It was “American Idol” with a folk music twist in the Foster Auditorium in the Paterno Library last night for the “Stand Up & Sing Masterclass” event.
The event, presented by the Department of Arts and Sciences within the College of Liberal Arts, was held as a part of the Woody@100 Celebration held on campus and was led by Noel “Paul” Stookey of folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
Stookey and his daughter, Liz Stookey Sunde founded Music2Life, an organization that “harnesses the power of music for social change through entertainment, education, technology and artist collaboration,” according to its mission statement.
Last month, the organization hosted a contest, which invited the public to submit an original song. The top five contenders performed their songs last night before Stookey himself and a panel of judges, as well as a live audience.
Carolyn Malachi, a Grammy-award winning singer, and Jason McIntyre, a singer/songwriter from State College, joined Stookey, and together they acted as judges for the five finalists.
The winner of the event, Andy Tolins, will perform his song “Quicksilver” during “An Evening of Hard-Hitting Songs,” a program that celebrates Woody Guthrie’s music, held tonight at the State Theatre.
“Stand Up & Sing” did not ignore Guthrie’s musical influence.
“Woody Guthrie wrote songs with a social consciousness,” said Jerry Zolten, coordinator of Woody@100 events at Penn State.
Zolten, an associate professor of communication arts and sciences and American Studies at Penn State Altoona, believed the idea of the evening was to keep Woody’s name out there and alive and said to be conscious of the power of song.
“Songs can be more than entertainment,” he said. “They can change the way you think.”
He credits Guthrie’s musical influence to artists such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
Zolten introduced the evening’s live entertainment with Sunde, who was the executive director of the program.
“How do you make a powerful song of change?” Sunde asked the audience.
Sunde said Music2Life encourages a new generation of songs and songwriters.
“Our goal is to kind of refresh this as an art form,” she said. “Our charge is to ensure that this music lives, ideally, for new generations.”
The way they make Music2Life relevant to today’s generation is through technology, she said. There is a database on the website in which one can search for music by choosing a song, the artist or even the social cause the song is about.
“There is no central hub for musical activism,” she said. “There is no home base for the music, stories, artists or the impact that brings all that together.”
The songs the five finalists performed involved social messages or issues they cared about and received immediate feedback from Stookey, Malachi and McIntyre, all of whom performed a song before the finalists began their performances.
Denny and Sue Shaffner traveled from Clearfield County to enjoy the music of the performers.
Sue had submitted a song of her own to the contest with Denny accompanying on the guitar. Though she did not make it through, she said it was fun to write and they just wanted to come and listen.
Avid Peter, Paul and Mary fans, Denny said it didn’t hurt that Stookey was there.
“Paul Stookey has heard me sing and heard him play guitar. That’s not something everyone can say,” she said.
The celebration of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday continues with a free exhibit in the Borland Gallery including pictures of Guthrie and letters going on now. On Saturday, a conference will be held at the Nittany Lion Inn as well as “My Name is New York City,” an event held by Guthrie’s daughter Nora in the Osmond Auditorium, Zolten said.