Some college instructors invite undergraduates to join them for tea or a beer in the nearest dive so they can continue their in-class discussions of Shakespearean sonnets or interpretations of the Constitution. But one instructor in a course at New York University — MPATC 2090, according to the academic catalog — invited three of his students to open for the rock band the Eagles at a sold-out gala on Thursday.
That instructor was Glenn Frey, who happens to be a founding member of the Eagles, among the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1970s.
It has been 35 years since the Eagles arrived at “Hotel California,” the six-and-a-half-minute hit that Mr. Frey wrote with Don Henley and Don Felder. The band broke up in the 1980s and reunited in the 1990s, and now they are busy being fabulous, to steal a song title from their 2007 album, “Long Road Out of Eden.”
The band has been touring, in places like Dubai and Las Vegas, and Mr. Frey has also been teaching.
In advance of the gala, benefiting the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at N.Y.U., he met with three students from MPATC 2090, a songwriters’ forum and a core seminar in the university’s new songwriting program..
A.J. Smith, a senior majoring in music composition, was ready to shuttle back and forth between his keyboard and his violin. Tiger Darrow, a sophomore who is also majoring in music composition, had tuned her cello. Peter Wise, a senior majoring in jazz performance, had warmed up on his brand-new guitar.
Mr. Frey was explaining what they should expect when stepping onto the stage at the Beacon Theater, where stars like the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top and Rufus Wainwright have appeared.
“A classic place,” said Ronald H. Sadoff, a professor who created the songwriting program and sat in on the session.
The three students sat facing Mr. Frey and the other instructor in the course, Phil Galdston, the university’s first faculty songwriter-in-residence. His chart-topping work has been heard on recordings by performers from Sheryl Crow to Beyonce to Barry Manilow.
Mr. Frey broke the ice. “This is not ‘The Voice,’” he said, referring to the NBC program. “I might have a suggestion, but this is just to enjoy.”
They performed. He listened. When they finished, he was all business.
“On show day, we will do you guys last at sound check,” Mr. Frey said. “Since you guys are going to go on first, we’ll set you up last.”
Then he talked the students through their segment of the show.
“I’ll come out with a hand-held mike, welcome everyone, introduce them, keep it pretty tight. I’ll get out there — ‘You rich people, clap or rattle your jewels.’ ”
Mr. Galdston nodded. “We know that reference,” he said. “John Lennon.” (Lennon’s exact words, at a royal command performance in London in 1963, were, “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”)
Mr. Frey said that Lennon had “said a lot of outrageous things.”
“He also said, ‘Before Elvis, there was nothing,’” Mr. Frey said. “They also asked him to define rock ‘n’ roll, and he said, ‘Chuck Berry.’”
Mr. Galdston turned to Ms. Darrow. “Have you ever listened to Chuck Berry?” he asked.
She said no.
“You have to,” he said.
That led to a discussion about teaching songwriting — and how some instructors approach the assignment by consciously teaching students to write hits.
“We look at it almost the opposite way,” Mr. Galdston said. “We teach, write great songs and they’ll be hits.”
Mr. Frey said that when it came to songwriting, “I didn’t learn any of this until I met Jackson Browne, until I met Joni Mitchell. I kind of wandered blindly into the thing.”
As for teaching songwriting, he said, “I like to do this to demystify. You think every songwriter is 6-foot-4.”
A moment later, Dr. Sadoff said: “Songwriting is hard. It revolves around a personal narrative.”
Mr. Frey took a deep breath and said, “Songwriting is getting big ideas into small places. People either have a knack for that or they don’t.”
James Barron, The New York Times