Williams Brought "Applied Intelligence" to LA
Posted 02/18/2014 08:00AM
As she began her two-day stint as a J. William Mees Visiting Scholar, Dar Williams, an internationally recognized New York singer/songwriter, perhaps best known for her song "The Christians and the Pagans", talked about her beginnings in the business.

Dar Williams in the RMPAC"I was sure this was a big mistake," she confided in the crowd of students seated in the RMPAC for a week-opening morning assembly on February 10. "I had come to Cambridge [Massachusetts] to be a playwright...and sure enough I went to an open mic thing and got a crush on this guy and decided that I would write some more songs and keep going to open mics so maybe I would see him."

Now, after eight albums, two young-adult novels, and tours that have taken her all over the world with musicians such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joan Baez, and Ani DiFranco, Williams said she fell in love with telling stories, particularly with songs.

"I hoped to sell 2,000 copies of my first album," she said of her initial foray into professional music; an album born on a couch in Northampton, Mass. and fueled by romantic heartbreak. "It sold 200,000."

Speaking about his guest and explaining the nature of the Mees Visiting Scholar Program, Head of School Dan Scheibe said the fund brings "applied intelligence" to campus.

"By applied intelligence, I mean useful ways of being smart, which is what each of us is trying to do somehow; turning the learning and education we have into some good in the world. And we have somebody today who will help show how that works," said Mr. Scheibe.

Known also as a social activist, one of William's offstage achievements has been creating a program called “Positive Proximity,” which helps towns to become prosperous and self-reliant. But drilling down to the young artists in the crowd, and their want to effect the world around them, Williams used her own story as an example and spoke to being patient and open-minded.

"For those of you who think, 'I have this artistic impulse and I don't know if I'm allowed to; if this is what I'm supposed to be doing.' You don't really know," said Williams. "You have to put your creative stuff out into the world and see if that's the way that the world wants to hear your stories.

"Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't."

This time it did, and Williams shared her work, not only with the LA students and faculty who attended classes and workshops with Dar during her stay, but also with music fans from throughout the area during a free concert on Monday night.

"We're very lucky to have this," said Mr. Scheibe to his students about the J. William Mees Visiting Scholar program. "It's an amazing gift to a community to be able to do something like this during the year. And over your two, three, or four years you'll see several of these.

"These all sort of build up and become a source of strength, for not only you, but also the school."