SEASIDE — On the inside of their new album cover, Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk from the Portland-based band Wonderly articulate a seemingly simple recipe for songwriting.
“Think of a friend and their story, and what you might say to them if you were fearless and driven by nothing but love and compassion. There! You just wrote a song,” Brunberg and Landsverk wrote.
On Friday, the indie duo came to make a song with a class of Seaside High School music students using those same techniques. The workshop was in conjunction with the music festival ’Stackstock on Saturday in Cannon Beach.
For Ryan Snyder, Martin North CEO and founder of ’Stackstock, having a musical workshop given by one of the festival’s bands to music students was a way to give back to the community. He plans to contribute some of the proceeds of the festival to start a local music scholarship.
“Music and arts are important to the company and me personally. So we thought what about a music program? How can we help them?” Snyder said. “I started an independent record label in the 1990s, and for me seeing music programs in high schools continue to break down has been really depressing, and I want to make sure we are doing our part to make sure programs survive into the future.”
Writing a song
Brunberg and Landsverk, who met years ago while touring separately with different Portland-based bands, started Wonderly two years ago. Their music dabbles in a variety of genres, from bluegrass and folk to instrumental music featured in New York Times podcasts.
Wonderly joined ’Stackstock after being contacted by Kate Sokoloff, the event organizer and a longtime professional connection the two had on the Portland music scene. Before Wonderly, both Brunberg and Landsverk started their musical careers as choir teachers in public schools, which Sokoloff said made them an ideal band to lead a workshop.
“They are both really good instructors. Both are such consummate musicians, but for this I knew they knew how to be relatable with kids,” Sokoloff said.
The two worked with about 20 students in Seaside’s garage band class, a popular music class where students learn instruments and produce original songs. One question starts the songwriting process.
“What’s the best thing about Seaside?” Brunberg asked, standing at the whiteboard ready to write down suggestions.
Before long, students started yelling suggestions.
“There’s a pretty good bookstore,” one student said.
“There’s a Pizza Hut,” another student said.
For the next 40 minutes, Wonderly, with a guitar and violin in hand, worked with the students to create melody and harmony out of those two sentences. By the end of class, the students were singing three-part harmonies.
Back in the classroom
For Wonderly, the goal of the workshop was to help kids feel like they were part of something bigger and “accidentally come up with a song in process.”
“We want to embrace and build upon every kid’s weirdness,” Brunberg said. “Music is supposed to build community. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be you.”
Brunberg and Landsverk said they both ended up leaving public music education as program resources and support for creativity dwindled.
“Funds get cut, and curriculum gets ousted. My job shriveled up to only teaching two periods of music,” Brunberg said, referring to his time as a choral instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It became about teaching music rudiments, not about expression. Not about community building.”
While their careers as public school teachers ended more than 20 years ago, the two still host a variety of songwriting classes and thrive off a passion for education, Landsverk said.
Kimber Parker, a music teacher for Broadway Middle School and Seaside High School, said she was grateful to have a band like Wonderly come and work with her students.
“It was cool to have professional musicians telling them what I’ve been saying,” Parker said. “They realize what they are doing in class is real world applicable. Music can be a job.”