WILLIAMSTOWN — When Williams College seniors Darrias Sime and Colin Brown were asked for their winter study class to help put on a concert to raise funds for music students in Pittsfield, the two were all for it.
The only hiccup? Neither had a lick of musical experience.
Thankfully their other classmates and instructor, local musician and music educator Andy Kelly, could fill in the gaps, leaving the two to shoulder the responsibility of being co-emcees.
"Neither of us play an instrument, but both of us have a big appreciation for music, and if we had a chance when we were younger to play, we definitely would," said Sime, during a break from Thursday night's performance.
The class played an hour-long show in Goodrich Hall for tips and raised $413 for "Play It Again." The initiative, spearheaded by Pittsfield School Committee member Cindy Taylor and committee president Katherine Yon, raises funds and collects new and used musical instruments to give kids who otherwise couldn't afford it the chance to learn and play an instrument. Yon attended the performance with Pittsfield City Council President Peter Marchetti to receive the donation.
Kelly called the program a "win-win" all around. "It's great for their kids and ours," he said.
Winter Study plunges students into mandatory enrichment curriculum. "Whether students choose to take courses from the eclectic Winter Study curriculum, pursue collaborative or independent research, find an internship, or travel, they almost always stretch beyond their comfort zones," reads a display summary from the program webpage.
Kelly, a class of 1980 alumnus, for the past three years has taught a street performance class with a full roster of about 20 students of different majors and levels of musical experience.
This year's course, "New Orleans-Style Jazz and Street Performance," prompted students to study jazz improvisation; look at laws around the world for street performers, aka "buskers," and generally learn how to put on a live show. This year's guest speakers and performers included: saxophonist Charles Neville of Neville Brothers fame, sax player and woodwind master Charlie Tokarz, showman Roy Burdick, and trombonist Woody Strobeck.
"I play saxophone, so getting to spend time talking to these guys meant a lot," said freshman Desmond Butler.
From within the class, students formed five bands to perform at the show, ranging in style from classic folk and blues to Dixieland jazz and remixes of contemporary Top 40 music.
Freshman Emily White, a classically trained pianist who also picked up acoustic guitar learned new songs for the program, and learned "how to work with a group that hadn't all played music."
For local residents Shira Lynn and Tony Pisano, who audited the class, they got a chance to share the art of busking, something they do on a regular basis, performing as "Ms. Wicker" and "Mr. Rigatony Elbow" respectively at street fairs and farmers markets.
"It was a lot of fun and doesn't happen enough," said Lynn.
And for senior Logan McCracken, who grew up in the Pennsylvania coal region, where New Orleans' finest migrated to play, the class was a chance in a lifetime to perform such music live. "It was a whole lot of work and a whole lot of fun," he said of the course.
To kick of the show's finale, McCracken shouted from the Goodrich loft the popular Mardi Gras celebration call, "Laissez les bon temps roulez" — let the good times roll.