Part 1: Collaboration
Every year, extraordinary minds come to New Hope’s campus to collaborate on creative projects. In September 2014, Dave Hanley, Founder and President of DREAM records, arrived at NHCC to partner with students and faculty on a creative journey of international proportions.
In 2008, Hanley made two historically significant decisions: he founded the contemporary Christian rock band Press Play, and he founded the record label DREAM Records, a Partner Label of Capitol Records. Capitol Records is a gold standard in the recording industry, serving as the label for Katy Perry, Jenifer Lopez, Elton John, The Beatles, and many other pop music legends. To be a Partner Label of Capitol is to shape and define how generations of listeners will listen to and interact with music.
Hanley’s work in the CCM industry justifies his eminence. He has worked with the biggest names in the industry including Darlene Zschech, Group 1 Crew, Rachael Lampa, and Israel Houghton. Hanley’s songs and albums have taken the CCM market by storm with eleven number-one singles charting in 2014 alone. Hanley is a devout Christian, and a worship leader himself, making the pairing between DREAM Records and NHCC fit like a glove. Consequently, Hanley and New Hope have enjoyed a close relationship since 2013 with the album Hope is Alive with NHO and Victorious in 2014, again with NHO.
To prepare for a visit from this music-industry titan, the call went out from the Creative Arts Department for the entire college to send their finest songs to be considered for a workshop opportunity. The Creative Arts faculty was inundated with dozens of extraordinary creative submissions from students and faculty. A selection of songs was sent to Hanley in Los Angeles who, impressed with the College’s high artistic standard, handpicked four songs to serve as the points of focused attention during NHCC’s songwriting seminar. The workshop playlist included Creative Arts sophomore Cooper Anderson’s “Lead me Now,” Creative Arts junior Stephanie Grecco’s “Long for You,” Student Life Director Cory Emery’s “Your Love,” and Creative Arts Chair of Music & Worship Winston Arblaster’s “Completely Yours.” It would be only weeks before NHCC’s faculty and students spent several intensive songwriting sessions with Hanley in the College’s state-of-the-art Stewart Chapel. Faculty and students performed their original works live for Hanley and an energized crowd of artists in order to fine-tune musical, linguistic, and conceptual aspects of each song.
It was clear from Hanley’s opening remarks that he had a teacher’s heart, a highly cultivated artistic acumen, and a profound desire to challenge each composer to pursue excellence. His philosophy and method from beginning to end demonstrated that while composition starts with an individual, music production is ultimately a highly collaborative and cooperative enterprise. The successful songwriters, Hanley explained, are the ones who know how to receive and respond to critique, and who know how to read and reach their audiences. The working methods of the Beethovens and Chopins in the 19th century might suggest that composition is the work of a lone “genius,” but in today’s market there is strength in numbers.
Hanley proved this latter point on the second day of the workshop. “I have a problem,” he said. A hush fell over the audience, which, until this point, had been animated and interactive. “I need a new song…in 45 minutes.” Stunned silence met Hanley’s challenge. Up until this point, those in attendance had been massaging and finessing songs that up until the workshop had gone through weeks, months, and years of editing and refinement. Now, Hanley threw down the musical gauntlet before New Hope’s creative students and faculty: collectively—on the spot—create a song that would summarize what NHCC was about.
Within seconds, energy levels spiked in Stewart Chapel. Students and faculty organized themselves into small groups. Guitars flew out of cases. Chord progressions morphed. Lyricists began scribbling furiously. Would there be enough time? The result of this creative challenge wasn’t just good—it was album worthy. The collective composition “Shine” will be one song among the final cut to be included on the College’s first release on DREAM Records.
Visit DREAM Records website: http://www.dreamrecords.org/
Part 2: Elaboration
With a healthy roster of New Hope’s original songs, Hanley returned to Eugene in January 2015 to begin the recording process, which took place at New Hope Eugene, the College’s sister church, overseen by the Creative Arts Department’s founder, Pastor Stephen Kenny.
Because art in the 21st century is so much about performance, it can be easy to overlook the process. Music comes in a variety of physical and virtual forms, in stores and online. These polished products are not the mechanized outcome of a factory process. A published recording is something unique and distinctive that is handcrafted by highly gifted musicians and technicians. While an artist may wipe his fingerprints of a finished piece before putting it up in the window, the artwork will always bear the mark of his hands.
A visual arts analogy will serve to illustrate the handmade, human, organic component of the music production process. Think of it this way: in the 1890s, the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet, trudged out into the fields of Normandy to paint the haystacks of rural France. With him, he took an easel, brushes, and tubes of paint. While Monet rendered in fantastic detail these serene images of pastoral life in France, mixing his paints to perfection on a palette, he was still at the mercy of what came out of those paint tubes. In the DREAM Records production process, producers make their own paint.
For example, the album’s single “Shine Your Light” opens with an explosion of musical color, an aural fireworks display created by a complex mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments. The experience of this sound on its own is brilliant, but when considering the process, the complexity takes on a completely new shape. Each electronic sound is handcrafted in the studio—there are no presets. After the producers “make their own paint,” they then apply those musical colors in a complex arrangement. In the instance of “Shine Your Light,” there are no less than seventy-nine layers of musical “paint” that create the effect.
Hanley is such an expert in his field that he can orchestrate the recording of an entire album in less than two weeks. He worked with the Creative Arts Department closely to achieve startling results, most notably the Department’s Chair of Music & Worship, Winston Arblaster.
As Chair of Music & Worship, Arblaster oversees all aspects pertaining to worship leading, accompaniment, music theory, and ensemble playing. With a M.A. in Music Theory from the University of Oregon, Arblaster has been instrumental in stewarding the artistic development of NHCC’s Creative Arts majors since the program began.
Arblaster’s approach to orchestration and arrangement is equal parts attentive preparation and spontaneous invention. Hundreds of hours went into arranging each song to be studio-ready, and even then, much room is left for the so-called “studio magic.” Arblaster mentioned that this process is one that involves “putting heads together in the moment” and “building on site.” One such moment took place in the song “Let Your Hearts Revive.” For the bridge of this song, Arblaster and Nora Mercier (vocals) wrote it together mere seconds before recording began. It’s this kind of spontaneity and the relentless pursuit of excellence that characterize the spirit of New Hope.
The heart of NHCC is to “Release Dreams,” and to create platforms to help our students discover, develop, and deploy these God-sized dreams. The vision for the album project began two years ago, and today it is a reality. Arblaster summarized the entire recording project and collaboration with characteristic eloquence: “All across campus there is a common vision with a common message that expresses the heartbeat of the school—to worship God and to honor His name. The voice of the College is one that sings for God.”