Sweet Briar ‘Explore’ series for high school girls adds creative writing, music

BLUR student 2016
A high school student finds a quiet place for writing in front of Sweet Briar’s Mary Helen Cochran Library during BLUR 2016.

High school girls interested in creative writing or music can now explore these subjects during hands-on weekend camps at Sweet Briar College. Explore Creative Writing and Explore Music will take place Friday, Nov. 11, through Saturday, Nov. 12, on Sweet Briar’s campus.

As one of just two women’s colleges in the U.S. with an ABET-accredited engineering degree, Sweet Briar has been offering Explore Engineering summer and fall weekends — and a weeklong summer course — for nearly a decade. In recent years, the College has added environmental science, computer science, chemistry and, most recently, archaeology to the mix.

Music and creative writing are long overdue additions to the Explore series, says Julia Jackson Nichols Professor of English John Gregory Brown, who directs the College’s creative writing program.

“We’re delighted to join the Explore family,” Brown says. “The arts have always been a vibrant community at Sweet Briar, and we’re eager to give high school girls interested in creative writing and music the chance to discover what it’s like to pursue those interests in a college setting.”

While Sweet Briar’s annual Blue Ridge Summer Institute for Young Artists offers high schoolers a chance to immerse themselves in their craft during the summer, this is the first time the College is holding weekend events for artists during the school year, notes Associate Professor of Music Jeff Jones, who directs Explore Music.

Briana McCall in the music studio
Briana McCall ’17 works on her senior project, a music album, in Sweet Briar’s Sound Art Production and Analysis Studio with assistant professor of music and composer Josh Harris.

“BLUR is a great summer program, but the weekend Explore events will make it possible for us to work with promising high schoolers during the academic year, too,” Jones says. “This will give interested students and their families more options and opportunities to explore the arts at Sweet Briar.”

And just as BLUR participants have done in the past, both Explore Music and Explore Creative Writing students will work closely with one of Sweet Briar’s most valuable neighbors: the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an international artists’ retreat located just across U.S. 29. After a joint dinner, writers and musicians will kick off the weekend with a tour of the VCCA at 6:30 Friday, Nov. 11, followed by performances, readings and a Q&A about the life of the artist to “get those creative juices flowing,” according to the schedule.

On Saturday, musicians will “explore and refine” their composition and performance skills in sound design and steelpan masterclasses taught by Sweet Briar professors. Sweet Briar’s brand-new digital music studio will allow participants to try out the latest technology and concepts in sound design. In the “panyard,” they will explore steelpan music with members of Skiffle USA, the only collegiate steelpan ensemble in the U.S. to have a fraternal relationship with one of Trinidad’s biggest and best steel orchestras.

Skiffle USA performs at Sweet Briar
Brea Marshall ’17 (center) performs with Skiffle USA and Trinidad’s Skiffle Steel Orchestra on campus in spring 2017.

They will also have an opportunity to mingle with the writers on campus and to “consider the ways in which words and music are natural partners.” From 4 to 5 p.m., Explore Music participants will get together to share what they have worked on.

“One of the exciting features of the arts at Sweet Briar is our interdisciplinarity,” says Jones, who directs Skiffle USA. “Musicians, writers, actors, poets, playwrights, dancers, painters — we all work together very closely. It has been a tremendous benefit for our Sweet Briar student-artists, and I’m really looking forward to teaming up with the creative writing program to share something of this experience with Explore participants.”

Writers will spend their Saturday working on imaginative reading and writing prompts with Sweet Briar faculty and instructors from the University of Virginia’s Young Writers Workshop, which takes place on campus each summer. “How do short story writers create vivid pictures on the page?” might be one of the questions students will try to answer, according to the program website. “Why is a concrete image so powerful, and how — exactly — does a metaphor work?” could be another, or “Where does an essayist find the thread of her narrative?”

BLUR students during a writing class in 2017
BLUR students during a writing workshop in 2017

Working in groups, Explore Creative Writing participants will encounter “engaging writing prompts and examples of dynamite writing [that] will inspire [them] long after [they] leave campus.” Groups will reassemble for a reading from 4 to 5 p.m. to share their works.

“One of the most valuable experiences for any artist is to have access to an enthusiastic audience,” Brown said. “That’s why both creating and sharing work are key ingredients in the schedule we’ve put together.”

The cost for each weekend is $90 and includes room and board, snacks and supplies. Participants are encouraged to register by Oct. 30 for highest priority, as space is limited to 30 students each. Only fully paid registrations reserve a student’s seat; unpaid registrations are placed on a waiting list until payment is received.

For more information about Explore Music, email Jones at jjones@sbc.edu or call 434-381-6121. To register, click here. For more information about Explore Creative Writing, email program director and Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence Carrie Brown at cbrown@sbc.edu or call 434-381-6575. To register, click here.

Explore weekends at Sweet Briar College let high school sophomores, juniors and seniors investigate different fields of study in a small-class setting. Working in teams with Sweet Briar faculty and undergraduate students, high-schoolers work on creative and fun projects. No prior experience or knowledge is required. Outside of class, they stay in a residence hall with Sweet Briar student mentors and get a taste of life as a college student. To learn more, visit sbc.edu/explore.

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