sonwriting workshop

By Erin O'Shea Sneller

It seemed like an impossible feat. Get together 27 music students and alumni who didn’t know each other well, break them into groups and task them with writing a new, original song for a particular pop, country or rock artist — all in less than six hours.

This was the project the GRAMMY Museum’s Executive Director, Bob Santelli, handed the musicians when he came to Corvallis last fall to conduct a one-day songwriting workshop. Oregon State is one of only eight GRAMMY Museum-affiliated universities in the country and was, along with the University of Southern California, one of the first.

“This Oregon State workshop was an exercise in creativity,” Santelli says. “America is built on innovation and creativity, so what we try to do here is use music as an agent for inspiration, use music as a chance for kids to express themselves, understand the creative process, and in addition, have a lot of fun, too.”

While Santelli has led similar workshops around the country, Oregon State’s was truly an experiment. Santelli has directed songwriting camps and workshops for high school students that last from one to several weeks. But he hadn’t yet worked with college students — or expected completed work in one day.

“I told these kids from the onset that they were guinea pigs; that we have never done a one-day session before. I didn’t know whether it was going to work out or not,” he says.

Each group was assigned to write for one artist of Santelli’s choosing: Carrie Underwood, James Taylor, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, who, Santelli joked, “has risen from the dead.”

Initially, the groups struggled as they got to know each other, figured out what instruments they had to work with and gained knowledge of each member’s strengths. Then, music making began. By the 4 p.m. deadline, each group had a (mostly) finished song. With no rehearsal time, the groups performed their original pieces to an audience of friends, family and faculty. Santelli was pleased.

“The fact that they finished, and the results are really impressive, speaks to what I had thought from the very early days when we considered Oregon State to be the second GRAMMY Museum university affiliate; that there is talent here that is untapped and there is a lot of potential. I think today absolutely, positively is a demonstration of that.”

As a university affiliate, Oregon State has access to content from the Los Angeles-based GRAMMY Museum for educational purposes, curriculum resources, research programs, internship opportunities, professional development seminars, collaborative marketing and promotions, project-based learning and more.

Bob Santelli Popular Music Songwriting Workshop - Oregon State University