Written by Kayleigh Mill
Songwriting is more than just creating music; it gives the writer a higher form of expression, reaches out to the listener, and forms communities of writers and music enthusiasts everywhere – from thriving, busy cities to slower, country towns. The songwriters of Berklee are no exception to the power their creations have to bring people together, and songwriting teacher Stan Swiniarski understands that. To give songwriters a place to come together and share their music with peers, he put together a monthly showcase called BITR (Berklee-in-the-Round) Tuesdays.
Last month I found myself in The Red Room to see just what the deal with this show was. The Red Room is a fairly small room with a stage as the focal point – usually. That night, however, the chairs were formed concentrically around the five songwriters in the center of the room. It was the coziest, most intimate show I’ve been to in quite a while. The five songwriters were composed of four Berklee songwriters, Robert Gillies, Georgia English, Joe Fox, and Matthew Bean, as well as well-known guest songwriter Vance Gilbert. Each songwriter plays one song, in a “round robin” fashion, and there are several rounds, resulting in a very relaxed and sharing environment.
Vance Gilbert started the whole thing off with some wise words about growing old and seeing the future in this generation’s songwriters, as well as performing the melancholy “Goodbye Pluto.” Gilbert kept the mood up all night with a combination of light teasing, self-deprecating humor, and a song with the lyrics of today’s pop hits and a style meant to “bring back Billie Holiday.” Some choice lyrics include: “I guess this ain’t my house, my bad/Dude I don’t blame you for being mad.” Jazz and blues musicians certainly didn’t shy away from the subject of affairs, but Gilbert’s updated vernacular made the song sound hilariously ridiculous – definitely an audience pleaser.
Georgia English is the very definition of singer/songwriter, performing melodic, sweet songs, occasionally accompanied by Joe. Her song, “Old Fashioned Love,” is an adorable song about finding her ideal love, which, as the song title says, is “old fashioned.”
Scottish songwriter Robert Gillies was third in the line-up and, being a Berklee alum, did not disappoint. “LA Rain,” his first song, came with a background story. It was inspired by his (now) wife and expresses the difficulty of traveling without her, specifically to LA. In fact, throughout the night it was obvious that Gillies is inspired regularly by his love, which provided for a heart-warming time.
Joe Fox stood out as a pop-influenced songwriter among his more folk influenced peers. His songs were consistently catchy and “singable.” His song, “Wishing Well,” was easily the sing-a-long of the night, with members of the audience as well as the other songwriters joining in the memorable chorus.
Finishing off each round was folk/bluesgrass songwriter, Matthew Bean. Each round, he provided a welcome diversion from the forms of songwriting most common at Berklee. With emotional, twangy vocals, and insightful lyrics, his songs never failed to intrigue me. One particular song, “Georgia,” had an interesting play on the state and the country. In it, the narrator laments that his love is “not in the same state/not Atlanta but some far away place,” with the far away place meaning the country of Georgia.
Gathering musicians in a small room to share their passion is never a bad idea. The night of the November BITR left me feeling inspired and connected to my fellow musicians in a time when everybody seems to be in competition. If you get a chance, I would recommend taking a break the last Tuesday night of any month and getting out to the Red Room. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Stay up to date on BITR Tuesdays on their Facebook page!