As the Head-Royce Class of 2019 settles into their new towns and cities—from Ithaca to Boston, St. Louis to Houston—they’ll each carry with them memories from home. Many of these young alumni will listen to their favorite albums when they want to reminisce. Research “suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults,” writes Mark Joseph Stern for Slate. “Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.”
MacLaine Bamberger ’19 understands the intricate link between nostalgia and music—and, as a songwriter, she has transformed this transitional period of her life into art. “A lot [of my music] is about what I’m going to miss,” MacLaine says, “and the idea of leaving in general.”
MacLaine’s first album Purple Blues—written as her senior project here at Head-Royce—is wistful and wondering, full of the anticipation and fear of moving cross-country. She now attends the University of Richmond in Virginia.
“And what we say will become what we said,” she sings, plaintive. “Who decided to move so far away?”
MacLaine joined the Head-Royce chorus in 6th grade and started guitar lessons that same year. “It was too frustrating for me,” she says. “My fingers hurt too much. I quit.” As a high school sophomore, MacLaine began writing and soon found her way back to guitar. She remembers the year fondly: “In my room, by myself. I didn’t have to worry about messing up.”
Seniors at Head-Royce devote the month of May to a self-designed project. MacLaine knew a senior from 2017 who wrote and recorded a single, so the idea of developing her music was “always on the back of [her] mind.”
More than simply recording her songs, MacLaine hoped to learn the ins and outs of music production: “Producing your own music gives you the power to make what’s fully your own art.” Hers was no small feat, especially because she admits she had “no clue how to record.”
Each Head-Royce senior selects a mentor to guide them through their projects—sometimes cold-calling professionals they hope to work for, often leaning on the vast alumni network. One benefit of attending a K–12 school is access to a surprising range of skills in our Professional Community. MacLaine, luckily, found two such mentors: 6th grade teacher Ian Walters and former Upper School teacher Khalil Sullivan.
“They’re such different musicians,” she says, “and they see the music industry in different ways. Mr. Sullivan worked more on the promotion side—all of the album art, confidence.”
Ian Walters, who makes music under the name Headphone Hair, was touched to hear from MacLaine, whom he describes as “an extremely serious and focused person.” “To have a homeroom kid of years past approach you, now as a wildly capable senior, about a dream they have is an exciting thing on its own,” he says, “but to have that dream relate to something that I also care deeply about...it was truly an honor.”
“It took a long time before we even looked at my songs,” says MacLaine. “Mr. Walters and I had multiple, hour-long lessons about what a song looks like on Garage Band. We talked about the ways of writing songs, adding instruments, and how to record music.”
The School itself became part of MacLaine’s album. “We recorded “Remedy,” in his classroom, during recess for the Lower School, so in the first couple drafts, I used the little kids’ voices in the background all throughout the song. You can still hear a little bit of them.”
From those gleeful, shouting Kindergarteners to the high school senior describing her world, the sounds of Purple Blues meld into a gorgeous record of time passing—at and beyond Head-Royce. Already the music is finding a wide audience: Spotify chose the song for its “Fresh Finds” playlist, which has “650,000 followers and some esteem amongst the music folks,” explains Ian Walters. This comes as no surprise to Ian: "With her attitude and willingness to sit in frustration and work through challenge, there really isn't anything she can't accomplish if she wants to."
As Mark Joseph Stern writes, “Each time we hear the songs we loved, the joy they once brought surges anew.” Take a moment this weekend to listen to Purple Blues on Spotify and then hit play on your old favorite song from high school. Travel back in time and bask in the joy.