Making Music in PDX: Sincerity over ceremony

Local industry icons advise LC musicians in March 18 Colloquium

By Ted Jamison /// Staff Writer

As I walked into Evans for the “Making Music in PDX Colloquium,” Rollie Wirt (’15) sat on a couch next to the auditorium entrance, strumming away on his unplugged guitar. “So you’re gonna play today?” I asked him. “I guess so,” he responded with the raised eyebrows and unassuming expression of someone who is not entirely sure what to expect. As I opened the doors to the auditorium, I realized that I really didn’t know what to expect either.

If someone was to read one of the promotional posters, they’d know that “Making Music in PDX” is part of the Exploration and Discovery Spring Colloquium series and that, “Lewis & Clark student acts will perform and get some feedback from our panelists.” That is about it.

The stage was arranged talk show style. Two couches and a microphone sat on the far right. The left of the stage was filled with a backline of gear and a piano.

“Each of our players will play, and the panel will talk to them about the music industry, about their futures in music, about what’s happening in Portland, and also about their own careers and where they are in music,” said Professor of Musicology Eleonora Beck in her brief introduction.

Beck also introduced musicology major Haley Flannery (’15) as a “producer” of the event. The entire preamble lasted less than two minutes, emblematic of the “sincerity over ceremony” atmosphere that typically surrounds Beck’s musical engagements.

The event consisted of  jazz performers, Marin Olson (“15), Sonja Noonan-Ngwane (“18), Rollie Wirt (‘15), acoustic singer-songwriters, Kelley Koeppen (“18), an electronic producer, Kevin Fox (“18), an experimental electric bass soloist Lani Felicitas (“18), a midwestern emo revival duo, Harrison Smith (“18) & Noah Jurkiewicz (“18), a psychedelic rock band, Cole Gann (“16) & group, and even a solo clarinetist, Adrian Au (“16). Despite the semi-formal setting (“Is this academic? Why is no one in the audience moving?”), the musicians eventually opened up and accessed deep, performative spaces. Eyes closed, brows furrowed, wrists, tendons and carpals succumbed to muscle memory. Music was made in earnest.

The panel featured Ryan Wines, Co-founder and CEO of Marmoset Music; Johnny Clay, band member of The Dimes and artist at Marmoset Music; Christopher Brown, jazz musician; Katy Davidson (’99), musician, DJ, and artist at Marmoset Music, and Angela Webber (’10), band member of The Doubleclicks. They gave constructive criticism, choosing something they liked about each performance and expounding upon it. Though one of the most common pieces of advice was, “Keep doing what you’re doing,” every once in a while the panelists would drop some profundity.

“A well rehearsed band ‘breathes’ together,” said Brown, “Efficient technique won’t make you sound good next week, but it will make you sound good when you’re 93 years old.”

Excluding Brown, the panelists were independent rock/folk musicians, most with connections to Marmoset Music (a company that provides music for commercials and visual media). If I heard any critique of the panel, it was clarinetist Au’s desire for representatives from Portland’s classical music community.

The event ran smoothly thanks to Flannery’s stage management. Despite months of planning, she avoided the spotlight.

“I really wanted to be in the background so I could pay attention more closely to what’s happening without the anxiety of feeling like I have to perform,” said Flannery. “I feel like student bands at LC need to play with each other more beyond open mics. There aren’t a lot of formal opportunities to think of music as an academic discipline in a way that lets it inform other disciplines.”

The event was a valuable networking opportunity and a chance for students to directly confront anxieties (like my own) about leaving college with a desire to piece together a career in creativity.

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