It has been a tough six months for musicians who make a living playing, amid canceled events and venues temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Despite this, the ASU School of Music has decided to launch a popular music program this fall, with just over 30 students participating to date.
âThe School of Music recognizes that many of its students lead lives in the shadows, working as musicians playing more popular music while studying traditional classical music,â says Steven Tepper, Dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts from ASU. âThe program really arose out of the interest of the students.
But it is also a reflection of the evolution of the musical landscape. âTo thrive in the 21st century, you need a more eclectic approach to musical creation that integrates classical and contemporary and popular and digital forms,â he explains. âThe opportunities in the world of music are increasing, and being a jack of all trades is helpful in navigating your career. ”
The popular music program is led by Erin Barra-Jean, a musician and composer who describes herself as a âcreative Swiss army knifeâ. She started playing the piano at the age of 4 and remembers growing up with parents who listened to both classical and contemporary music, such as in Dvorak, Mendelssohn, The Doors and Bonnie Raitt.
Barra-Jean graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2006, then discovered some gaps in her classical training. âI didn’t have a lot of employable skills and was desperate to make money. So Barra-Jean turned to YouTube and other platforms, watching tutorials that honed his digital skills. Today, she considers herself an electronic musician, although she has recently resumed learning to play the piano after taking a 14-year hiatus.
The Popular Music Concentration within the Bachelor of Arts in Music is designed to foster musical and entrepreneurial skills. It is open to both people who play music and non-instrumentalists such as producers and DJs. âMusicality manifests itself in so many ways,â says Barra-Jean. She is excited about the mix of skill sets and perspectives in Phoenix, and works to forge connections between the ASU program and the local music scene. âI was really impressed with the community of musicians who already live here.
She is already working on developing the program. By next fall, Barra-Jean would like to register 100 students and hopes to reach 200 participants within two years.
For now, the program is based in Tempe. But there are plans to move to downtown Phoenix for fall 2021, where ASU is currently building a new residence and entrepreneurship center on Fillmore Street. The first three floors will include recording, performance and other spaces. Student housing will go above them.
Popular music will share space with fashion, as well as design and architecture. It is an approach designed to allow many collaborations. Tepper notes that music is an integral part of several industries, including advertising, motion pictures, games, healthcare, and retail. âWe are in an experience economy,â he says, âwhere digital technology and digital media in all their forms are powerful tools for storytelling. ”
This is all part of the larger context of ASU, which includes the construction of additional facilities for interdisciplinary programs. Tepper says a science and technology building taking shape at Rural Road and University Drive in Tempe will include “a kind of space for arts and design” and an installation near the Mesa Arts Center slated to open in January 2022 will include films, immersive media, and digital culture. They’re even renovating the historic Herald Examiner building in Los Angeles, where they plan to incorporate film and journalism programs, as well as performance spaces, in 2021 or 2022.
Meanwhile, Barra-Jean is working to develop the popular music curriculum, thinking of all the ways ASU students could impact the cultural landscape of the Phoenix metro area and beyond. “They will be part of creating a more dynamic and exciting music scene for years to come.”