The newest addition to the music department is the upcoming J-Term songwriting class. Todd Syswerda, professor of music composition, songwriting and music technology,
spearheads the class that will be available for students to take in January.
Syswerda oversaw a songwriting major at his previous position at Indiana Wesleyan University, which was created alongside popular Christian singer-songwriter Gloria Gaither over the span of five years. Syswerda was highly involved in musical theater earlier in his life, sparking his interest for lyrics and composition.
“Songwriters aren’t always composers,” Syswerda said. “I want to write a class where I can provide tools to people writing songs.”
Creating the class was to give songwriters on campus the skills to make their writing more succinct and effective, without changing the message of their songs, Syswerda said.
He wants students to know that the class is not about judging the content, but more so to examine how the content is delivered. He also seeks to remove barriers that some people might have that prevent them from writing their own songs.
“Songwriting isn’t spelling,” Syswerda said. “When I’m writing a song, I’m not worried about spelling, I'm worried about getting my ideas out.”
He hopes that students taking the class will leave with a joyful heart, the freedom to try and the encouragement to keep doing so. He also hopes that those taking the class will meet like-minded people who students can collaborate with in the future.
Additionally, learning from older songs and understanding the way they are written are both things that Syswerda wants students to take from his class. He also stressed that it is important for students to learn to separate the creation process from the revision process.
“If I am creating and editing at the same time, my editor is always butting in on the creative process,” he said.
The desire for the class is that students also learn to share and open up through the work that they put in. Syswerda shared that he is looking forward to seeing students' individual voices come out and be displayed to their fellow classmates.
Sophomore Dalton Jones, a multimedia journalism major, is taking the class for the aesthetic literacy credit, but it is also supplementary since he writes songs on the side. He wants to take a class that doesn’t necessarily fall under his major for the sake of making him a more well-rounded student.
According to Syswerda, songwriting is important because it shares a message that is hopeful to the listener, and also reflects God’s hope and joy. This is a sentiment shared by junior Olivia Ross, a psychology major and worship arts minor, who is interested in taking the class.
“I have such a passion for music and the way that it communicates to God and to others,” Ross said.
She hopes to come away with the ability to speak through music that praises God but also speaks to others. For her, songwriting can be difficult to teach, considering that it is a very personal art. However, she is hopeful that the class will teach about foundational songwriting, as well as tips and tricks.
Songwriting is important because it has the ability to connect with the soul, Ross said. For her, she thinks that people listen to songs for a message, or to feel a certain way, so it is necessary to learn how to effectively write songs because of the power that they hold to the heart.
“It helps love others more,” Ross said. “Knowing that our words have power, and how to speak in a way that is loving.”