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Music for the masses

Y Music program provides history and technique


It’s easy to take music lessons in Missoula. And it’s easy enough to start a band with your buddies, or present yourself naked, at least figuratively, to the town at an open mic. But unlike other art centers—say, the Zootown Arts Center and Downtown Dance Collective, both of which opened last year—there isn’t really a one-stop spot for community musicians of all ages. Until, perhaps, now.

“I think Missoula is a town that is hungry for music and has a lot of creative people in it,” says local folk singer-songwriter Amy Martin, “but it does seem like there’s a hole in music organization.”

Recently, Martin decided to provide a space for community music education, though she didn’t know exactly how that would come together. As she searched for advice from local organizations, the local YMCA suggested she simply partner with them.

Martin’s Y Music program started this month, providing classes to kids and adults on everything from campfire songs to playing the musical saw. The list of instructors reads like a who’s who of local musicians: the ubiquitous Tom Catmull, cello rocker Bethany Joyce and Missoula Symphony conductor Darko Butorac, among others.

“We’ve got a great art museum. We’ve got the new Zootown Arts Center and some awesome dance companies. But there really isn’t a center for people to come together and do music programs,” says Martin, who also teaches classes. 

In light of Y Music’s kickoff—some classes started last week, but most are still open for registration and don’t begin until next month or later—we’ve put together a brief course guide for prospective students of the more unconventional offerings.

Lights, action…music!

If you can clap your hands, you can create an explosion. In the workshop “Intro to Sound Design for Theater and Music,” John Sporman will teach people how to create soundtracks for the stage and screen. Sporman, who is a sound designer for Missoula Children’s Theatre and Montana Rep Missoula, says the two-hour workshop will provide insight into how music can create emotion, and how that sound can be manipulated to supplement various performances.

“It’s everything from how does an augmenting chord on a piano make you feel to editing that chord with effects to even make it feel another way,” he says.

The class will edit songs using Adobe Audition, and Sporman also plans on bringing in live theater performers who will act out a piece that students can then design sound around.

Fiddling around
If you thought “singing in rounds” meant crooning “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” ad nauseum, consider Beth Youngblood’s course, “Singing in Rounds.” Dedicated to digging up old and new rounds, Youngblood’s class includes various “Alleluias,” English rounds like “Come Follow Me,” “Dona Nobis Pacem,” and the darker “A Soalin,’” which features the lyrics, “Hey ho, nobody home. No meat nor drink nor money have I none.” “Sumer Is Icumen In,” a song documented from at least the 13th century, is one Youngblood wants to teach in Middle English.

“It’s amazing what starts happening when you get two parts, and then three parts and then four,” says Youngblood who recently directed the Montana Women’s Chorus. “It’s pretty dreamy.” Another one of her classes, “Fiddles Well With Others,” provides insight into worldwide fiddling, including Appalachian, Irish, Scottish, Finish and Mexican styles.

“Scottish fiddling has a lilting, swinging style to it,” she says. “[And] I just thought Mexican fiddling would be fun with mariachi. It’s really big and powerful and has strong vibrato with grace notes.”

Song sung blue
If you want to be Billie Holiday or, help you, Miley Cyrus, you first need to get some sense of classical training. That’s what Angela Andersen says, anyway, and it’s why she’s teaching “Beginning Vocal Technique: From the Met to MTV.” Andersen, a mezzo-soprano for Missoula’s Lyric Opera, says the class will provide group training that will build on a person’s natural ability and stylistic interests using a classical base.

“Learning the classical technique doesn’t mean that you’re going to sound like an opera singer,” says Andersen. “It just means that you’re going to take the instrument that you have and make the healthiest possible voice.”

The class will also provide tips for live performance.

“Stage presence also affects your technique. How you present yourself and how you use your body has a lot to do with how you sound,” she says.

Written on the wind
Tom Catmull, the household name who’s played Missoula’s stages for years, admits that even he gets nervous when it comes to songwriting.

“For all the songs I do out in public, one of the scariest moments for me is presenting a brand new song to the band,” he says. Catmull’s songwriting class will provide tools for combining melody, chord progression and lyrics into original gems. But just as important, Catmull will provide tips he’s personally learned over the years.

“And you don’t have to show it to anybody—ever,” says Catmull. “It’s like the clichéd advice you get from any literary class: Keep writing, keep writing. But it’s so true. I’ll write lines that I know are bad and cliché, stealing them from somebody but I just keep going... And sometime you go back and you’re like, ‘Well, I’m going to use that line because even if it’s cliché, it’s fitting right here.’”

Timing is everything
Nate Biehl thinks now’s as good a time as any to discover songs about economic depression. Biehl, a founding member of local old-time bluegrass act Broken Valley Roadshow, will teach a class that winds its way through hard times tunes. For instance, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” is part of the line-up of “tin pan alley” urban songs, while others have a more rural bent. The idea behind “Songs of the Great Depression,” like others in the Y Music program, is to blend music history with hands-on learning. As far as Biehl is concerned, that goes for both students and the instructors.

“I wouldn’t teach it if I wasn’t going to learn new things myself,” he says.

Information for registration and class schedules can be found at

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