Lessons learned from Adrianne Lenker's School of Song songwriting class - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

If you’re ever interested in a self-paced songwriting course taught by some of the most gifted artists of this generation, consider School of Song. In January of this year, Adrianne Lenker taught a songwriting workshop through School of Song, an online songwriting and music theory-based class series. Lenker taught a four-week class on looking inward to discover the source of any writer’s art and applying these concepts to song prompts, composing techniques, and other exercises. The class is available for purchase and viewing on their site currently, in addition to many others taught by established artists like Kimbra, Bartees Strange, and Hannah Read (Lomelda).

Tons of sites like School of Song provide hands-on exercises that challenge and develop students’ skills. Not only do they exist, but they exist for the sake of both the established (maybe even Grammy-winning) artist who wants to learn from their peers, and the average music listener whose curiosities about musical style and songwriting inspired them to pick up the pen themselves. Though some may argue the “tools” to craft a song come solely from within, Masterclass and School of Song (among many more) provide supplemental guidance, which is just as crucial. In fact, Lenker’s course maintains that songwriting is a balance of both intuition and external sources.

Adrianne Lenker at Arden Guild Hall | photo by Paige Walter for XPN

To test my hypothesis about the importance of this guidance, I interviewed two Philly musicians who took Adrianne Lenker’s School of Song class earlier this year. Noah Kossowsky and Lucy Buchman are students at Drexel University who formed a band and have been close collaborators since their early days at school in Philadelphia. They each make their own music as well, and have distinct styles and inspirations with some overlap, including a shared affinity for Lenker’s songwriting. Naturally, they both took her School of Song class. I spoke to Kossowsky and Buchman to better understand their intentions when taking the class, how it’s impacted their respective processes, and how they plan to implement their newfound perspective in the context of their solo projects.

Buchman, a soon-to-be college graduate, has been writing songs for six years and playing guitar for around eight. She heard about Lenker’s songwriting workshop through Kossowsky, who had taken School of Song’s Phil Elverum-led class. Though Lucy didn’t have any definitive goals when going into the class, she said, “Unsurprisingly, the class taught me some really valuable things about songwriting and affirmed a lot of good practices I already had been doing.”

In addition to teaching participants about traditional songwriting and guitar techniques, Lenker – being the artist she is – took a more abstract approach. Buchman cites her lecture on “bridging dimensions” in lyrics as one of her key takeaways, as a large part of Lenker’s lyrical appeal is her ability to bridge the real and the abstract; Buchman refers to it as “magical realism.” A signature component of Lenker’s writing, this “magical realism” can only be taught or described in her own words, which Lucy took note of throughout the course.

Adrianne Lenker via Zoom for School of Song | screenshot from the course

Buchman’s specific sense of clarity in songwriting was affirmed during Lenker’s class. “Sitting down and getting in the right headspace to write a song is a lot easier for me now than it seemed to be before I took this class,” she said. Even while being a long-time songwriter, it’s clear through Buchman’s experience that it’s always beneficial to refresh your connection to the writing process. “I genuinely think [Lenker] is one of a few people in the entire world I would ever take a songwriting class from,” she said. “It was such a pleasure to just hear and see Adrianne dissect her music in real-time.”

Kossowsky shared similar sentiments about his experience in the course. “Throughout the whole class I was paying attention to every word since I hold Adrianne Lenker’s music in such high regard,” he said, adding that he considers himself “lucky to receive just a small part of her immense musical wisdom.”

An avid lyricist since high school, Kossowsky takes inspiration from a wide variety of genres and artists, inspiring him to pick up the ukulele and dabble in production. Two years ago, he streamlined his process, using exclusively guitar. He took the class intending to remedy a case of the typical songwriter’s most common and most inconvenient affliction: writer’s block. As well as, of course, to learn from one of his greatest songwriting inspirations. “I can safely say I accomplished both goals,” he said.

Like Buchman, Kossowsky gained a great deal of insight into the abstract through this class. For instance, when tasked with writing about the view through his window, Kossowsky used Lenker’s free-writing approach to describe a rainy outdoor scene with droplets on the glass. He observed nature at its smallest form and how it functions as a living, moving, and changing thing. His ability to assign meaning to his words came from within, a process he previously did in reverse. This transformation also occurred in his guitar playing; the chord progressions he wrote were of his own design, as opposed to being pulled from common knowledge and music theory. Lenker’s process, as many may gather upon first listening to her work, starts within – which, as Kossowsky’s perspective demonstrates, leads to a newfound ability to soul-search for every writer who tries out her techniques.

“I seriously impressed myself with the songs I recorded for the class,” Kossowsky said. Anyone could have the same experience with a little advice from their favorite writers. And, the best part is that it’s completely possible! There is a wide range of classes to choose from at School of Song, no matter what you write, how often you do it, what you already play, or what you want to learn.

For more information on School of Song’s upcoming workshops (including Big Thief guitarist and solo artist Buck Meek’s second class with the organization), or to purchase access to past courses, visit their website.

And while we’re on the subject of songwriting: registered participants, remember WXPN’s 24-Hour Song Challenge begins at noon on June 1st!

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