Gunter McCourt CAS Students' summer series

Gunter McCourt

EMU Graduate Student, Expected Graduation Winter 2020

Graduate Program: Music Education

Main Instrument: Voice

What inspired you to pursue a master's degree in Music Education?

"I got a Bachelor’s of Music Education in voice and I felt there was more I needed to know about music before I took up teaching and the world of professional music making. I wanted a little more experience conducting choirs and studying classroom psychology before I took on a program of my own. Also, have you heard EMU Choir sing? When I did, I immediately wanted to go to school here.”

Why did you choose EMU?

"Honestly, EMU chose me and I was honored to have an opportunity to go back to school. I felt like I had a good place to land here after I finished my undergraduate degree."

Gunter's passion for music extends well beyond the classroom. Earlier this summer he released an entire album of original music entitled Paradiso.

What inspired you to create this album?

"Relentless changes in my life. I moved here about a year ago from Mississippi and moving so far away for the first time was such a major change. I was looking for job opportunities out of undergrad and wasn’t having any luck. This was right before EMU extended an offer. I lost a family member right before the move. I was in and out of a relationship. I was doubting what I wanted for my future. It was a lot to handle at one time and I needed to get it all down so it would have somewhere to exist outside of my brain.

It wasn’t until the end of writing that I realized Paradiso had a loose theme in all of the music. Essentially, life is about living through struggles instead of trying to prevent them. I kept expecting time to solve all my problems, but that wasn’t a solution. You’ve got to live in the struggles as they come and learn to handle them in a way that helps you grow. For me it was to make something entertaining and beautiful out of the pain."

Have you put out an album before?

"Yes! This is actually album number six for me. I always joke it’s only the third good one. You’ll only find one older one online, I made sure to take the other ones down. Maybe I’ll redo them one day. But for now they’re just a nice thing I have to see how far I’ve come and developed as a musician and writer."

What has the album production process been like for you?

"Paradiso took over a year to write and record. It’s a very homemade record. I recorded the entire thing in a closet with my MacBook and a mic. I wanted to prove to myself that I could create a bonafide pop album without having the network of writers and producers that majors artists have access to. A typical song starts as a set of lyrics in my phone that I carry for a while. I’ll then create a random instrumental or a chord progression on piano, and then improvise a vocal melody with the words I’ve written. Everything kind of starts out separate, and then I mix and match a set of lyrics with chords until something feels like it clicks.

Writing and producing are two different things. I’m confident in my writing abilities because I’ve been doing it since I was in high school. Production is the sector of music making that I had to teach myself about. For every album I learn something new to make my music sound slightly better than the last. It’s expensive to pay someone else to mix and master music, so I’m not afraid to experiment on my own.

As for distributing the music and promoting it, I actually just got a proper agent. It’s a learning curve for both of us. Before this album, I’d just promote on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My agent actually got my music on iTunes and Spotify (and every other platform you can think of) for the first time and that was a really validating feeling. Promotion is difficult. For the 200+ people who see a post about a link to stream the album, I’d be lucky if five people clicked. I think people love their favorite artists, I know I do. It’s hard to expect people to just let you into their personal music libraries just because you’re being vulnerable.

As an unsigned, independent musician it also includes a lot of anticipation. There’s always a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me all the hard work is worth it, people will hear it. It’ll go somewhere. I hope that voice is right someday."

What kind of music will people hear on your album?

"Paradiso is intentionally an album with variety. Everything falls under the ‘alternative pop’ genre, but every song has a different reference to other genres. New State of Love is based around acoustic instruments with a pop structure, catchy chorus, and a background choir. Floods, on the other hand, has a blues inspired chord progression and a choppy bass guitar throughout. The Higher Ground is heavily inspired by my classical training. The intro sounds like a symphony playing a quiet first movement before a beat machine starts playing a heavy, hip-hop/pop inspired beat to push the song forward. There’s truly a little bit of everything in the album. It’s the first time I’ve expanded my musical language to more genres than just standard pop or acoustic songs."

Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

"Adele is my number one. She blends pop, blues, blue-eyed soul, and ballads into cohesive albums that literally bring millions of people to tears. I love her and she’s on the highest pedestal in my mind. I’ve found her music to be very inspirational and poetic.

Florence + the Machine’s actual sound and instrumentation are a landmark for me as a musician. I live on the edge of both the classical world and pop world. I’m somewhere in between them; never fully feeling like I identify with just one of the two. Florence’s sound is this blend of classical instrumentation, nearly every song has a strings section playing or a harp floating somewhere. Yet, their songs are chart topping material, and these charts are dominated by pop, hip-hop, and rap. It’s amazing how they find a middle ground between prophetically poetic music and music that the masses can relate to. It makes me unafraid to blend my classical experiences into my pop-oriented writing style."

How do you see yourself working with music in the future?

"I’m on track to be a teacher. I actually have my teaching license from MS. I hope that I’ll find a way to balance teaching and creating my own stuff. It’s really therapeutic for me to write my own music. Sometimes I don’t know how I feel about something until I write it down. So I hope I don’t let that part go just because it’s not paying the bills."

How do you see yourself evolving professionally, or individually by completing this academic program?

"I definitely think I’ll learn how to approach different classroom situations more efficiently. The theories I’ve learned about education and student development have given me so much more information to work with. It’s amazing the things that young students are capable of in music. I want to be able to show just how successful young music students can be at performing and creating music. As for my independent interest in making music, I’ve heard so much amazing classical music since I’ve been here. It’s inspired some of the sounds I’ve used in my songs."

How has, or will your time at EMU influence your future endeavors?

"I’ve had plenty of life changing experiences since I’ve been here. EMU has been the conduit for me meeting some pretty influential people in my life. EMU attracts some brilliant minds to its campus and they’ve given me so much in my life to think about going forward."

Stream "Paradiso"

Created By
CAS Dean's Office

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