Music has always been an important part of Abby Pipkin’s life. She loves to sing (she performed a Cat Stevens tune at this year’s Baccalaureate) and was a member of Waynflete’s chorus and acoustic group. When the time came to choose a senior project topic, Abby opted to immerse herself in the songwriting process—and also learn how to play an instrument to accompany herself. Director of Alumni Relations Jenny Alfrey ’91 put out the word to alums: could anyone help with songwriting or guitar lessons?
Chris Moore ’80 answered the call. Chris is the director of music education at 317 Main, a Yarmouth-based music school that encourages creative expression, personal growth, and community connection through music. Chris paired up with colleague Sorcha Cribben-Merrill to help Abby with her project—he would focus on songwriting while Sorcha would work with Abby on guitar-playing technique. “I knew that Sorcha would understand what Abby wanted to do,” says Chris. “I also knew it would be great for us to confer with each other during the process.”
Abby and Sorcha met twice a week for guitar lessons, with Abby practicing every night. Her finger pads had to quickly adjust to the punishing routine. “Having rowed in my sophomore year, I knew that it would be easier after the calluses had developed,” Abby recalls.
Chris focused on the pitfalls that songwriters commonly experience. “New writers often want to write everything down at once without necessarily revealing their vulnerabilities,” Chris says. “It can be easier to appropriate something that we like rather than trust our own voice. Abby quickly learned to trust that her inner voice was enough.” Chris encouraged Abby to keep a record of all her ideas, as songwriters will often find useful material when they look back at discarded concepts with fresh eyes. Chris also reminded Abby that songs are meant to be heard. “When you’re in the writing process, it’s important to hear what it sounds like,” he says.
“Going in, I thought it would be easy to write a song, and that I’d be able to write several,” Abby recalls. “The process is actually a lot more involved than I thought.” Writing lyrics and melodies—while also developing the coordination and muscle memory required to sing and play at the same time—is a complex task.
As the presentation date approached, Abby and Chris were working intensively on one song. “Abby had taken on a complex composition, particularly for a beginner,” Chris says. “But she did great. My role was to help her be more efficient in the process while not squashing her creativity.” Abby had an 8:30 a.m. presentation slot on senior project day. With Chris and Sorcha in attendance—and in spite of technology problems with an overhead projector—the presentation went well and Abby’s composition was well-received by the crowd. “Chris and Sorcha guided me to success,” she says. “They were so generous with their time.”
Almost 40 years later, Chris still has fond memories of Waynflete and was thrilled to have the opportunity to reconnect. “It was great to see somebody going through the same experience that I went through years ago,” he says. “Those memories definitely came flooding back.”
Abby is headed off to study liberal arts at Wesleyan in the fall, where she will also be a three-season runner (Abby won the 800-meter Class C state championship in 2017 and was The Forecaster’s Female Athlete of the Year for spring 2017). She intends to keep playing and creating, and hopes to join a musical group in the fall.
“Even though our time together was short, Abby picked up an incredible amount of information,” says Chris. “The hardest thing of all, which Abby excelled at, was just being vulnerable with two people with whom she was developing a new working relationship. She was fearless. That will take her far, no matter what she ends up doing.”