For Professor Burns and Emily Moldy, community is key. It is recognized not only in their music but also in their performance. Teacher and lyrical-narrator Sean Burns and young soul-shakin’ UC Santa Cruz student Emily “Moldy” Moldenhauer shared their songs with each other and the lively audience of The Crêpe Place last Thursday.
The combination of these two artists makes for a beautiful night. The audience and the performers have obvious connections: Students yelled out, “Yeah, Professor Burns!” and friends of Moldenhauer’s sang along to her songs while enthusiastically promoting her extended play, “E is for Eleven.”
In between the plucks of the bass strings and the sharp crash of the snares, the conventional student/professor relationship was being destroyed and reformed.
Sean Burns came to UCSC in 2002 to pursue his Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness Department as a graduate student. After receiving his Ph.D., he started teaching social movement and history in the American Studies and the community studies departments in 2006. Moldenhauer — who prefers to be called by her moniker “Moldy” — was a community studies student pursuing a music career.
Through his community organizing class, Burns met Moldenhauer for the first time as his student.
Now a fourth-year at UCSC, Moldy explained how she came to work with Burns, a story that — to her — truly exemplifies what makes studying communities so worthwhile. She laughed while recalling how their musical relationship began.
“I was trying to hitchhike off campus one day, and Professor Burns picked me up. I gave him one of my EP’s, ‘E is for Eleven,’” Moldy said. “The next day, he was playing it in front of my entire lecture hall — he always played music before class. I guess he liked it.”
Eventually, however, Burns opted to leave Santa Cruz and UCSC to pursue his music career more seriously. For Burns, the challenge of stepping in front of a lecture hall, of focusing on his students and creativity in that context, is the same challenge as being a performing artist.
“I find an intense continuity between teaching and music,” Burns said. “I strive to be present and creative in a way that will help me grow and that in turn will reach others.”
After Burns left, Moldy found the perfect balance between her passion for music and community studies within her field study in Oakland. She loved the well-fitting field study opportunity at Youth Movement Records, where she helped empower Oakland youth through music.
At the end of Moldy’s field study, Burns asked her if she would be willing to open his show for him at the Crêpe Place in Santa Cruz.
“Hell yes, I was so honored,” Moldy said. “I’m so happy to be reunited with Professor Burns here tonight, in Santa Cruz, where our paths crossed for the first time.”
Anyone speaking with Burns can see how passionate he is about what he does, on and off the stage. The Lilac Field comprises of Adam Kirk, Lathan Spaulding and Adam Burstein and began playing together last year.
After working solo for almost a decade, Burns says he cherishes his “Lilac Field.” The band, which released their first EP “Orange Blossom Blinds” in 2010, is planning on recording new material later on this year. In the meantime they are playing as many shows as possible.
“‘Lilac Field’ is not only a lyric from one of our songs,” Burns said. “But it is also a sonic state of mind. The idea captures the notion of the ecology, beauty and expansiveness of a lilac field.”
Emily Moldy’s performance captures the sounds of soul, alternative-rock, jazz, neo-folk and indie-pop, and gets the crowd funky.
Burns and the Lilac Field change the feel a bit by proceeding to perform a vast array of songs that are types of lyrical narratives. Each song has a story and — fitting for a Georgetown graduate and ex-professor — a lesson. Burns said he kept his stage name, “Professor Burns” because he still considers himself a teacher, just in a different way.
“Although it was a great blessing to be up there on the hill teaching kids like you,” Burns said, pointing behind him in the direction of campus, “it is even more of a blessing quitting that job, starting a rock band, and teaching you similar lessons through my music.”