By Lisa Occhino
Back in October, we held our third “In The Groove” Songwriting Competition, in which the top three finalists battled it out live for the audience’s vote at Guitar Center in Fenway. This semester was the biggest and best competition we’ve had yet, with the first place prizes including: a $250 Guitar Center gift card, a live performance and interview on the BIRN, a featured set at King’s, the headlining performance at our spring 2013 end-of-semester party, and of course, a featured interview right here on berkleegroove.com. We received the most submissions of all time this semester, so narrowing it down was very tough! After giving away 15+ raffle prizes, honorable mention prizes, free Red Bull all night generously provided by the Wiiings Team, and $20 Guitar Center BonusCards for every attendee on the night of the live competition, we finally revealed the results of the audience’s vote:
• THIRD PLACE: Fred Mubang (of the band Myloe) – “Empty Out Your Mind”
• SECOND PLACE: Maddie Rice – “River”
• FIRST PLACE: Hannah Christianson – “Goin’ Somewhere”
As promised, our featured interview with Hannah is below. On a personal note, I would like to point out that Hannah is one of the most lovely, refreshing, and inspiring people I have ever interviewed, and I have no doubt that she is destined for great things in her life. Our conversation actually ended up being over an hour long, but for the sake of space, I have condensed it to just include the highlights. So, with that being said, here’s the best of the best of our interview with the fall 2012 “In The Groove” first place winner, Miss Hannah Christianson:
Berklee Groove: Congratulations on winning our fall 2012 “In The Groove” Songwriting Competition! We got a record number of submissions and attendees this semester, so that’s definitely an accomplishment to be proud of. But before we get into that, let’s start with the basics: what’s your semester, major, and principal instrument?
Hannah Christianson: I’m a piano principal, dual music therapy and songwriting major, and it’s my final semester – but I’ll be in the Boston area until at least May, because my internship for music therapy lasts nine months. I have to do 1,040 hours to complete my certification.
BG: Wow! So what initially sparked your interest in music?
HC: Well, I come from a family of seven – I have an older sister and three little brothers. My dad is a music listener; he really, really loves listening to and appreciating music… But my mom is very musical. She’s classically trained – she plays clarinet and piano and sings. So it started when I was really young, because music was just always around… I was always very active and busy. I was in dance, I was in sports, I loved school. I loved doing everything. In middle school I started writing more poetry and more melodies on piano, so those two combined and I started writing songs.
BG: What’s your songwriting process usually like?
HC: Typically I start with music first, which puts me in this very present space where I’m not thinking about my worries for the next day. And then suddenly I’ll start singing, just feeling this moment wherever I am. My subconscious, just everything comes out. Each song is its own little formula of all your past memories plus the present moment, and what you’re trying to solve and learn and understand.
“Sometimes I write songs that are more upbeat because they help me when I’m not strong, happy, centered self.”
BG: Your song, “Goin’ Somewhere,” won the grand prize in our songwriting competition this semester. What was your inspiration for that song?
HC: Let’s see if I can remember, it was a while ago… It was May 2010, and it was for an assignment in a songwriting class…. Sometimes I write songs because maybe I’m not having the greatest day, and I need some sense of hope or some fuel to keep me going – that’s a terrible pun, because the song is called ‘Goin’ Somewhere’ – that was not scripted, I promise! [laughs]. So you know, sometimes I write songs that are more upbeat because they help me when I’m not strong, happy, centered self. It kind of helps me retune and get back to center… And also, it was about music and songwriting, and this performing aspect of sharing music. Because even when it seems like I’m not going anywhere, I just have to keep going! Because I am going somewhere, so it was something to kind of help me stay on that path.
BG: Who influences you, musically? Because when I first heard your song it reminded me a lot of Regina Spektor, so I was wondering if you’re influenced by artists like her.
HC: People often say that my voice sounds like Regina Spektor’s – and I like her, I think she’s awesome. She’s very creative, sometimes to the point where sometimes I’m like, ‘Whoa, how did she think of that?!’ I also saw her live and she blew me away. But it was weird because before I was ever singing like Regina Spektor, I was singing like Regina Spektor – does that make sense? My voice just sounded like that, I think because I listened to a lot of jazz… But I love all kinds of music. I love bluegrass, I love classical, I love West African drumming (I went to Kenya over the summer for music therapy stuff), I love the Beatles, I love Sara Bareilles, I love Ingrid Michaelson… All kinds of things influence my music, and not only music. I just try to sing what I feel like singing, and maybe subconsciously all these different artists that I listen to come up, and that becomes my voice. I don’t really know. I just try to sing what I feel like singing.
“I think that’s the most inspiring thing, being surrounded by people who have that fuel and that fire.”
BG: What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had at Berklee so far?
HC: One memory?! Hmm… the thing that’s impacted me the most is simply just being here. I can’t even begin to tell you how many special moments I’ve had here. Like getting to go to Greece, and travel… meeting my current boyfriend, making friends that will be my lifelong friends, co-writes with musical geniuses, being able to play with the most talented players… I’m always really inspired by this place because people are just trying to follow their passion, and what they think is their path. I think that’s the most inspiring thing, being surrounded by people who have that fuel and that fire.
BG: What advice would you have given to your first semester self? Or to current first semester students who are trying to get the most out of their Berklee experience?
HC: Just be open, don’t lock yourself into your fears of ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘that person is so much better than me’ – comparing yourself to other people just doesn’t work. Try to find what it is that you personally do best, because you are a unique person with a unique set of skills and experiences that nobody else has, and that’s what you should focus on. Put yourself out there – that’s what this is really about: figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. Maybe some people already know that coming into Berklee, but some people don’t – some people find Berklee to be a very hard place. In either case, you get to learn something more about what it is that you really want to do, and what makes you happy, and what helps this world go around.
BG: What’s your ultimate goal, either musically or personally?
HC: My biggest dream for my music… this is a hard one, because once I say it I have to make it happen, you know what I mean? I would love to write that best music that I possibly can… to live up to my highest imagined self, and then that would reflect in my music. And then if my music could be everywhere, all over the world, but really helping, would be the idea of it. I want [my music] to be something that inspires others to follow their passions and their truest parts of themselves. Just helping this world come to a higher place – I just want to help, help, help! Maybe just helping people change their perspective on things a little bit – give people a sense of hope with my music.
Don’t miss Hannah’s last performance of the semester tonight (Tuesday, December 11), 7pm at the Red Room @ Café 939 as part of the BITR series!