Students who Songwrite

Stephen Dawes ’21. Photo credit: Clementine Daniel

There are numerous immersive music courses offered at Urban, focusing on a variety of complex musical techniques that range from Chamber Orchestra to Music Production and Engineering. Students can focus on developing their understanding of music theory and their instrument as well as compositional techniques; however, it’s often the work that goes on independently outside of the Shed that is the most creative and compelling.
“A lot of people who took the Music Production and Engineering class have gone on to get pretty serious about [songwriting and music production],” said Scott Foster, Urban’s Performing Arts Department Chair. Foster was the first teacher of the class, which was established when the new section of the Page St. campus was opened with a music studio in 2005.
“That class is an opportunity for students to go from zero to a full-blown state of the art professional recording of their project at the end of the term,” he said. Students learn to be producers of music, whether that be of other people’s music or creating their own individual work. They develop numerous essential studio techniques such as writing, arranging, booking musicians, and using sound recording equipment.
“Songwriting is such a great… if not pastime, passion, and way to be expressive and deal with emotions that you’re dealing with,” he said. Many Urban students agree, including these three dedicated students who have devoted much of their time and effort to pursue this creative art form.

Name: Isabel Dumas, ‘21
Instruments: Voice, guitar, and piano.
Favorite line from one of her songs: “I can’t get to the future soon enough/ Cause the past is chasing me.”

Isabel Dumas ‘21 is known around Urban as a talented singer and songwriter. She started songwriting when she was only 10 years old and has been playing guitar and piano for many years. She learned many songwriting techniques about melody and lyricism from her guitar teacher. She also took a songwriting elective class at her middle school in 8th grade and a Berkeley songwriting camp and online course. When asked if something specific got her into songwriting, Dumas responded, “It’s really dumb, but it’s because I was really obsessed with Taylor Swift when I was younger. I knew that Taylor Swift wrote songs, and so I started writing songs as well.” The first song she wrote was called “Eyes Glued on Me,” and it was about a boy, she said. “I wrote it when I was like 10 and it was awful,” she laughed.
One of the ways Dumas gets inspired to write is by listening to her album on Spotify that she calls her “writing album,” full of songs by artists like Julia Micheals and Ruel whose work she looks up to. Other sources of inspiration include life events or random things that will move her to go write something, whether or not it actually relates to what inspired her. “Like last year after the Peer Ed Show,” she said. “I was just in such an emotional state that I went home and wrote an entire song.”
Dumas hopes to go into the performing and recording field and become a touring musician but noted that there are a lot of people telling her that it’s too difficult and a bad field to be in. “I just always say that I can’t not do music,” she said. “I can’t not songwrite, be singing, performing. I have friends who have been in it and left it on purpose, but I think I’ll never know unless I try.”

Name: Luka Hecht, ‘21
Instruments: “I’ve tried to play about 10 and have failed at every single one.”
Favorite song written: He rewrote one of Halsey’s songs, “Is There Somewhere” by giving it his own chorus, bridge, and verse.
Luka Hecht ‘21 has taken his passion for songwriting into the open at Urban by starting a songwriting club at lunch, which he ran with Isabel Dumas last year. Made up of singers, people who played instruments, and people who wrote, the group worked together to play songs or work out melodies and lyrics of their own.
Hecht started songwriting in the 5th grade because of his interests in poetry and got increasingly into writing throughout middle school. Because he found that actually playing instruments, (many of which he tried, ranging from trombone to piano) wasn’t his forte, Hecht started by turning his poems into raps and eventually into songs.
He also often watches YouTube videos about particular singers or about the history of rap, which inspire him and help him improve his own songwriting. He explained that Rakim, a highly skilled and influential rapper, uses a unique 8-dot system for rhyming and lyricism that Hecht learned about in a YouTube video and watches often to remember how to write rap lyrics. Hecht also enjoys listening to other artists on Spotify such as Queen, who he said “has such weird and varied stuff” that often inspires him to work on his own songwriting.
Hecht has been able to express his creativity with words and music in English classes when they studied poetry, and he took a music history art elective class last year. He hopes to continue his songwriting in the future but acknowledges that it makes it more difficult for him to pursue production and performance because he doesn’t play any instruments.
“It would be really cool to keep doing my songwriting and then send it to someone who can actually make something out of it… that would be really fun,” he said.

Name: Stephen Dawes ‘21
Instruments: Voice, piano, and guitar
Favorite line from one of his songs: “Start and start again, just trying to feel less alone”

Stephen Dawes ‘21 is best known around Urban for his original song “Just 17,” which has been posted on both Soundcloud and Spotify, but he is involved in a lot of additional music work in and outside of Urban. Dawes started songwriting in 4th grade but really dove into it more recently after he wrote a song for an English project last year that motivated him to start writing again.
When starting to write a song, he often comes up with one or two lines that rhyme and puts them to a melody in his head, and then builds off of that.
Dawes participates in Jazz Band at Urban, which has significantly improved his piano playing skills but has little connection to his songwriting work. However, he noted that “it’s good experience– playing jazz– because it helps you write other types of music. Jazz encompasses a lot of different forms of music.” He hasn’t done any sort of original music at Urban yet, but hopes to in the future by taking Music Production next year. He’s currently in the Music Theory class, which he says is really difficult. “It’s like learning a language- it’s hard, but eventually it will get easier,” he said.
When asked which of his songs is his favorite, he said “it’s interesting because whenever I’m writing a song, it’s my favorite song. I really like Just 17, but I always know there are so many things I could have done better on that song.” He was surprised by how successful Just 17 became among his peers and said it feels good sometimes to have other people play it but it can also be hard or awkward to have to listen to himself so much. “But it’s definitely nice, it shows me at least that some people find it entertaining in some shape or form.”
In the future, Dawes hopes to do something relating to songwriting or music production for a living. “It’s definitely daunting, it’s a hard career to get into, but I also feel passionate about it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where it’s like work, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like work while you’re doing it. Why not do that for the rest of your life?”