In honor of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts’ 50th Anniversary, the university selected visionary producer, songwriter, and recording artist Pharrell Williams as this year’s artist-in-residence. Spearheaded by Professors Jason King and Bob Power, Williams took part in a masterclass earlier in March for undergraduate students in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and high school students enrolled in the department’s Future Music Moguls program.
“The idea behind the masterclass was to have Pharrell work directly with our students” and “give them ideas about how to shape the music they’re making,” said King. “It’s our mission to train students as creative entrepreneurs, and few artists have married the art and business of recorded music as successfully as Pharrell.”
Power, an accomplished engineer, record producer, and songwriter, whose credits include work with A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Me’Shell N’degéocello, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, and India Arie, to mention a few, moderated the conversation between the two longtime friends and colleagues.
Following the discourse about the nature of Williams’ creative process, Powers provided invaluable teaching moments to four of his student artists by granting them the opportunity to have their music reviewed and critiqued by the music and culture icon. Pop duo Cafuné (comprised of Noah Yoo and Sedona Schat), alternative soul singer/rapper Saba Jenga, and folk singer Maggie Rogers, each got to play a song for Williams and hear his thoughts about their musical work.
Impressed by the students overall talent, Williams did offer some technical feedback he thought would enhance the quality of the recordings. In his assessment of Cafuné, Williams favored parts of the composition proclaiming, “the snare on the bridge matches perfectly.” However, he did note that the band should “try stacking that lead vocal on the chorus four times” and believed that the guitar in the track “can come up a little bit more.” When listening to Jenga’s song, Williams thought that “the first verse is super clear and snags you” but he recommended that Jenga “edit the second verse” and “think about harmonies on the chorus.”
Rogers, a rurally raised banjo player who discovered the liberating nature of dance music while studying abroad in France, was the last artist Williams reviewed. With a new musical dimension added to Rogers’ creative arsenal, Williams found himself intrigued by the sound he heard and commended the singer for the musical fusion of dance and folk, praising her for “doing your own thing.”
Williams’ kudos to Rogers for taking an unorthodox approach in her art prompted him to address the collective group of students. “You have to be willing to seek. You have to be willing to be real frank in your music and frank in your choices,” stated Williams. “You have to be willing to use elements that are not necessarily popular. You have to be willing to melodically sing things that are not necessarily popular. You have to be willing to play music or have music in your songs that doesn’t sound popular.”
In support of his yearlong residency at NYU, Williams and his wife Helen will award a scholarship to an exemplary high school student of outstanding artistic merit that suffers from financial hardship to attend the Clive Davis Institute in July via his non profit dedicated to helping mold the life experiences of underserved youth.
“I am, both personally and through From One Hand to AnOTHER, committed to bringing kids experiences that ignite their passions, challenge their minds, and provide them with opportunities to learn and be creative,” said Williams. “I’m confident they’ll receive that experience through the Summer High School Program at the Clive Davis Institute.”