Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Hartzell hosts first-ever ‘Songwriting Party’ at Cactus Cafe

Allie Castaneda
President Jay Hartzell and songwriting Texas Ex Darden Smith laugh during a presidential song writing performance on April 10, 2024. The first-of its-kind event was held in the Cactus Cafe.

On April 10, UT President Jay Hartzell and in-residence songwriter Darden Smith hosted a Songwriting Party in the Cactus Cafe. UT officials and professors, community members and students enjoyed drinks and snacks as the storied songwriter guided the audience and Hartzell into writing a song that reflected the UT community.  

The Songwriting Party marked a celebration of the president’s mission to strengthen the bond between UT and the Austin music scene. The event, first of its kind, comes on the heels of the CMT Awards held on campus, which broadcasted to an audience of over 5 million people.

Physics freshman Chinonso Obiefule even got the chance to be a scribe on stage during the songwriting process, helping Hartzell and Smith with some of the writing and creative elements. 

“He asked if a student could come (onstage) and help them with something. I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do that because I love songwriting,’” Obiefule said. “I just raised my hand and got up on stage.” 

Obiefule said when he heard about the event he thought it would be entertaining to attend.

“I saw the event in my email and I chose to come because I thought it would be funny to see Jay Hartzell write a song.” Obiefule said, “That really enticed me to go and see it.” 

Smith said he wanted to incorporate UT’s motto “What starts here changes the world” into the chorus, much to the approval of the audience. Additionally, over the course of the night, many audience members began to shout out their own contributions to the song, creating an interactive environment. 

“That’s the cool thing about (songwriting). All of a sudden we’re all doing this thing together and it’s really beautiful,” Smith said. 

Smith encouraged an environment of collaboration with the audience that emboldened guests to speak up when they wanted to contribute to the song. Even through technical issues caused by complications with the projection system, Smith kept up the conversation with Hartzell about how to improve the song. 

“I was talking to some students this morning, and I was talking about advice-from-the-president type of stuff and said, ‘Step outside your comfort zone,’ so here I am,” Hartzell said. 

At one point during the night, as the audience offered suggestions for songs, one guest said, “How about diversity, equity and inclusion?” to which Smith said, “That’s another song, and you can write that one.”

Obiefule, who was onstage during this moment, said the interaction took him by surprise. 

“Of course, the context is Senate Bill 17, with UT restricting (diversity, equity and inclusion),” Obiefule said. “I didn’t really know how to react.” 

Obiefule said that the songwriting opportunities at UT inspired him to pursue songwriting along with his physics education.

“Because of UT’s songwriting community, I’ve been able to network with some people to collaborate with them in writing music, and it really opens more doors,” Obiefule said. “It’s really helpful in furthering my career in songwriting.”

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