i have a new songwriting course starting in a couple of weeks in the old home town. i know this because the doubt vultures have started to circle.
where do i get off, standing in front of folks paying good money to hear me rattle on about my Art?
they could do it for themselves. they listen to music, know what makes a good song. they have melodies in their heads, things they want to say. they could do it without me.
i have selfish reasons for holding these classes. the more money i make doing what i love, the fewer hours i have to work selling paint in a box store. and i like being up there, the supposed expert with the heavy credentials: writer, performer, recording artist, promoter, founder of a burgeoning songwriters' bloc. i've written some very good songs, but rarely admit to the very terrible ones.
i should also admit that the very good songs were written with the help of my best friends, in the aforementioned writers' group.
but they didn't just appear for me. i started the group with my buddy Don, when we needed something to kick-start our moribund writing ways. selfish reason, but what we ended up with was a community of writers helping one another, not just us.
a small community, and a closed one, i regret to say. so now i'm trying to reach and engender a larger, more open community. plans are underway in this neck of the woods to start songwriting clubs in the public and high schools, and my friends and i are very excited about being a part of that. we run free workshops at the Mariposa festival every year, and the scope of that will increase next year to the thursday and friday before the festival weekend.
and i run my songwriting classes through the city, four wednesday nights in a row, fall, winter and spring. people show up, not really knowing what they are in for. hell, i'm not sure myself. when i anticipated my first course, i had never done eight hours with the same group, so i felt most comfortable doing quite a bit of planning. i found myself delving into the structure of a song. the building blocks. practical exercises. linear progressions. do this, then this, then this.
trouble is, i don't know anyone who writes like that. i certainly don't - as you can gather from previous articles. so now i'm a little more free with how i teach. it's more about finding your way of writing.
and people do need help finding their way. that's why they come. they're open to the chance to learn something about writing songs that they haven't found on their own. because what i said in the cynical opening is true: they have it inside them already. they need some tips on how to get the bucket down the well and back up again; whether they want to drink the water cold, or put it in a certain kind of vessel and light a fire under it; what to cook in it, and how they will know when it's done; which parts to use and which to toss; and how to present it to their community.
doubts are usual when you place yourself in the position of "teacher". and healthy. i think i'd rather be called "coach". it often feels that way, when i'm up at the white board, writing and diagramming students' ideas, pointing out the perfection of a phrase or a melody line they've just shouted out, egging them on to continue the inspired thread, open themselves to ever wider possibilities, or to go deeper, to the emotional core. when it's really working, i'm animated and encouraging. if one is suggested by circumstance, the way things are going, i have the perfect exercise to illustrate a part of the craft, or just to have some fun with it.
one has to remember that most folks aren't there for serious study, at a parks and rec. class. Rec means recreation. it seems an oversimplification, but i write for fun. "fun" is the kind of simple, perfect, unambiguous word that writers need most. i enjoy writing almost as much as having written - it's much more fun when you're happy with the end product, and singing it for your best friends, or a group of friendly strangers.
and it's not the easiest balance to attain, getting folks to have fun while they are sharing intimate offerrings of their minds. i am very cognizant of keeping the atmosphere as supportive and non-threatening as possible, for the sake both of the humans involved, and their work.
when the classes go well, which they usually do, i have as much fun as anyone, and sometimes i go beyond "coach" to "cheerleader". it is an incredibly satisfying thing to help someone come up with something spontaneously beautiful. at times their immediate reaction is one of surprise, often followed by wonderment at my lack of surprise.
it's the first thing i see when each one of them walks through the door behind the hockey rink on the first wednesday: "there's a songwriter. i wonder what she will come up with. and another. i can't wait to find out how he writes from emotion. and another. i can almost see the stories in her eyes...