May Magic: SHOF Master Session at Stuyvesant High School

(left to right) SHOF Education Special Projects Committee Executive Director April Anderson, Special Projects Committee members Jamie Dominguez, Adam Epstein and Joe Abrams, Pom Pom, guitarist Walker Landgrafpianist Levi Pugh, SHOF Special Projects Committee member Tim Pattison, Maude Latour, Leyla Blue, Laundry Day's Etai Abramovich, Jude Lipkin, Sawyer Nunes, Henry Weingartner and Henry Pearl, SHOF Education Special Projects Committee Co-Executive Director Harold Stephan and BMI's Samantha Cox

By April Anderson

It was a beautiful afternoon for the third SHOF Master Session at Stuyvesant High School on May 6. Students packed the house to see special guests Samantha Cox, VP Creative, BMI, and eight young songwriters/producers from the BMI roster: Leyla Blue (“Silence”), Maude Latour (“Superfruit”), Etai Abramovich, Jude Lipkin, Sawyer Nunes, Henry Weingartner and Henry Pearl who make up the band Laundry Day (“Cha”) and Pom Pom (“Knocking At Your Door”). The event was hosted and moderated by Stuyvesant's Vocal Music & Music Technology professor, Harold Stephan.

Stephan kicked things off by introducing the panelists who spoke a bit about who they are and what they do. Samantha Cox talked about her role cultivating young artists at BMI. As a 20-year veteran, she has been a critical force in the songwriter community, and has been instrumental in shaping the careers of numerous BMI songwriters including Lady Gaga, Halsey, Ammar Malik, Bebe Rexha, 3 Doors Down, Shinedown, My Chemical Romance, Howie Day, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Flyleaf and many others. She said,” I feel like I have five jobs in one at BMI. I feel like I am an A&R executive at a label, looking for and discovering talent, a publisher, a manager, helping in any way that I can in their careers, giving advice to hooking them up on our festival stages, introducing them to attorneys, managers, publishers, music supervisors, you name it. I also feel like I am a therapist, walking them through difficult moments. Last but not least is educational and administrative, making sure that their paperwork is in order and that they get paid.”

Cox went on to detail her relationships with each of the other panelists, all of whom she had signed to the BMI roster.

Stephan played the song “Cha” by Laundry Day. The average age of the band members is 17, and they formed the band as friends while attending Beacon High School. They talked about how they work out of each other’s bedrooms when writing and producing their songs. In speaking about their creative processes, they gave an example of coming upon the drum pattern for “Cha;” “we got that feeling you get when you hear something that you just love so much.” They added the rest of the layers from there to create the song. “The process is very collaborative,” writing lyrics and musical parts together live and recording simultaneously. They talked about writing the song “Harvard,” and finding “this weird synth line” that was the basis. “That song took months to make” as they kept revisiting and revising it and they are glad they “learned that,” as their songs tend to come easily but become their best versions when they are worked on.

Pom Pom was up next, and Stephan played “Knocking At Your Door” which she co-produced and co-wrote with O.A.R.  and Gregg Wattenberg (who was a guest on the first Stuyvesant Master Session panel). She talked about how they focused on the melodies at first and “made sure they made sense” and how they used a combination of synth sounds and real horns for the song.

Leyla Blue, a 2018 SHOF Abe Olman Scholarship winner, sang her song “Silence,” also cowritten and produced by Pom Pom. Leyla said that, at the time, she was going through a rough patch personally, and was “trying to find my sound,” but was feeling lost and frustrated. She addressed students, saying, “if you feel lonely and insecure, you are so not the only one,” which resonated throughout the auditorium. Leyla said Pom Pom brought a bass line to the session and they had the song going in “literally five minutes.”

Maude Latour, who is a 2019 SHOF Abe Olman Scholarship winner, performed her song “Superfruit,” and talked about how she “loves writing from titles,” and this song “represents a coming of independence for me.” She said she is in college now and creating more music along with video and other projects, “being in college and juxtaposing my education with music, they totally influence each other.” She said, “I have always been politically active and always wanted to make a change politically and in the world today.”

Leyla said, “the goal of music is to make people feel like they’re not alone in the world, and that’s the reason it makes me want to spend my whole life doing it. I gave up my whole social life to do this. Going through depression and anxiety and all of the stuff we go through by ourselves…it’s so important to represent those things in music.”

Stephan then had 70 Stuyvesant guitar students play along with tracks of a tribute medley of songs by each panelist, to the delight of everyone, several of whom remarked that they “thought it was amazing.”

Stephan opened the floor to a spirited Q&A and the panelists answered several key questions from students, imparting sage advice, such as Pom Pom saying, “I think it’s important in the beginning to find a few key people that you can really trust to bounce a ton of things off of.”

The Master Session closed with a performance by Laundry Day and the students gave everyone a standing ovation.

In attendance were the members of the SHOF Education Special Projects Committee which includes committee Executive Director and SHOF Marketing/Communications Director April Anderson, Stuyvesant's Vocal Music & Music Technology professor and SHOF Education Special Projects Committee Co-Executive Director Harold Stephan, Joe Abrams, Jamie Dominguez and Adam Epstein.