Castleman lecture includes Alison Krauss in audience

R.L. Castleman (center), with Alison Krauss to his right and MTSU's Odie Blackmon on his left, surrounded by MTSU songwriting students.

R.L. Castleman (center), with Alison Krauss to his right and MTSU’s Odie Blackmon on his left, surrounded by MTSU songwriting students.

Friday afternoon in the College of Mass Communication is usually a quiet time, with faculty and students wrapping up the week. This may be why it was easy for bluegrass-country superstar Alison Krauss to enter the John Bragg Mass Communication Building unnoticed and take a seat in the back of Comm 101.

Krauss, who has won multiple GRAMMY awards and sold millions of records, was on hand Nov. 7 to listen to and support her friend and fellow recording artist Robert Lee Castleman, who was giving a songwriting lecture to Recording Industry students.

Castleman, a songwriting veteran who has penned multiple hits for Krauss (including The Lucky One, which won a 2002 GRAMMY for Best Country Song), sat in the front of the room facing about 40 students, staff and faculty. While tuning and strumming his acoustic guitar, he passed along words of wisdom to the audience.

“If you’re worried about what someone else thinks of your songs, that’s defeating the purpose,” Castleman said. “Some of the best songs are simple. Remember, you’ve got three minutes to get your point across. How do you not be boring?”

R. L. Castleman

R. L. Castleman

With a solo album under his belt (Crazy as Me was released in 2000 on Rounder Records) and writing credits on Alan Jackson’s album When Somebody Loves You and Chet Atkins’s Sneakin’ Around album, Castleman knows a thing or two about the music business.

“One of the best pieces of [songwriting] advice I ever received was ‘try to avoid being current,’ ” he said. For example, Castleman tries to avoid lyrics that mention words like “cell phone,” “Internet” and even the word “ jeans.”

When asked, one student expressed frustration regarding his aspirations as a songwriter. Castleman easily pinpointed the problem – artists feeling misunderstood. He relied on the encouraging words of Ralph Waldo Emerson to explain his point.

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?” he read. “Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Recording Industry songwriting professor Odie Blackmon made the arrangements for Castelman’s visit, but it was Krauss who convinced the songwriter to pursue a dialogue with young songwriters.

Alison Krauss in the audience.

Alison Krauss in the audience.

“[Castleman] has such an appreciation for beauty,” Krauss said. “He has such an appreciation of things that are created well. I surround myself with people who stretch the way I think. R.L. is so poetic and inspirational because he never stops stretching.”

For more information on R.L. Castleman, click here.




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