandez is getting more comfortable with online performances, expanding beyond the production he made for his class to participating in Wildcat Couch Concerts, where a variety of Chico State students sharing their musical talents on YouTube Live to help unwind after a long week of hard work. Here, he talks with Emily Williams (on screen) live before performing.

The lyrics, songwriter credits, and other pertinent details are listed in the description fields of each video. All copyrights involved with these songs and videos are owned by the respective songwriter. Every video in this playlist was made at home under quarantine. Songwriters could not utilize Chico State’s recording studios, practice rooms, pianos, or collaborate in person. 

“They did whatever they could here simply to make it work. So, if you like what you hear, appreciate their efforts, send messages, etc.,” Young said.

Wheeler said he felt more pressure to be perfect on video, but he did the best he could, situation considering.

“It took me probably 4 or 5 takes before I captured an acceptable performance,” he said. “That’s one thing about performing music in front of a crowd. There’s a give and take between the audience and the performer where you are both feeding off the energy of the other. That is something that I just can’t duplicate at home by myself.”

Young noted these students are the owners of their creations, and that they should be proud of taking the uncommon risk of performing these songs themselves so their songs could still be offered to the public in these restrictive times to spread music and community. 

“I, and all my colleagues at California State University, Chico, are very proud of them for their resilience and doing all they could to make this work so our ‘virtual concert’ would still happen, today, just as planned,” said Young.

Shelby Casey is the publicity assistant for School of the Arts. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, with minors in music and ethics, justice, and policy. She is currently working on her master’s in communication sciences and disorders.