Singer-Songwriters' Hub Makes its Mark on AU’s Music Scene
Before this year, AU’s music ensembles included only traditional vocal and instrumental groups, including chorus, orchestra, symphonic band, and jazz, and there were few opportunities for songwriting or composing original music. After directing the AU Symphony Orchestra through rehearsals on Thursday nights, Professor Matthew Brown would often find students jamming in empty classrooms in Katzen, playing rock, pop, and electronic music. “I decided to formalize an ensemble to enable students to do the creative work that they were already doing themselves,” Brown says.
So last fall, the Singer-Songwriters' Hub was launched as a course offering. As a music ensemble, students in the class can access rehearsal space, audio equipment, and instruments for their craft while fulfilling degree requirements. “It caters to a new profile of students who are not necessarily classically trained but do have an interest in commercial or popular music. The students play the guitar, piano, drums, and/or sing, and are all creative people who write their own songs,” Brown says.
Each week, the students perform a song they’ve been working on, either alone or in groups, while the class gives feedback to help them improve. For Catherine Brennan (SOC ‘26), the Hub provided a supportive space to grow as an artist. “We’re all musicians from different backgrounds with different skills, so you get a bunch of different perspectives,” she says. After workshopping her songs in the Hub, Brennan recorded singles with AU’s student-run record label, Second District Records (SDR), now available on Spotify. For Brennan, “SDR has given me a voice in my music and helped me to put myself out there.”
Gracie Gilligan (SPA/CAS ‘26) enjoys engaging in all genres of music, from traditional to contemporary. “When I was looking at colleges, I was concerned that many were only focused on classical music or musical theater—there weren’t a lot of places that had commercial music opportunities. That's rare in a classroom setting. At AU, I can get all of that.” Gilligan brought an original song into the Hub to workshop and recently recorded the finished version with other musicians. “I found others in the Hub to play other instruments on the track. It makes it sound more finished and professional.”
Bands have formed amongst students in the Hub, including DUCK!, which performed last month at American Idol at The Bridge and AMFest on the Quad, both organized by the Student Union Board. For band leader Parker Chace (CAS), the guest artists that Brown has brought to the Hub have been particularly helpful. “Our band was coached by Alex Salser (AU music faculty and member of the band Oh He Dead)—it was incredible to get that kind of assistance and opportunity. These are things you get with expensive mentorship programs—but we’re just getting it because Matthew Brown believed in us.” Other guest artists have included vocal professors Jennifer Hamady and Ethan Watermeier and famed songwriter Tommy Lee James. “These artists are engaged in singing and songwriting on a professional level. They give feedback and opportunities for improvement—that’s priceless,” says Chace.
The Hub is open to all students interested in collaborating on original music, including songwriters, singers, instrumentalists, lyricists, recording engineers, and those interested in marketing and promotion. The Singer-Songwriters' Hub (PERF-145-004) meets on Thursdays from 8:20-10:20 p.m. in Katzen 151.
“It's not just educational, but also community-oriented. Everyone is coming and sharing,” says Chace.