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From Youtube To Symphony Hall: The Loft Sessions Story

This Thursday's concert with the Boston Pops has been dubbed "Berklee Night." It will feature special performances by Berklee College singer/songwriter competition winners, and special guest (and former Berklee alumnus) Melissa Etheridge. One featured performer, Sarah Walk gained notoriety after her video for "Still Frames" went viral, thanks in large part to The Loft Sessions, a Youtube channel conceived and executed by another alumnus: Evan Chapman. I recently sat down with Evan and Sarah to discuss The Loft Sessions, it's impact on Berklee students, and upcoming Symphony Hall event:

DG: So Evan, what gave you the idea to come up with The Loft Sessions ?

EC: Even early on, in my days as a student, it was clear to me there really wasn't a platform to showcase the talent of Berklee students. There is so much incredible talent there, and the majority of them aren't given a voice to express that outside of the academic environment. I have videography experience, and while pursuing my composition/film scoring major, it seemed the ideal opportunity to put my skills to work, as well as team up with some friends whose original music deserved to get out there in terms of exposure.

DG: Sarah, how did you come to be a songwriting major at Berklee?

SW: There was a winding road that led me there, actually. I'm originally from Minnesota, and formed a rock band back in high school. I was gigging for some time after that while attending the University of Minnesota. At some point, I realized it wasn't enough for me creatively-speaking, and upon the suggestion of friends, I decided to audition for Berklee. At the time, I wasn't necessarily focused on attending - I just wanted to see if they would think I was good enough to study there. When I got in, that was a source of validation for me, still, it was a tough decision to leave the band I was in and move to Boston. In retrospect, it was the best decision I could have made.

DG: I know you are the videographer and arranger for The Loft Sessions. Who else do you have on board to put these videos together?

EC: First and foremost, I want to mention the contribution of Caitlin Banks - she is the conductor and musical director, and also works with the choir. Caitlin runs a classical music choir at Berklee called Crepesculum. She does amazing work. I also have a rotating team of audio engineers who help with the production. On the sessions for "Keep On Dreaming" [see video] I worked with Billy Centenaro, Matt Pieffer, and Nick Squire. We also received a very generous sponsorship from Audio Technica (the microphone manufacturer). I also do videography for TLS from time to time - I'm far from being the best mind you, but I do enjoy the chance to get behind the camera.

DG: How would you say your involvement in The Loft Sessions has impacted you, both in terms of songwriting and exposure?

SW: It's been huge in terms of exposure: I've been friends with Evan for years now - he had just started putting video performances up there on Youtube, when he approached me to participate in TLS. My first video for them was a tune I wrote called "Still Frames." I was surprised by the number of hits it received, and the amazing feedback I've received is just incredible. One of the biggest components for me has been the involvement and support we've gotten from Berklee itself: they included my video in one of their online media courses, which was a huge boost because it reached so many other musicians I wouldn't have otherwise interacted with.

DG: How did this "Berklee Night At The Pops" come to be?

EC: Several Berklee faculty members had been in talks with The Boston Pops about the idea of "Berklee Night" - featuring singer/songwriters whose music was also arranged by Berklee students. This dialogue began about a year ago, but didn't really didn't take off until The Loft Sessions did a flash mob performance at the Museum Of Fine Arts, which then went viral. It was then The Pops got fully on board with the idea of doing "Berklee Night", and was excited with the prospect of working with us to finally put this thing together.

DG: And what's the connection with special guest Melissa Etheridge?

EC: As a former Berklee student, it's certainly a good tie-in with us - I'm not sure whether that was deliberate on the part of the Pops, or whether she was already on the docket as special guest, and it was a seredipitous pairing.

DG: What was it like working with Keith Lockhart and members of the Boston Pops on "Keep On Dreaming"?

SW: It was both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. In the beginning, I was pretty comfortable because I was working with peers I knew from school - many of which were involved with the "Still Frames" video. The moment I walked onto the stage at Symphony Hall however, I was taken aback. It's one thing to see a performance at Symphony, and quite another to actually be the performer......I was slighly overwhelmed by the whole thing. I was a little apprehensive about meeting conductor Keith Lockhart. We did an initial rehearsal with Evan and Caitlin there, and then he came in the next day to record it. It took a couple of run-throughs to work out the kinks, but it all came together - Keith was a pleasure to work with, he was great. The fact that so many folks were volunteering their time, combined with the energy of working with The Pops orchestra really energized me as a songwriter. Having all of them performing on a song that I had written was an amazing experience for me.

DG: How has the general response been since launching The Loft Sessions?

EC: Considering the fact that we've only been on the scene for about a year, we've seen expedient growth. The Loft Session page has already garnered thousands of subscribers, which is a good start. Sarah's "Still Frames" video has been hugely successful, as well as spoken-word artist Ethan Smith's video for his piece, "Hometown." And of course, there's the flash mob performance at the MFA, performing "O Holy Night" featuring a choir, soloist, and orchestra. That video has received nearly half a million Youtube hits to date.

DG: And what inspired your latest song and video, "Keep On Dreaming"?

SW: I wrote that tune about two years ago - it began as a "songwriting assignment" given to us by songwriter professor Pat Pattison. We had to write a song a week. Late one night, I was racing to meet an assignment deadline, and was in one of the practice rooms working on it. When I was finished, I thought to myself - with a little more work, this could turn out to be a great song. The first recording of "Keep On Dreaming" was done in London with some added strings back in November of last year. That recording has yet to be released. When I played it for Evan, he was very enthusiastic, and we both agreed that piece would make a good fit working with The Boston Pops as our next video.

DG: I found the combination of the lyrics and your vocal delivery to be especially haunting. It may have been birthed as an "assignment", but I wonder if some autobiographical subtext was at work there.....

SW: Yeah - just because it was an assignment doesn't mean it didn't come from a personal experience. I liked the idea of keeping the meaning behind it somewhat ambiguous - I did wake up one morning feeling this tremendous sense of loss, greiving over a past relationship. But you could also interpret the song in the metaphorical sense of continuing to dream and be optimistic in spite of disappointment or failure - we all have things in our life that are painful and difficult to reconcile, so the line about "waking up with a broken heart" could be taken on mutiple levels.

Berklee Night At The Pops featuring conductor Keith Lockhart and special guest Melissa Etheridge comes to Boston's Symphony Hall Thursday, June 12th at 8PM. For more information and tickets visit the BSO website link below:

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