Robin Gottlieb

Berkshire was pleased to have the very creative and talented songwriters Izzy Maher ’18 and Lydia Wu Davis ’21 back on campus during Pro Vita week to help teach “Appreciation for Songwriting.” Dr. Tasia Wu also helped lead the class, which was designed for students to gain insights into the art of songwriting and its transformative power as a means of expression and societal reflection.

Maher, who lives in Brooklyn, NY, divides her time between songwriting, doing live performances, auditioning, and working a few part-time jobs for extra income. She attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she received a B.A. in theater in 2022. Her album, “Here’s to Hoping,” was released in 2023, and she has three new singles coming out this spring.

Lydia Wu Davis '21 and Izzy Maher '18 came back to campus to teach a Pro Vita class alongside Dr. Tasia Wu this winter. 

Wu Davis currently attends Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where she is majoring in songwriting and minoring in music business. After college, she would like to pursue a career in songwriting or music production. Her album “Solitude” was released in 2021.

Please read the below Q & A as Maher and Wu Davis chat about careers in songwriting and teaching this creative class.

How would you categorize your own music style and what are your current influences?

Maher: I hate to categorize my own music, but when I am often asked what kind of music I write, I usually say, “indie pop” or “bedroom pop.” That said, I listen to and am influenced by many different genres of music. Right now, my favorite artist is Chappell Roan. Her genre is basically club music. Her production and writing are unbelievable.

Wu Davis: I have been working on many different genres of music, which is confusing because I struggle with which songs to keep for myself and which to possibly give to other artists, but by creating different types of music, I am becoming more aware of what I am best at. Also, I am currently listening to a lot of Bruno Mars. I think he is a genius. He does everything from slow ballads to upbeat songs. He does not frame himself.

Lydia, your album “Solitude” was released in 2021, and Izzy, your album “Here’s to Hoping” was released in 2023. What was the inspiration for those albums? 

Maher: A lot of the songs on my album I wrote during my senior year in college, which was personally a very hard year for me. Writing music during that time helped me understand my emotions and encouraged me to be hopeful. That’s why I named the album “Here’s to Hoping.

Wu Davis: I wrote many of the songs on “Solitude” during my independent study class while at Berkshire. I noticed a couple of my songs revolved around being alone, so I continued that theme. I also tried to include similar production styles to carry over the theme.

Wu Davis '21 and Maher '18 teaching their Pro Vita class, Appreciation for Songwriting.

What is your process in creating a song? Do you use any instruments while you write?

Maher: I have beginner skills in both guitar and piano, but I usually write the lyrics and melody in my head. I often record the melodies on my phone or use GarageBand on my computer and just pluck out the instrumentation.

Wu Davis: I write a lot on the piano, but sometimes I will use a guitar or a ukulele. The piano is especially helpful if I am producing the song: I just hook up the keyboard to my computer, and I can use the piano to create different sounds.

How does it feel to be back on campus and teaching a Pro Vita class?

Maher: The long-term goal of the class is to get everyone started in writing songs. One of the coolest parts is watching the students tune in to what we’re asking of them. Prior to the class, many of them had not really listened to lyrics when playing a song. They are now learning to listen to music in a different way. On Day One, we played all kinds of music and talked about it. On Day Two, Lydia and I played our own music for them. During the first few days of the class, we also gave students the vocabulary and tools to think about music, and then we followed up with a workshop on how to start a song. I am excited to see the students' songs by the end of the week. 

Wu Davis: It’s been a lot of fun to teach the class. I like the fact that we share lots of music. I also think it’s good having the students think outside of what they usually think when listening to music. We have been asking them questions they would not ask themselves and challenging them about how they listen to music. I also saw how some of our students were hesitant to interact at the beginning of the week but have opened up as the class has progressed. It’s awesome to see this happening.

Are there any specific college classes that have been especially helpful?

Maher: I was a theater major. Theater and music were very separate in my brain until I took a playwriting class. Playwriting was a huge turning point for me. It opened my mind to songwriting because they are both about storytelling, and you can make it into whatever you want.

Wu Davis: Even prior to college, I had an easier time creating melodies than I did lyrics. After taking a lyrics class, I was able to find different techniques and tools to use and that improved my writing and inspired me to push myself a bit more. Now when writing lyrics, I often ask myself, “Is there a better way to write this?”

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in a career in songwriting?

Maher: Don’t write for anyone else but yourself. Have it come from the heart because that is what will make your music genuine.

Wu Davis: Write as often as possible and realize that sometimes you must create bad music in order to create good music. Don’t let anything set you back, just keep writing.