Behind The Music And Lyrics: Meet Penn State’s Songwriters Club
Andrew Radick is the first to volunteer. He borrows another member’s guitar, goes to the front of the group, and begins to sing his original song, “Give My Heart My Home.”
I fall asleep, I drift into a world that’s beyond the reality of my life. Don’t want to leave because I don’t know what is waiting for me.
Out of breath, Radick ends his song and takes comments and critiques from fellow songwriters.
“For a while I hadn’t written absolutely anything,” the sophomore explained. “Maybe I’m coming out of my hole of songwriting.”
Penn State’s Songwriters Club offers a place for student musicians to share their original music and collaborate with one another. Club executives arrange opportunities for members to showcase their talents on and off campus through various open mic nights. You might have even seen some of them performing at THON this year.
At the beginning of a typical songwriters meeting, students like Radick can perform their music to the entire group. “Jam sessions” are reserved for the second half of meetings, where students break off into small groups and collaborate, or perform solo. Students join the club in search of peers who share their musical affinity. Jason Cillo joined Songwriters during his first few weeks at Penn State, and said it was the “exact” kind of club he was looking for.
“My regular friends, when they hear me talk about music and I go on about it, they’re like, ‘Shut up, none of us know anything about this,’” Cillo said.
Kevin Magee has been a member of the club for three years.
“Talking to people about music — that’s not something I can totally do. I come here because I know everybody here loves music so I can talk about it,” said Magee, a senior. For Magee, the weekly meetings are a necessity. “If I wasn’t in engineering, my head would be totally in a cloud because I think music all the time.”
The members of the Songwriters Club have a breadth and understanding of music that most students couldn’t shake a stick at, but their musical influences greatly differ. Many students are inspired by classic rock and ’90s grunge, while others are more interested in indie-folk, Americana, or bluegrass. Tim Mayo, another member, elaborated on the club’s eclectic taste.
“People will share their own personal music, and they’ll ask for critique,” he said,” and a lot of the critiques I would disagree with, because our musical influences are different. I think it’s good because I’ve learned so much because of other people in this club and about my music and even music theory because of listening to other people in this club.”
Mayo and his friend Sydney Sweeney came in late to the club meeting, because it interferes with a separate musically-inclined club, SOMA (Students Organizing the Multiple Arts). While many students attend Songwriters for a musical outlet, students like Sweeney and Mayo plan on pursuing careers in the music or entertainment industry.
Sweeney is a member of the Songwriters Club, SOMA, and Happy Valley Music Label, Penn State’s only music label. Her extracurriculars revolve around gaining industry experience. “I just want to get into the music industry somehow, some way shape or form, because I know that’s where my interests are,” she said.
“I plan on getting my music technology minor, and then the dream job for me would be working on the electrical unit for a guitar effect pedal or a guitar amp or something like that,” Cillo, an electrical engineering major, said. “I want to work for Fender or Gibson, making and designing its guitar stuff.”
Like Radick, Cillo was one of the few students who also demonstrated songwriting and singing abilities at the beginning of the meeting. He sang his original song, accompanied by only his guitar, in front of the entire club. The lyrics that Radick and Cillo shared were incredibly personal and touched on themes including romantic struggles that they had experienced. Magree even shared a prerecording of himself singing and playing piano, which explored aspects of spirituality and identity.
But not every member is interested in sharing their music so publicly. Sweeney typically waits until jam session to share the music she writes for guitar.
“I’m very picky about it and I’m very much a perfectionist, and I don’t share stuff with others very often,” she explained. “I don’t want to share in a large group. I want help from specific people because I want to draw from their particular influence.”
Steve Vannelli, the club’s president, feels that the organization is a great outlet for Penn State student musicians to express themselves.
“Being able to share something like the lyrics that these kids are making is awesome, and they’re not going to go and share some of this stuff just by talking to somebody they don’t know,” Vannelli said. “But you put it into a song and you play it in front of people that you’ve gotten to know throughout the year, then you’re going to be much more open to getting what you want to say out there and less likely to hold back anything that you’re thinking or feeling.”
The nature of songwriting itself makes the club more intimate than your average Penn State extracurricular. “I was very nervous coming here the first time,” Sweeney said. “They were very accepting. They made it feel like a very welcoming environment and I think that helps a lot, especially for those who get anxious about sharing.”
If joining a group of “music people” sounds like your cup of tea, Songwriters Club meets every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., in 270 Willard.