Making beautiful music together
– unique course designed for songwriters –
By Colleen MacPherson
Nurturing new talent in people with a desire to set their words to music is the aim of two new courses being offered this spring by the U of S Extension Division.
Contemporary Songwriting I and Advanced Songwriting II are designed to cover not only the foundations of songwriting like song structure and lyric writing, but also give aspiring artists the practical information they need to break into the music industry. According to the instructor, this kind of professional development is hard to find, but essential to success.
Kim Fontaine, a professional musician and songwriter for more than 20 years, said much of what songwriters do is instinctive, “like telling a story within the structure of a song. But if through courses like these you become more aware, more conscious of that process, I think it makes you better at it.”
The level I course will assist artists in finding their creative voice, even if they have no musical background, she said. The 39 hours of instruction, held over three weekends starting March 25, will be highly interactive and collaborative, said Fontaine, allowing participants to “share creative processes and learn off each other”. The final class will take place in a recording studio to give songwriters experience working with a professional producer and engineer.
The first of its kind at the U of S, and one of very few songwriting programs in Canada, the course should appeal to a wide range of people, from poets to singers to musicians, said Fontaine, “but if we get a bunch of poets and no musicians, I’ll be playing a lot of guitar.”
That will be nothing new for Fontaine who started playing music professionally in Grade 11. She moved to Toronto in 1983 and spent five years as a bass player and singer with a band before “getting tired of living out of a suitcase”. The marketing coordinator with the Extension Division returned to Saskatoon to do an English degree at the U of S, partially financing her education by performing.
By 2004, she was ready to take a big step in her career. “Although I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my voice, I really felt strongly that I had material accumulated over five years that needed to be recorded.” The result is Morning Pages, her first solo album. When the University of Saskatchewan Certificate in Art and Design (USCAD) program decided to round out its offerings with music-based courses, Fontaine was the obvious choice as instructor.
Although not the main focus of the sessions, participants in Level I will hear from industry professionals about the business side of music, which Fontaine believes almost as important as songwriting.
“When I got started, the Holy Grail was a record deal. Everyone was working toward a deal. Now, technology like at-home recording equipment and the internet for marketing has leveled the playing field so you see a growth in the number of independent musicians who do their own management, publicity, financing, booking. That’s why the professional development part is so important – there are a lot of people going into this and winging it.”
In the advanced course, which is another 39 hours but spread over several weekends, assignments and peer evaluation play a large part in the curriculum, and songwriters can expect to finish with at least five original songs that are either solo works or collaborations, said Fontaine. The course will wrap up with a showcase performance.
Fontaine added that life’s distractions often get in the way of the creative process but these courses can help. “Sometimes we really have to focus on ourselves to get this done and a good reason to do that is to take a class where there are deadlines to meet.”
More about the courses can be found at www.uscad.usask.ca/songwriting. Performance dates for Fontaine, including the International Women’s Day brunch at the Faculty Club March 12, are listed on her website – www.kimfontaine.ca