It was standing room only April 19th on the campus of the USC Thornton School of Music for the inaugural Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Session with legendary songwriter, music producer and SHOF inductee David Foster. The audience consisted of USC Thornton students, along with SHOF and USC Thornton Board Members.
Special guests that attended included Dr. Robert Cutietta, Dean of USC Thornton, SHOF inductee and USC Thornton faculty member, Lamont Dozier, SHOF Abe Oleman Recipient and CEO of peermusic, Ralph Peer and USC Thornton faculty composer, Morten Lauridsen. USC Thornton’s Vice Dean of Contemporary Music and founding director of the Popular Music program, Chris Sampson, moderated the Master Session and co-hosted the event along with SHOF Board Member Mary Jo Mennella (Music Asset Management) and West Coast Projects Committee Members Barbara Cane (BMI), Kathy Spanberger (peermusic), Tom DeSavia (SONGS) and Randy Poe (Leiber & Stoller).
Chris Sampson took the stage with David Foster and began the class. During their discussion, David touched upon many aspects of his career that included his work as a session keyboard player, arranger, songwriter, producer, and music executive. He spoke eloquently about the importance of networking, the value of “doing what you love” and even discussed the big opportunities that “got away” from him. David also revealed his current project with Stevie Wonder, and stepped to the piano to give a sample of the arrangements that he and Stevie are currently working on. David quickly engaged the students and asked how many in the audience were singers, songwriters and how many were working towards going into the music profession. He was very pleased when virtually 100% of the hands went up in the class in response to his question.
Knowing that he had a room full of serious students, he immediately turned to the students for further questions. The first question came from Senior, Barry Harris, who asked him about the backstory behind one of his early songs, “The Best of Me.” David offered a bit of backstory on the song, but further explained that it is a challenging song to play. “Can you play it?” asked David. Barry said “yes, I can” and stepped to the piano and performed the Foster hit. David gave him some coaching on how to best interpret the song and asked him to play it again with the soft pedal on. The difference in the performance was immediate. This established a wonderfully spontaneous pattern; whenever a student simply asked a question, they were called upon by David to demonstrate what they could do.
Vocal Arts student, Manny Sanoja, asked a question about soliciting songwriters to write contemporary cross-over songs. This led to Manny singing an Italian aria, demonstrating his high notes (“money notes”) with David at the Piano. Junior Songwriting student, Brett Fromson, performed a sample of an original song for David. Upon one hearing, David jumped on the piano and immediately was able to help Brett reshape the phrasing of the song so that it was immediately more memorable. After hearing Freshman Brooke Randol sing a few bars of the iconic “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” David spontaneously called for a rhythm section from the students. Up came fellow Freshman, India Pascucci on drums, Daniel Oldham on Bass and Max Quilici on guitar – with David on piano – who formed a band behind Brooke who performed a very moving version of the song.
David concluded the event on a very optimistic tone saying, “The recording industry is in peril, but the music business is thriving.” Knowing that all the students in the room would like to be a part of the music business – this was good news to hear. At the end of the Session, David received a standing ovation and it was agreed that the event had been a highlight for the year at USC.
The premier Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Session at USC Thornton School of Music began as an insider’s glimpse into the creativity and business of music, and transformed into something unforgettable for those who were in attendance; a special and defining gift of interaction and guidance from a Master and a legend.
Stay tuned for news of future Master Sessions to come!