November 25, 2012

Songwriting students get an Eagle

New York University hires Glenn Frey, one of the most famous tunesmiths, to help teach the craft.

By LOU FERRARA / The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Forty years after Glenn Frey began crafting some of the most memorable rock songs ever, The Eagles musician and singer finds himself in a new role – college professor.

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The Eagles, from left, Timothy B. Schmit, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Joe Walsh perform earlier this month with NYU students at the Beacon Theater.

The Associated Press

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Students A.J. Smith, Tiger Darrow and Peter Wise open the show.

For the past few months, Frey has been helping to teach a songwriting class at New York University's Steinhardt Department of Music. The semester culminated earlier this month with a benefit concert by The Eagles at the Beacon Theatre, where the opening act was three of the class' students performing their original songs.

"Their enthusiasm is contagious," Frey said in an interview. He said that working with the students has energized him: "It'll be interesting to see where my next batch of songs comes from."

The concert was one of a handful of Eagles shows this year – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members next play Las Vegas on Dec. 30. They played an abbreviated, tight set at the Beacon, just an hour long, working seamlessly through classics such as "The Long Run," "Lyin' Eyes" and "Witchy Woman."

Frey said during the interview there are no firm plans for The Eagles to record together or do a full tour, but all of that may be in the works. He said he expects the band, including fellow members Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and Don Henley, to gather in the coming days to determine the next steps. A documentary about the band, Frey said, is slated to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next year.

"We're going to set that time aside to talk about how we think 2013 is going to unfold for us," said Frey, 64, who released a solo album of standards earlier this year.

During the concert, which raised more than $1 million for scholarships, Henley noted the band's recent 40th anniversary. "Hopefully, we've got a few good years left," he told the Beacon crowd.

The Eagles' 11-song set also included "In The City" from the 1970s New York gang film "The Warriors," "I Can't Tell You Why" and two songs with the NYU symphony orchestra, "Take It to the Limit" and "Desperado." Walsh ripped guitar solos known as well as many of The Eagles' lyrics while all of the members continued, 40 years on, to hit the high notes during their trademark harmonies.

Frey, who has a daughter at NYU, said he was drawn to teaching the songwriting class after attending the Country Music Awards a few years ago and hearing a series of poorly written songs. A mutual friend connected him to Phil Galdston, a Grammy-nominated songwriter and Steinhardt's first faculty songwriter-in-residence.

Sixteen students have been in this semester's class, which wraps up with intensive recording sessions for the students – with Galdston and Frey as the producers.

Galdston said it was Frey's idea that a few of the students perform as the opening act. Using a violin, a piano, a cello and a guitar, the three students worked through three songs that received a warm reception from the audience.

The students and the teachers said the goal of the class was not to look for the next big hit, but instead how to tell stories through music and end up with great songs. Weekly assignments included writing a song with no chorus or with a limited number of chords, then the teachers and the students worked on the songs in their next classes.

Tiger Darrow, a sophomore from Dallas studying music composition, said Frey helped her focus on the idea of telling a big story into a small package – a song. She said she and her colleagues weren't intimidated working with Frey, although she got a bit nervous when she realized the details of his legendary life.

Frey explained how songwriting classes weren't available when he was trying to make it as a musician, and he instead worked on his craft with masters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Seger. "We just said, 'I wonder if they'd like this,"' Frey recalled of songwriting with those musicians.

A.J. Smith, a senior studying music composition from Washington, D.C., said Frey helped focus the students on the songwriting process and the idea that all parts of their songs "should be something someone can feel and appreciate."

He also said Frey noted that The Eagles even tried to make their guitar solos "sing-able" – thus the reason almost everyone knows the final minutes of the song "Hotel California," a surefire highlight of the Beacon show.

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