A new approach to contemporary

  • Singer-songwriter students rehearse in the new Music Center.

  • Sydney James Harcourt (right) teaches a contemporary voice lesson to an Arts Academy student.

  • Singer-songwriter students perform during the fall Parent and Family Weekend.

  • A singer-songwriter student presents an original song during Parent and Family Weekend.

Starting this fall, singer-songwriters, jazz artists, and popular music-focused students at Interlochen Center for the Arts were introduced to a new curriculum that uniquely addresses the specific needs, challenges, and opportunities found within the contemporary music world.

New or expanded courses, restructured major tracks, and revitalized performance opportunities are at the core of the programmatic updates implemented by Chair of Contemporary Music Courtney Kaiser-Sandler and Music Division faculty members.

Kaiser-Sandler says that the completion of the Music Center informed the curriculum expansion.

“All the faculty that teach contemporary tracked students are all on one floor, in one house,” Kaiser-Sandler said. “Music faculty are no longer siloed in different buildings and spaces around campus. This enables us to work together more closely and for students to be able to work with us without having to go all over campus for information or extra help. We’ve not only created a place for people to convene, but also a safe environment for everyone to express and explore their artistic interests, as well as hear each other as they are doing just that.”

Contemporary Voice majors and singer songwriter students, will benefit from guaranteed access to two artists-in-residence during the 2019-20 year. Grammy-winner, Broadway star, and recent artistic collaborator Sydney James Harcourt (IAA 94-97, AS 94, 97) will be spending up to five weeks on campus, working directly with students and co-teaching several classes. Jazz singer Quiana Lynell, winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition Award, will visit campus for two weeks each semester to work directly with jazz, singer-songwriter, and popular performance students.

These residencies are designed to give students opportunities to work with professional musicians, giving them access to real-world experiences and perspectives.

Three classes that were previously reserved for singer-songwriters have been made available to all contemporary music students, including Songwriting Foundations, Music Business, and Music Archeology. Other students within the music division are able to enroll in these courses as electives as class size and individual schedules allow. The Music Business course, in particular, has proved popular with more classically minded students.

“How do you write your artist bio? What is an elevator pitch?” Kaiser-Sandler asked. “We’re not trying to pigeonhole one genre. Every musician needs to know how to speak about and sell their art as well as develop an album release sketch and know how to book their own tours.”

The second teaches songwriting foundations, including chord identification, formats, and structures, and takes a deep dive into the history and trends of songwriting.

At the beginning of the school year, contemporary music faculty members held auditions for their students. These auditions helped faculty members get a better grasp of their students’ strengths and areas of improvement, as well as the courses best suited for each student outside of their regularly scheduled private lessons.

Jazz musicians will continue to have the opportunity to join the respective rosters of the Arts Academy Orchestra and Wind Symphony from time-to-time throughout the year, but will focus their studies in newly-revamped jazz ensembles.

This year, three new performing contemporary music ensembles were created as part of the Performance Lab class to act as vehicles for student performance. Performance Lab serves as the foundation class for playing in a group. Students in the foundation class are assigned parts and learn mostly by ear. In the second level, students learn various parts and chart-reading skills as members of “The Meters.” The premiere popular music ensembles, “Wrecking Crew” and “The Revolution,” were decided upon based on the aforementioned auditions. In addition to reading charts and rehearsing at a high level, “Wrecking Crew” and “The Revolution” perform regularly both on and off campus.

“We placed students together who had complementary skills and talents,” Kaiser-Sandler said. “Throughout the year, these groups will have the opportunity to work together, learn a set, and perform at various school functions and events.”

As an Academy alumna herself, Kaiser-Sandler fully appreciates the impact that Interlochen—and these new programs—can have on the students.

“Interlochen, both at Camp and the Academy, was the catalyst for my internal reflection as an artist. It opened my eyes, which in turn, broadened my perspective,” Kaiser-Sandler said. “The experience here has not changed over time. The difference lies in the outside world, and the pressure that global access and information can put on young people. They are so aware of what’s happening that they don’t know where to begin. It’s information overload, especially for artists whose effect is to be empathetic and create change in the world.”

Ultimately, Kaiser-Sandler hopes that the updated programming and curriculum will help these students grow as people and as artists, helping prepare them for whatever that outside world throws at them. She also hopes they’ll make the most of the unique opportunities that Interlochen provides.

“I frequently tell my students that here at Interlochen, is where you’ll have the easiest access to artists, thinkers, and doers,” Kaiser-Sandler said. “When you leave here, it will be challenging to find those moments to collaborate. Interlochen is not just about cultivating and broadening musical experiences, but about discovering who you are and what you represent as both an artist and a human being.”