A key point of OWU graduate Morgan Treni’s musical development was forgetting to do her homework.
Treni, class of 2012, was taking a creative writing course with professor Michelle Disler and got her paper’s due date confused. Instead of turning it in, she ran to her dorm room, grabbed her guitar and ran back to her classroom.
“(I) sat down on the floor of the classroom and I said, ‘I’m just going to sing this one,’ and I sang it and then I ran out of the classroom,” Treni said. “(Disler) came up afterwards and she grabbed my elbow and she said, ‘That was slick but it was smart and you’re a songwriter.’”
Treni credits Disler’s guidance with helping her grow as a “musical essayist,” as Disler called it, and realize her own creativity.
Her creativity reached new heights with the release of her first album, “The Dreamer and Other Essays,” after her second appearance at the annual Community Festival (Comfest) on June 28. But she makes it clear the production was definitely not a solo effort.
“This album is dedicated to (Disler) because she really helped me find my way,” Treni said.
While Treni had played trumpet before entering OWU and originally planned to be a trumpet major, she soon shifted away from that. She tried the guitar, sang a cappella in the Owtsiders and wrote her first song as a freshman sitting outside Hayes Hall, she said with a laugh. She then shied away from studying music, looking towards business and focusing on the small sports store she helped run. Treni found OWU’s program was more focused on economics than business, and while she enjoyed business her mind is better suited to visuals than numbers. “I felt really lost,” she said. But thanks to Ohio Wesleyan’s liberal arts requirements she would soon find her home in creative writing, as she was required to take three writing courses. “The gentleman I was dating at the time recommended (the course) Writing Essays and so I went and that’s where I met Dr. Disler,” she said. “And for a year and a half she said, ‘Come be an English major, you’re a writer, be an English major.’” Treni eventually did become an English major. While she first thought she had too much energy to sit and read books, that soon changed. “It’s incredible what happened, in a very small amount of time books became my best friend and writing became my art and when I graduated I started singing that art and thus grew the songwriting,” she said. Even while she was at OWU, her reading, particularly on philosophy, often led directly to her music, although not always in university-approved ways. “I was a very late night studier at Beeghly Library and I was reading really heavy theory books, critical theory books, and I would stay up past when Beeghly closed, in the cafe,” she said. One night her junior year, Treni stayed up so late she saw the mailman delivering newspapers to Hamilton-Williams Campus Center. She then noticed and that he didn’t lock the door behind him completely. “I would go over and break in at 4:30 in the morning and play the piano before any of the maintenance people were there and I would leave at about 5:30 and go back to studying,” she said. “…They ended up catching on to my trick and locking the door. So I have a very special relationship with Beeghly Library and with that piano in Hamwill. I did some of my first concerts there.”
After graduation, she decided to pursue songwriting while also working at a Yamaha piano dealership in Columbus. She later move there from Delaware and eventually left the dealership in February to focus fully on her music. “With all the focus that’s where other opportunities have opened to me,” she said. And she’s had quite a few opportunities, singing in the jazz orchestra of her mentor Vaughn Wiester and being asked to do recording demos for several local songwriters, including a few who approached her after ComFest. She even had a song used as part of a film soundtrack, although it was one produced as part of a Columbus filmmaker’s competition. “I feel very blessed for how well-received everything is developing,” she said. Several of her songs related to her time at Ohio Wesleyan, but none as much as ‘Delaware’, written and practiced those early mornings.
As a whole, she structured the album like a musical book, complete with a table of contents on the back of the CD case. First, naturally, is ‘Prologue’, although that wasn’t the song’s original title. “It was called ‘Resume,’ kinda the introduction you have for businesses and employment so this is mine to the world and the music community,” she said. Next comes ‘The Dreamer,’ which she wrote in the midst of being told that making it in music was nearly impossible. “I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be kind, I’m going to be loving, I’m going to work hard and failure is not an option,” she said. ‘Fishbowl,’ the third song on the ten-track CD, was written while she worked at a Yamaha piano dealership in Columbus. “I sat down at (the piano) and ‘Fishbowl’ came out,” she said. “I couldn’t be inside, I need to be outside ‒ I have so much energy it’s combusting.” Other songs included ‘Mr. Carroll,’ inspired by her thesis paper on Lewis Carroll and ‘Open Road,’ written on the way to work at a farm in Marysville, Ohio where she milked a cow after graduation.
The CD took around eight months and $8,000 to produce, although the funding relied on significant community support ‒ Treni used a Kickstarter campaign to raise $3,500. “(I marketed the Kickstarter) kinda the same way that I’ve been doing everything with this business,” she said. “I love people and the joy of this music for me has been bringing people into my life to be on board with my passion, so I wrote to friends, I sent emails individually to students, to faculty, I performed – I was performing three nights a week at every open mic night I could find to gain support, creating newsletters and it just all came together by faith and good people.” She received donations from 77 online supporters and between 20 and 30 in person; different levels of support received different gifts. Everyone who gave received a handwritten letter ‒ “(I got a) little carpal tunnel,” she joked ‒ and a copy of the CD. A donation of $40 got a signed copy of the CD; $100 got two CDs and Morgan Treni coasters. While she sang all the songs on the CD, they all feature instrumentals by a variety of musicians, including Treni’s father. Morgan’s sister Ashley also helped, designing the cover, and helped drive her to Comfest from their home in New Jersey. While she calls Columbus her home base, Treni recently moved back to the greater New York City area, which offers many more opportunities ‒ although she’ll be back at the end of July for a show at the Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus, a frequent venue for her performances over the past year. “Columbus is home base, I have incredible relationships here,” she said. “I drew a lot of support from this area here and I was excited to bring the CD, everybody’s been waiting really patiently for this album to come together and it was exciting how this ComFest weekend perfectly placed itself as the piece of the equation for that to happen.”
She may not know what exactly comes next, but that’s not going to get in her way. “It’s hard to say (where I’ll end up,)” she said. “Definitely singing in many places. To coin an OWU phrase, the world is my oyster ‒ there’s a lot of ears, there’s a lot of stages and I’m very excited to meet people and other musicians, artists.” “…I love to travel, and I love people and I love being creative and so without a doubt I’m going to go all over the world.” It may be awhile before she’s traveling the world, but she only sees good things down the road. “We’re still on the incline, everything’s been a high point, it’s a journey,” Treni said when asked what the high point of her work has been. “Last year (at ComFest) was really special because it was my first music festival to play,” she did note. To be booked she had to compete with 600 other local acts; only 250 got to perform. “It’s definitely competitive,” she said. “I feel very grateful for the opportunity again this year and with my own space, there’s a lot of talent in Columbus, a lot of talented musicians and certainly artists, (Comfest)’s a great thing to be part of.” “I would say it was a little more comfortable this time around because I knew the stage…but I was a little under the weather for the last couple of days so I was nervous about how well I’d perform but it was family, so it was just special.”