Gatlin offers insight on creative process

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Feb. 9—University of Texas Permian Basin students are getting a chance to learn songwriting from one of the masters, Larry Gatlin.

Gatlin, part of the famed Gatlin Brothers, is a country and Southern gospel singer-songwriter who has penned hits such as "All the Gold in California" and "Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer to You)," is teaching the eight-week hybrid course titled "Of Borders, Rivers and Time: A Journey into Creativity."

He said he's proven the old adage you can't go home again wrong.

"I'm thankful to Dr. Woodley and all of the wonderful professors there at UTPB who have welcomed me with open arms. They've been unbelievably helpful in putting together the ... lesson plan," Gatlin said in a phone interview.

He added that he wants to impart to the students that wherever you grow up, the music can take you around the world and back again.

"Odessa, Texas, is my hometown. Nashville, Tenn., is a wonderful home away from home, but it is good to be back so I'm grateful for the opportunity," Gatlin said.

He added that he feels most of what he's doing at UTPB is acting as a cheerleader for the students.

Class is Monday night in person and online. He and his wife, Janis, fly in on Sunday.

Gatlin credits his incredible teachers at Sam Houston Elementary, what was Hood Junior High (now Wilson & Young Middle School) and Odessa High School with his writing prowess.

He had a chance decades ago to teach a master class at University of Texas at Austin. He and Janis lived in Austin at the time.

Gatlin said he was asked to talk to the students about show business, what it was like, how you get into singing and those kinds of topics.

From there, he said, it kind of morphed into a class about songwriting.

Clark Moreland, lecturer of English and director of the Heimmermann Center for Engaged Teaching, said he helped get the class off the ground.

"Larry came to us last fall, and that was through the President ... working with other leaders in the institution. We were just trying to figure out how to make this course work and we met in here ... and he started to talk about this song he had called 'Of Borders, Rivers and Time.' He actually sang it for us and that ended up becoming the title of the course," Moreland said.

They went through a lot of possibilities of what the course would be, but it ended up being a course in creativity. "It's a junior level music elective course, so about half of the students in the classroom are music majors. The other half are from a variety of different fields — English, history, psychology, business. There's a good diverse group of folks in here. As I mentioned, we have several young people who have never heard of Larry Gatlin before, and you got some folks who love him and have always enjoyed his music," Moreland said.

In the previous class, Gatlin taught students about harmony and singing in parts. The Feb. 6 class was on songwriting and included a mock feedback session.

It's about finding out what creative process works for students.

Moreland added that this is chance for Gatlin to offer feedback and interact with people on the individual and small group level and do it at home.

"That's a big thing for him. He's coming home and doing it for Odessa in Odessa," he added.

At the end of the Feb. 6 class, Moreland said students would get their final assignment and final exam instructions. The course ends March 6.

"We're going to have a larger event where we invite some community members, friends, family, and we're going to give them a chance to perform the creative work that they began working on in this class. It's also a chance for them to talk about what they've learned in the class and a chance for Larry and us to show off how awesome our students are. He wants to encourage and cheerlead them and to tell them that oh sure, you know, he's great. He's a gifted songwriter, but ultimately, what he really wants to do here is inspire others to be creative," Moreland said.

It's hoped there will be more chances to bring Gatlin back, but he said it's been a "blast."

He added that Gatlin is a heck of a teacher. He asks all the right questions that teachers ask and "he's got the heart for it."

Luke Christensen, a junior in the class, is majoring in psychology with a music minor.

He said his mother knew who Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers are.

"I have always kind of had a creative spirit. I started out my journey as a music major; not here, I was actually in George Mason right outside of D.C. My dad has lived here for the last 15 years. I moved out here to finish my education. But I love songwriting and I love producing music. I would say that my main instrument is the computer. I do a lot of production work on the side," Christensen said.

"This is an awesome opportunity to enrich that process. I couldn't imagine not taking advantage of it when it's right in front of me," he added.