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Student and teacher perform, collaborate on music

The Oracle

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by: Megan Cliff

photos courtesy of Peter Froud

Music is a creative outlet that brings people of all backgrounds, circumstances and ages together. For math teacher Dave Deggeller and senior Ava Hawkinson, their passion for singing and songwriting brought them together to collaboratively write songs and create music. They were able to showcase their music when they performed at the Youth Community Service Open Mic Night.

Hawkinson and Deggeller realized that they had songwriting in common last year while Hawkinson was a student of his Introductory Analysis and Calculus class, and they began switching lyrics back and forth. “We just started merging music,” Hawkinson said.

According to Hawkinson and Deggeller, their songwriting is compatible because they both enjoy creative writing, which they like to incorporate into their music. “I’ve been doing story songs,” Deggeller said. “Sometimes I’ll write a love song, which are difficult, but it’s fun taking a challenge.” Hawkinson says she finds a lot of her inspiration in her everyday life. “I like to take normal things that happen everyday and make it into something worth remembering,” she said.

“Deggs and I compose on a daily basis, so we can tell one another when we don’t like something. This honesty really enables us to compose outside of our comfort zones.””

Deggeller, a self-taught guitarist and former Palo Alto High School choir member, is well-known around campus for his numerous cameos in the staff-student musicals. Deggeller has also been a member of two different rock bands: [email protected] and Secret Primper. [email protected] was formed in 1993 by Deggeller and his fellow college radio DJ at Rice University in Houston. “We all loved weird, noisy and melodic music, so we made a band,” Deggeller said. “I played guitar and sang.”

Although Deggeller found [email protected]’s sound “sort of strange” with “some screaming and hyper time changes,” Deggeller’s new band today, Secret Primper, is smoother, with more of a pop and indie feel. “We barely play live, just because it’s mostly just me,” Deggeller said. “I’ve played with other people in the past, drummers, bassists, but otherwise it is whoever I can con into playing with me.” Secret Primper’s most recent collection of tracks is entitled “Trick Knots” and is featured on his website It is a total of 12 songs in which Deggeller sang and played all of the instruments, while six of the tracks include Hawkinson’s vocals.

On the other hand, Hawkinson has been classically trained in piano for 11 years and has been writing music since her elementary school years.In addition to now embarking on her fourth year in the Gunn choir, Hawkinson sang at both her fifth grade and eighth grade graduation ceremonies despite her stage fright. “I still definitely have some nerves after the performance,” Hawkinson said. “But it felt better having Deggs there with support.”

The two songs that Deggeller and Hawkinson performed at Open Mic are entitled “This Backyard” and “Copernicus.” Deggeller, who wrote “Copernicus” describes it as a “break-up, but I’m better off without you” song. “I started with the line ‘Copernicus has set my world in motion’, and then worked backwards to come up with a plot for the song,” Deggeller said.

The second song, “This Backyard,” was primarily written by Hawkinson, who was inspired simply by sitting in her friend’s backyard with her guitar. “It used to be just a pretty guitar song,” she said. “But then I gave it to Deggs and we transformed it into [a] whole new song. He made it a little more punk, [and] a little more Deggeller.”

To prepare for their Open Mic performance, Deggeller and Hawkinson practiced just twice, once during the afternoon and then during a lunch period. The rest of their collaboration process consisted of switching their lyrics and instrumental ideas back and forth.

Though the age difference between Deggeller and Hawkinson could have been a collaborative challenge, they say that the most important ingredient behind their successful collaboration came down to the simple concept of honesty. “A lot of other people that I’ve composed music with have a tendency of being sensitive, because writing music can sometimes be very personal,” Hawkinson said. “But Deggz and I compose on a daily basis, so we can tell one another when we don’t like something. This honesty really enables us to compose outside of our comfort zones.”

Their combined vocal and writing abilities, musical experience and honest collaboration skills created a performance that both were pleased with. “I fudged the piano part though,” Hawkinson said. “But I think Deggeller did perfectly.”

Audience member responses to the student-teacher performance were positive as well. “Their voices sound very good together,” senior Shira Burns said. “It was a really energetic performance from Deggeller, and they had good chemistry on stage.”

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Student and teacher perform, collaborate on music