Shyly Slaying: Berklee in the Round

Photo by Roberta Sorge

by Lily Lyons

A mismatch of portable keyboards and acoustic guitars were set up in a circle in the Red Room, like an awkward family seated at a dinner table. When the songwriters selected to play for this Berklee in the Round—affectionately abbreviated as BITR—slipped into their chairs to play it felt less like the beginning of a concert to me and more like a music sharing session between friends…Very intense, talented musical friends, with a crowd of about 30 people watching them, but friends nonetheless.

Photo by Roberta Sorge

Photo by Roberta Sorge

The concept of Berklee in the Round is to feature a few dedicated songwriting students in a set-up that mirrors the intimate, community-oriented style of Nashville writers’ rounds. This month, the chosen songwriters were Delaney Silvernell, Julia Battistin, Sayak Das, Noa Vlessing, and Brendan Fisher. Though the writing and playing styles were immensely varied among the performers, they were united by a shamelessly nerdy excitement for music, clearly inspiring each other as the night wore on.

Songwriting department chair Bonnie Hayes introduced the event by carefully thanking everyone by name from the video crew to the engineer. Small as this moment may have been it set a precedent for the night: everyone was there to appreciate, support, and be motivated by their peers.

Brendan Fisher kicked off the performance with “GPS,” a chirpy pop song about his self-professed “quarter life identity crisis.” His chord palette was thoroughly Berklee-influenced (think lots of modal interchange) but he was unafraid to contrast it with millennial whoops and a bright musical theater vocal delivery. Throughout the night he delighted in venturing into playful, borderline-kitsch territory, writing songs about unexpected subjects such as gamer culture.

“Dreamer & Son,” bandmember Sayak Das’ songs featured beautifully disaffected, wandering guitar melodies and softly sung lyric zingers. In a faintly R&B voice, he cut straight to the bone, writing about chasing highs and reality TV malaise: “I will drink your cheap liquor like it’s holy water.” At one point he confessed that the energy of the music was coursing through his body so strongly that he was having trouble staying seated.

Delaney Silvernell immediately had the audience whooping in response to her exuberant and pure belted vocals. Smooth riffs supplemented the confident attitude and take no prisoners lyrical declarations of her songs. As she performed, her hands made jagged motions over her chest, as if visually illustrating the pain of heartbreak.

Emotional intensity instantly flooded the room whenever Julia Battistin sang. A self-confessed specialist in heartbreak songs, she concocted painfully tactile images and paired them with subtle pop melodies. Her song “Kryptonite” was especially memorable, featuring delicate switches from bright to breathy vocal tones and deliciously dangerous lyrics: “it won’t be safe the moment we collide.”

The last performer of the night was Noa Vlessing. Her songs wavered between R&B and pop influences, anchored by consistently rhythmic, almost funky guitar riffs and self-aware lyrical sass and honesty. Towards the end of the show she got the crowd to do slow, groovy snaps to her “songs about boys,” and her voice opened up with warm ease in her higher register. I appreciated her thematic frankness and her willingness to bring up-tempo songs into the round without losing any emotional weight to increased speed.

I left the show feeling overwhelmed—in a good way—with the variety and passion I had heard from the songwriters. But as much as I was impressed by many of their songs, what made BITR most exciting for me to watch was its camaraderie. The songwriters were appreciative of each other, whispering compliments and geeking out over the writing techniques their peers were using. They laughed knowingly at each others stories of how eccentrically their songs came to be, and spurred each other into little monologues thanking their parents. These small moments of authenticity packed the evening up with wrapping paper and tied it with an elegant bow.