Students gathered in Goodrich Hall to view displays of Winter Study accomplishment on Feb. 5; the event, “Winter Study on Parade,” was organized by Barbara Casey, associate registrar of the College. However, despite the distractions of quilts, sketches, hand-made masks and other projects, all eyes were focused on stage, where Molly Venter ’02 gave a concert as the culmination of her Winter Study project. During the month of January, Venter focused on songwriting and performing at various off-campus venues, including a concert at Yale and open-mic nights in New York.
Ethan Rutherford ’02 opened for Venter and warmed up the crowd with three original songs. Rutherford and Venter both took Bernice Lewis’s songwriting course in Jan. 2000 and since have often performed together, making an impressive folk-singing team.
“It was a privilege, as usual, to open for Molly,” Rutherford commented. Before handing the stage over, Rutherford and Venter sang two duets: “Concrete and Barbed Wire” by Lucinda Williams and “Jerusalem” by Dan Bern.
Venter sang both original songs and covers during her show at Goodrich. “It’s harder to sing for your peers than for strangers sometimes, just in terms of being comfortable on stage,” Venter explained. “But at the same time, once I’ve warmed up with a few songs, I love seeing everyone I know in the audience. It can be hard talking on stage here too, because everyone knows my personality, so I feel weird acting at all. That’s why I love playing with Ethan so much, because he’s really comfortable and funny on stage and gets the crowd going.”
Despite any claims of nervousness, however, Venter has a tendency to captivate her audience â€“ one that wouldn’t let her leave the stage without an encore on Tuesday. Her original songs and her voice are honest and passionate. She sings from her own experience, about a friend, a boyfriend or even a homeless man she talked to at an open mic in San Francisco, CA.
Crista Petrelli ’05 said, “I think what I loved the most about Molly’s performance is that her songs are so real. She’s never trying to be someone she isn’t and the honesty in that allows people to relate to what she’s singing about. I just always feel like I know where she’s coming from. She’s amazing.”
Heather Black ’02 commented after the show, “I always love listening to Molly sing. We’ve been friends for four years, so I’ve watched her work hard writing lyrics and practicing chords. When she performs, her voice and humble manner set such a relaxed mood, and I think everyone is able to relate to the thoughtful sentiments in her lyrics.”
Despite the immediacy of the emotion in Venter’s songs, she explained that the songwriting process can be frustrating.
“I always have a lot of melodies going at the same time, fragments of songs I’m working on,” she said. “It’s really a matter of finding the time to work through a song. Sometimes they sort of burst out, but sometimes you can work all day and not get anything.”
Venter’s original songs have been influenced by musicians such as Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple and Ben Harper. The influence of folk singers on Venter was apparent, especially in her choice of covers by artists like Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin and The Nields.
After graduating this spring, Venter plans to actively pursue a singing career. “I’m going to pick a city and try to go sing,” she says. As captain of both field hockey and women’s lacrosse, Venter is looking into coaching part-time but keeping her focus on music: “I’d love to be in a place where I can develop my guitar skill and really put a lot more time into writing.”
Hearing Venter sing, it’s not hard to imagine that she’ll find success after Williams. As Ethan Rutherford noted, “You don’t hear many voices like that.” She has recorded a CD of twelve original songs.
Finding a community of songwriters after college is important for her. “Williams is a really supportive place, especially if you go out and try to perform and get the word out,” she said. “Next year, I hope to be in a place where I can perform in small venues and meet other people doing the same thing, to get critique and have support.”