On May 21, the Songwriters Hall of Fame presented its inaugural virtual Master Session in collaboration with TeachRock, an online educational resource, with guest and TeachRock founder, Steven Van Zandt and featuring students from NYC’s Stuyvesant High School.
Moderated by Stuyvesant's Vocal Music & Music Technology professor, Harold Stephan, the session kicked off with an introductory sizzle reel highlighting Van Zandt's long and varied career as a songwriter, performer, actor and philanthropist. When asked about the future of music, Van Zandt said, "we have to make our music accessible for the new generation to discover it and be motivated and inspired by it."
Three Stuyvesant students who had been pre-chosen by Stephan each played one of their original songs for a critique. Zoe Buff played her song "Betrayed," Justin Shaw performed "Jonestown Double Cup" and Leah D'Silva sang her song "Who I Am Meant To Be." Each received invaluable songwriting advice and encouragement from Van Zandt.
Stephan went on to talk about the emerging influence of artificial intelligence in the music industry and played several different versions of Van Zandt's song "Sun City" as rendered by IBM's Watson Beat as an example of how melodies can be altered using AI. He and Van Zandt then had a discussion about ownership of these new melodies which fall into a grey area.
A group of Stuyvesant students then performed pre-recorded versions of Van Zandt's hits "Sun City," "I Am A Patriot" and "Born To Run" via Zoom to Van Zandt's delight.
A Q&A followed, with discussion regarding Van Zandt's long history and experiences in the music industry, including his motivation for "Sun City," which he wrote as a protest against apartheid and race inequality in South Africa. He talked about the process of gathering all of the participating musicians who included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed, Run DMC, Bono, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Pete Townshend, Pat Benatar, Clarence Clemons, Joey Ramone and many more. He said he was glad they did it then because he didn't think they could attempt it today.
He said "collaborating is harder these days as everyone is struggling to survive. It's hard to be charitable when you yourself are struggling." He ended on a hopeful note, saying, "I love seeing young people playing instruments and writing songs."
Thanks to Steven Van Zandt and TeachRock and kudos to the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s NY Educational Committee chair April Anderson and vice chair Harold Stephan in the launching of the SHOF’s initial Master Session.