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Songs of the Wildcats

Weber State University
Students work in the new Ray L. Kimber Music & Sibyl Recording Studio in the Val A. Browning Center for the Performing Arts on March 18, 2022.

The concept of a love song about Hot Wheels might seem unlikely, but it was exactly the type of song student Catie Wirz wanted to write.

Wirz said what started as a challenge among classmates to write a song about the toy cars turned into a surprisingly cathartic writing experience.

“It was actually inspired by someone I dated who loves Hot Wheels, and it didn’t work out, and I wanted to write an angsty Hot Wheels song,” Wirz said.

This is exactly the type of creativity encouraged by instructor William Pollett in English 2750, a special topics course revolving around the art of songwriting.

Students met every Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30-11:45 a.m. during the spring 2024 semester to learn how to write in different genres including rap, folk, pop and country.

Pollett said this course has been around since 2012. In those 12 years, Pollett said past students of the class include David Owen, who founded and owns Imagine Music on Harrison Boulevard, as well as Pete Sands, whose music was used in the television show “Yellowstone.”

“We’ve had so many stellar graduates since then that it’s really just kind of held its own place,” Pollett said.

Pollett said the class sometimes feels hidden in the university because it’s in the English department rather than the music program.

A lot of students find the class through flyers Pollett posts around campus and in the community. For example, another student, Arlene Szalay, found out about the class through a flyer at Grounds for Coffee on 30th Street and Harrison. Szalay, 72, is taking the class as a lifelong learning student, meaning she can attend it without earning credit for a reduced price.

Instruments are not required to take the class, and Pollett said any major or level of experience is welcome to enroll.

“The best students, it seems they come from every walk of life,” Pollett said. “They can come from the nursing program, they can come from the business department, and the creative writers who are in the English department really shine because they’re studying Dylan and Shakespeare and it’s just amazing. It really is super fun.”

After writing one song each week, the class culminates in a songwriting festival at the end of each semester. At this festival, each student performs a couple of the songs they’ve written throughout the semester. Community members and alumni are invited to attend and perform as well. This year, the festival took place on April 9 from 6-9 p.m. in Elizabeth Hall room 229.

Pollett said he likes giving students a space where they can nurture their love for music and express themselves.

“I think Will is terrific at making everybody feel comfortable and included. And he really gets even the shyest students to speak up,” Szalay said.

Despite performing in choirs and musical theater throughout her life, Dayna Shirley, another student, said she was nervous yet excited to share her songs at the festival.

“I’m definitely nervous to share such an intimate part of myself because a lot of my songs are my poems and my poems are often intimate,” Shirley said. “So it’s scary, but I’m excited.”

Music is a huge part of Pollett’s life, as he has been in over 100 bands. His current band, The Snarlin’ Yarns, includes other Weber State University faculty like Abraham Smith and Ryan Ridge, both from the English department.

Pollett said these bands have added many experiences to his life, so creating a safe space to let the community interact over music is special to him.

This course will be offered again in fall 2024 on Tuesday evenings from 5:30-8:10 p.m.

Pollett encourages any interested students to try it out, regardless of previous songwriting experience or music knowledge.

“Get writing some music and making the world a better place because the world needs it,” Pollett said.

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Megan Swann
Megan Swann, Culture Editor

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