A Touch of Nashville

  Professor Lauren Passarelli takes her turn during a recent Berklee-in-the-round session.
  Michael Spencer



It had all the makings of a Nashville round-robin acoustic session-intimate, supportive, and creative-but on a smaller scale and about 1,000 miles north. On a recent evening, Professor of Guitar Lauren Passarelli and three student singer/songwriters sat in a circle at Berklee's Café 939 and took turns sharing their music, a blend of styles featuring original tales of heartbreak, love, and wanderlust.

Songwriting Assistant Professor Stan Swiniarski-who's put in his time on the Nashville circuit-hatched the idea and presented it to Café 939 event manager Jacqueline Indrisano. She gave him a monthly slot, and the Berklee-in-the-Round (BITR) Tuesday concert series was born. Open to students, alumni, and faculty, the free sessions also feature occasional special guests whose identity is revealed only on the night of the show.

"Nashville is a songwriters' town, and everybody's a songwriter," Swiniarski says. "I really missed the Nashville singer/songwriter community and clubs like the Listening Room and Bluebird Café where people could sit in the round and perform. It's really all about their songs."

During this session-the third installment of BITR Tuesdays-the supportive vibe was palpable, with the audience clearly appreciative of the raw talent on stage. There was a hush over the room-except between songs. "You could hear a pin drop," Swiniarski says. "Everyone's just listening. I think the performers love that; it's kind of magical for them."

Jaqui Stewart, a first-semester voice principal from Bainbridge Island, WA, liked the intimacy of the experience. "I loved the setup-all of us songwriters of different styles and backgrounds singing to each other [in a setting] much like a living-room environment," she says. "Performing in an intimate setting like this helps songwriters be more expressive when they're singing and playing."

Along with the performance aspect, BITR provides a forum for artists to network with one another and with audience members. "Nashville has a really great environment for songwriters to come share their work and also network," Swiniarski says. "It's a place where I met cowriters, and I really wanted to create that same kind of community here."

Plus, it gives newer performers like Stewart the chance to prepare for a bigger stage. "I think doing this show really prepared me for bigger songwriter shows similar to those in Nashville," she says. "Being able to play and organize with older students and faculty members gives you a really professional and fun experience. As a first-semester student, I was really honored to be selected to play."

Audience member Habitat Tinubu, a fourth-semester songwriting major says, "I know there are a lot of acoustic artists here at Berklee. This is a great way to showcase them."