Thursday, December 3, 2009

i feel it, i see it, i write it

writing songs is seldom easy, but some are easier than others.


i wrote an easy one this week. what made it easy was the announcement of a big event - the engagement of two of my very best friends.

big event, big emotions. big fuel for creativity.

but how is that well-fuelled creativity to be focussed? in my case, it's usually through visual imagery. and what could be more easily visualized than a wedding?

not to say that my friends' wedding will look much like anything i see in my head. they are both very creative folks themselves, brilliant writers and performers, and are likely to come up with something unusual to mark the beginning of their marriage. they're on tour at the moment, so i've had no conversation, no inkling of what they might have in mind.

cool. lots of room for licence.

i started writing in the first person, from the groom's perspective. not the first time i've written in my friend's shoes. i visualized him/me standing at the front of the church, half-turned to watch his bride:

i'm standing / you're walking / on the arm of another man

can you tell it's in waltz time? my default rhythm, but this time, it was actually planned, as later i foresaw their first dance.

it also has other possible meanings, if i don't announce beforehand that it's a wedding song. one might be more likely to take the first line as the start of a heartbreaker.

i'm not sure at what point i grasped that i would use those "-ing" verbs, whatever they're called, throughout, but it's typical of my style - i like to give myself some structure early in the process, a trellis on which to grow the song.

i'm waiting / for that moment / you're beside me / here we stand

okay, now they're standing together. how are they standing, geographically and metaphorically? paint the picture:

we're standing / and listening / our backs toward the past
we're speaking / promises / in light through coloured glass

the minister is another friend, which helps to solidify the image.

time for a refrain. they're saying their vows. it's a time of joy. the phrase "say it out loud" punched it's way into my head. i also needed to bring in the gathered mass of friends and family. i had thought of the word "throng" but almost immediately rejected it as unwieldy. but a rhyme with "loud" in line two would be a natural for "crowd"

i take you, will you take me / before this witnessing crowd?

another -ing word.

and what about the crowd, and how to set up the last line? this one was a gift from the muse i think - a perfect double-meaning which gives you both the image of the throng, and perhaps the feeling of not-quite-sure among them. this is not the first marriage for either, and some of us are not sure they really need to make it legal. but we love them, celebrate their insistence that it's what they want, and wish them luck.

they're waiting at a distance / so say it out loud

so now they're together, instead of doing separate "-ing" things:

promising / we are promising / our voices will be heard

i initially had the urge to make a reference to their professional aspirations "the most promising..." but it felt forced, so i kept it simple.

i'm kissing / you are kissing / the lips that speak the words

again, i had the last line first, so found a rhyme in "heard" that echoed what they were saying in the refrain.

i don't think i've ever written about kissing, and it was difficult to sing the first few times, but it had to be in there, yes?

okay, they have to walk up the aisle now. but i'm thinking about leading it towards the last verse, where the "-ing" word will be "dancing". my buddy will be walking. but maybe the bride is a bit lighter on her feet, more willing to show the joy she feels:

i'm walking / you're dancing / the path that you came in

but what's changed? everything. so sum it up:

you're holding / my arm now / so it begins

refrain, then some instrumental space - the verse - to feel the waltz. the first dance.

we're dancing / alone for now / before this witnessing crowd

i cheated - used a line from the refrain in the verse - breaking the rules to end with a bang...

beaming / with their brights on / living out loud

refrain. repeat refrain. repeat last line, twice.


SAY IT OUT LOUD

i'm standing / you're walking / on the arm of another man
i'm waiting / for that moment / you're beside me / here we stand

we're standing / and listening / our backs toward the past
we're speaking / promises / in light through coloured glass

i take you, will you take me, before this witnessing crowd?
they're waiting at a distance, so say it out loud.


promising / we are promising / our voices will be heard
i'm kissing / you are kissing / the lips that speak the words

i'm walking / you're dancing / the path that you came in
you're holding / my arm now / so it begins

i take you, will you take me, before this witnessing crowd?
they're waiting at a distance, so say it out loud


we're dancing / alone for now / before this witnessing crowd
beaming / with their brights on / living out loud

i take you, will you take me, before this witnessing crowd?
they're waiting at a distance, so say it out loud

i take you, will you take me, before this witnessing crowd?
they're waiting at a distance, so say it out loud
so say it out loud
say it out loud.

now here's a thing. i started with a very simple, what i like to think of as stately, melody in my head. when i had the outline for the verse and refrain, i picked up the guitar, tuned down to my favourite, almost-unique-to-me tuning, DADEAD, and started strumming the few chords i've figured out. but that's the trouble with being an underachiever on your instrument - the limitations of what your fingers can do further limits what your song will be.
but damn! i'm in the middle of a song here. no time to update my chops.

and here's another thing. writing a song to a purpose like this is a challenge, like any song, but let's be real. everyone - no, almost everyone - one must take into account the envious and the song snobs - will love this song. you've taken the time to create something for someone (sometwo), and infused it with love and meaning. it's a very special thing.

so the pressure's off. it doesn't have to be the best song ever written. go with what you've got.

which is, in this case, a simple melody on a waltz beat, with lots of droning space.

mountain dulcimer - what i call my "instrument for all occasions" - funerals, parties, weddings.

so i write it on the dulcimer, and it's okay. good enough.

then Deb finds the lyric on the table at breakfast, reads through and highly approves. i agree that the words are very good, but the music is less than unique, i've opted to drone along on the dulcimer in my usual style.

"so change instruments" "nah, it's done".

never say "never". after having written out the song here, i thought "what the hell?" (a common thought for me) and tried it again in DADEAD. and you know what? it works. it's bigger, fuller, more interesting, more joyful.

she's done it again. thanks Deb!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How does this thing work?

"When you haven't done this kind of group project before, it's kind of uncomfortable and you don't know how to be. So everyone tries on different behaviours and styles. Those of us who have done lots of it know it will all swirl around and then settle eventually, as we work into our roles in the group. And you can't pick your role so much as it is given to you, taken away, changed and on and on. I like it, but i like adventures into the unknown and have done enough of it to trust process over product, while others drive the process with anxieties over product - that usually happens too, and it's all good, in my book, and what makes the project happen. Anyway, a blog on this would be interesting - not enough people reflect on HOW things happen - they just focus on what happens or what results. I think the "how" is the most interesting..."

this was the first thing i read this morning, after a well deserved lie-in following a very successful evening of collaboration with my four cohorts. my closed-eye coffee-drinking-in-bed thoughts had included "i should write a blog post today on how the project is going". not that i knew. i write to find these things out. but it's lovely to have one of said cohorts ask the pertinent questions to get me on track, and in such a timely manner.

it's an example of the upside of this collaboration we've begun. it's mostly upside, by the way, but, like life, it's the struggle that makes things interesting.

last night, my struggle was with my anxiety to get to the product, while the process was happening right there, offerring all kinds of fun. and i managed to keep it at bay, mostly, while also fulfilling my role, which i both chose and had chosen for me, to clarify some things, mostly for my own sake, but for the group as well.

there was such a great vibe happening, ideas upon ideas, folks free to follow tangential stories about and around the work we're doing. as much as i wanted to get to MY things, i knew that all these off roads were important and necessary, and the more i let it happen, the more obvious it became.

my struggles in getting to that point were something like a nation's collective vision of democracy, the trap of thinking that our equality makes us the same. i started this project, inspired by Susan. i asked her to join me in it. then Deb told me about her latest book project, putting it together with the aspiring designers under her wing, and i thought "Yes!" and we decided Carol and Roy would be a likely pair to bring on board. Suse thought it an excellent idea, and Deb agreed to come along as well, adding that "big picture" thing she sometimes sees so well. she and Susan both love Process.

and then we were five. a democracy, right? i had trouble at our first meeting, as i tried to step back and be just one of the Five, all equal and the same, on the road to something that would be a collective experience, a Pie of Five Equal Pieces.

Pie in the sky. life isn't like that, nor democracy, nor groups of artists making art.

Carol was part of my last project, but not 'til the writing was done - she sang one of the songs written from a woman's perspective in the show and on the cd for me. she is a lovely friend, and so passionate - especially when she gets on stage. Roy i've collaborated with on a couple of fun things for our DIY getaway weekends, and his songwriting, painting and sculpture have all amazed me. he is also the nicest guy in the world. Susan is a master of group work and the written word, knows me inside and out, and is so generous with it that it hardly scares me at all. Deb is my butt-kicker, mistress of the well-timed nudge, wink, or when necessary, kick. she is a brilliant sideways-thinker and regularly produces pieces of beauty while making it as easy as possible for others to also make them for themselves.

Bob's yer uncle, right? put these five people in a room together and wonderful things will occur, effortlessly and immediately.

strenuously and eventually, more like. i have no doubt that this thing we're doing is going to be great. but i have been surprised, in my naiivete, how difficult it has been to find my way.

while i tried to immediately make it "Our Project", others were seeing it as being a part of "paul's project". so while they were looking for a measure of leadership, i wasn't giving it. and i was expecting instant equal ownership, and of course not getting it.

so last night was a giant step, roles becoming clearer, a structure (which some of us need more than others) making it's way through the fog. and such creative ideas to riff on - not just songs and their writing, but arrangements, visuals, lighting, stories, and the audience experience.

so what's my role? i just had a vision of a cowboy out on the range, sat on a horse, holding a lariat, enjoying the dogies' play, but makin' dang sure they don't fall off that cliff. but i want to be a dogie too.

how 'bout the designated driver? then we're all the same species anyway. i drive us from one fun spot to another, taking it all in, enjoying and joining their forays into mirth and wonder, taking notes and getting us home in the end, where i can let loose if i want. the end of the road will be the performance of Tiny Rehearsals, and i will then more than make up for a few months of DDing.

there's probably a thousand better metaphors for it. i bet one of my collaborators could help me with that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

IT'S A LAUNCH!


nine weeks since my last post. once again, my apologies. but i have big news, and worth the wait i hope.
the new project, which i didn't want to jinx last time by spilling the uncooked beans, is now officially a "Go", and i'm very excited about it. i owe it all to the aforementioned Suse-my-muse, who, it seems, had a plan all along when she gave me the book "Nothing to Be Frightened Of" by Julian Barnes.
i had been writing songs about and around death and certain aspects of spirituality, for want of a better word, without seeing the big picture. all the time i was trying to find an idea for a project, i was already working on one. this one.
so the first thing i thought was that Suse and i should do it together, from day one. the Blood and Fire show had been a collaboration as well, but not until half of the songs were written. but at some point - i have no recollection of how it came up, but would be willing to concede full credit to Susan - we decided to enlarge the collaboration by bringing in other songwriters and musicians, from the get-go.
we talked about who would be best, to work with, play with, who would create and perform with the most passion. that was easy, and to our great joy the three we picked jumped on board with exactly the enthusiasm we had counted on.
Carol is a songwriter who loves to be on stage, who sings and moves with panache. she vamps with a boa - and gets away with it. and she writes hilarious songs, as well as deep and heartfelt ones. it was obvious we were going to need some light moments in a show about life and death.
Roy is a multimedia star - a brilliant painter, sculptor and inventor as well as being an incredible songwriter with his own vocal and guitar style. we are hoping to add some visual elements to the show, and the ideas are already popping.
Deb is also an artist - one of the country's top knitting designers, and potentially a great drummer, 'though we're having to drag her out of the closet to do it. i was shocked and very pleased that she agreed to do it.
actually, all three are artists. i skipped the fact that Carol is a wonderful potter. no wonder we had so many great ideas for visuals when we met at Roy's farm yesterday.
Susan is the overseeing angel - a brilliant writer who travels in lofty academic circles but who has just as much passion for her home, her friends, and their respective passions. she writes songs for the love of it, and has recently renewed her intimate aquaintance with the piano.
Susan is the one who gets the big picture - she already has a very strong idea of what this is going to look and sound like, and will be great at integrating the disparate parts into a whole.
the songwriters have a number of existing songs that would suit the theme - we are all of an age to have been exploring our mortality - but we hope also to write at least a couple of numbers en masse.
the way we see it at this point is a series of short sets of songs and narrative, which we are calling "scenes", each exploring an aspect of death, including life.
our first meeting went well enough to get us on the same Page One, i think. i was unusually apprehensive, and thereby reticent. my friends around the table were wondering what was up. i couldn't explain it immediately, but soon realized that the difficulty i perceived was about sharing. it seemed a wonderful idea at the time, sitting on Susan's porch, to make this a project of five collaborators. but i had no idea how that was supposed to work. i wanted a true collaboration, equal ownership of credit and responsibilities. but i also had some ideas, vague as they might be presently, of what i wanted it to be. i didn't want to be deferred to at every step, but i had some fears about losing the bottom line.
it will be okay, i think. i will feel a lot better at our next session, which is all about the music, the most crucial part of the show. after that bit of fun, we will have a much clearer diirection and sense of just what this thing is that we've initiated.
we've given ourselves a deadline to be ready to do the show - February 2010, so we don't get lost trying for perfection. and we will do it all ourselves - no side players, singers or artists. there's enough talent in our wee pool to put on a decent show. this last topic made for some lively discussion - wouldn't you want the best players to ensure the best show?
Susan and i had discussed this on her porch. we are proud and happy to be amateurs, on stage and in this life. amateur: from the Latin, amator, "lover".
so, if you're around, come and see some happy lovers singing and talking about Life, Death and the whole dang shootin' match, next february.
the band is called Slim Chance and the Future Dead.
the show is "Tiny Rehearsals".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

in search of THE PROJECT

holy moly, i must start with an apology again. sorry if you've been checking in for nothing new. i have been busy, searching in vain for MY NEXT PROJECT.
and i have realized what i should have known from the beginning: if you go searching, you're sure not to find it.

doing the Blood and Fire project was a beautiful experience, from beginning to uh, middle - can't say "end", as it continues to thrive. but almost as soon as the writing was over, i was looking for the next one. mistake.

you see, the Project didn't start out as the Project. it started with a song, inspired by another song which screamed at me to write a rebuttal. a few years later, it was still just a song. a good song, and people responded well to it. a few asked if i had others up my sleeve.

then my buddy Kevin Kelly gave me a couple of things - the definitive book (my blog, my opinion) on the subject, "The Donnelly Album", and an Appalachian mountain dulcimer. he liked the original song, thought i might like to read a bit more on the subject. the dulcimer he inherited by being the only one in his guitar store to know what the hell it was when a lady dropped it off, hoping for a good home. thanks lady - it's safe and well cared for.

one obsession, a year, and nine songs later, i had the music for the Project. there was a song played on the dulcimer. there was a song called "Kevin Kelly's Lament for Bridget Donnelly". not surprisingly, they are my two favourite songs in the show. thanks Kevin.

so it worked out very well for me. only natural that i should think that perhaps i should do it again. what i didn't take into account was how much serendipity had been involved in making the first one happen.

i thought all i needed was a subject that i felt the same way about, ie. a Canadian story to be told in more detail than most folks had been taught.

and i thought i had it - The Group of Seven! interesting characters, revered and villified for their groundbreaking portraits of the Canadian landscape. mysterious deaths, love triangles, performance art in women's tights...

so i started reading, just like with The Donnelly Album. not.

after a few weeks of perusing some very interesting stories and anecdotes, and revisiting some of my favourite paintings, i realized it was only an academic exercise. there was no way i would be able to write a project with my lukewarm response to the material.

i had been grasping at straws, instead of being grabbed by the balls. i won't say i was wasting my time, but i would have enjoyed the paintings and stories more had i not been trying to suck some inspiration out of them.

it's like the muse thing - if you wait for her to show up, you're screwed. if you try to force her to show herself, you're screwed. you have to show up yourself, write for the sake of writing, find inspiration in the everyday, be patient with the BIG STUFF.

i knew that. so what the hell was i doing?

ah well, better late than not at all. i relaxed, got back to writing one song at a time, tried to be ready should the big one appear in its glory.

and something happened. there's no way i could tell you without it turning in to a much bigger thing than it was. it was huge and tiny at once. enough to weave a thread through my next few songs. natural enough. i was going through something, i wrote about it.

then it was my birthday. lunch backstage at the Mariposa Folk Festival, my beautiful friend Susan, whom i call Suse-my-muse, because she is (and she calls me her "party spirit", because i am), gives me a book. not a book. THE book. this book, one, makes me realize that i have already begun The Project, and two, is full of thousands of ideas which i could riff on to complete many projects.

i'm trying to be calm as i read through it. i'm not marking it, but i will the second time through, which i know will begin as soon as i'm done the first read.

i am also not telling you what the Project is, because i am extremely superstitious when it comes to these things. and a little abashed after telling some folks that The Group of Seven thing was happening.

wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

writing en masse

first, my apologies for being absent lo these forty days and nights. i had a flood of things going on. still, no excuse.

Jen asked at our last BADAS/S meeting if i would be free the following thursday to run a songwriting workshop with a grade eight class in Elmvale, through Stellula Music in the Schools. i checked my schedule and jumped at the opportunity - to do what i love, and get paid for it.

i had no idea what to do, of course. an hour-and-a-half at the end of a school day with a large group of 13-year olds? daunting to say the least. i couldn't do any of my usual gigs in so short a time, and it sounded like the teacher, Mrs. Blue (!) wanted hands-on work, especially with language.

i mulled. same way i write songs - let a stone of an idea roll around in my head until it picks up some moss that can grow into something. didn't have to roll very far, as the answer was right there - the songwriter's brain.

each of us in the class (the music portable, or "skull") would be a separate part of the brain of the writer coming up with a song. kids with different strengths and personalities could each make their contribution.

they hadn't learned about the workings of the brain, so i invited them into three groups - the creative side, the organizing side, and the messengers integrating the two.

we started with a phrase - after a couple of silly suggestions from the opening exercise (where they wrote one page, stream-of-consciousness style - my usual place to start), a young lad came up with a brilliant line - "I wish i were a ghost".

Jennifer took charge of the lyricists, and i the composers, with a talented girl sat at the piano. Mrs. Blue had the list-writers working on rhymes and the restless boys keeping us to our 4/4 rhythm.

and we almost got it finished in ninety minutes - three verses of a pretty cool lyric, a melody that was intricate enough that i had a hard time learning it right away, and a fitting dirge-like chord structure.

we had no time to talk about editing, which was fine because it is literally the last thing you want to do when you're busting your creative gut. but the song was missing the last few lines, and we hadn't figured out whether it would be resolved, and if so, into what.

i kept working on it that evening, but didn't really come up with anything until i put it aside and relaxed against the pillow.

the end breaks the pattern of the previous verses, in order to resolve the work.
see what you think:

I WISH I WERE

i wish i were invisible
i wish i were a ghost
i could walk through walls
when all my doors are closed

ghosts are never hungry
ghosts are never scared
ghosts don't do a thing they're told
even if they're dared

i wish i were a dragon
breathing fire through air
i could live forever
and never have to care

dragons don't say "sorry"
to any they despise
dragons do just what they want
and don't apologize

i wish i were a hero
to each day save a life
using superpowers
through all my days and nights

a hero never skips a day
a dragon never sleeps
a ghost is mostly dead
but i am what i can be
i am what i can be.



looking at it, i realize that i got into their brains more than they did mine. if you had never spent any time with a latent teenager, you would now have a pretty good idea what goes on in their heads.

and they said it very well. i hope they like the changes i made. i altered a few words, mostly for rhythm and rhyming purposes, as well as deciding how to end it.

i recorded it the next night at Don's place, and i'm just waiting while he works out a slide guitar part as the finishing touch. then i can deliver it to the school and wait to hear what they think.
maybe they will perform it at their graduation next month.

and hopefully Jen will have some new recruits for her songwriters' club at the high school across the road in September.

thanks for hangin' in and comin' back.

Friday, April 10, 2009

what shall i write about?

we had our writers' bloc meeting last night. after the songs were played and critiqued, pal Susan led us through an exercise taken from Julia Cameron's The Right to Write.

it's a simple way to find out what you're presently, or generally, interested in. if you're asking yourself what in the world you should write about, it can be very revealing.

here it is:

1. Which three topics do you most read about?
2. Which three topics do you most think about?
3. List five of your favourite books.
is/are there (a) theme(s) running through them?
4. List five of your favourite movies.
themes?
5. What is your favourite fairy tale?
what makes it your favourite?
6. What was your favourite book as a child?
what makes it your favourite?

take a few minutes for each point. don't agonize over your choices - go with your gut. then go through them all and find the threads of what interests you and moves your imagination.

when in doubt, those are the things you should write about.

my common threads were crime, love, and history. duh!

enjoy. let me know if it worked for you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

WELCOME TO MY BRAIN


this is the fair and mighty Alyssa, a brilliant cellist, singer and songwriter, and a great friend. she volunteered to lead an exercise at the last meeting of our songwriters' group (B.A.D.A.S/S.), and it was a beaut.
it was taken from Laraine Herring's Writing Begins With the Breath - embodying your authentic voice.
Lyssy asked us first to write freely for fifteen minutes on one of the assigned prompts (no choice - do what you're told):
1. When i am at a crossroads, I...
2. Change means...
3. Fear means...
4. Risk means...
this was just to get us started. we would not have to share any of this with the group.
i got number two. i will share with you, so you might see how my mind works on things in the very early stages. i like to call it "thoughtbusting":
future collapses with each breath, each step, each going in to, fray or glory or both. others change you - you change for others. others of mothers you'd like to be brothers. your family grows, CHANGES, new roles that are old roles changed.
underline words go ahead in thought and deed and spreading whatever light you can generate, from the change in your energy. flat tire, barbed wire, sailing calm and beaten by wind, take your shoes off, get a grip, and change what you thought would be.
but it's not good when it takes other folks to point out that you've changed. jaysus, figure it out, you're the one living with yourself, get a grip and get on out.
out is where you figure out where you want to be, caught in a web of friends so when you go in to colour your skin show the world the change is free
and 15 minutes is up.
Lyss then asked us to identify an abstract idea, to be turned into a concrete image which we would expand on for another fifteen, this time to share with the group.
abstract: change is inevitable. go with it
concrete: change is a river.
crash and fall, return to the mother, a home for the fleet of fin and diggers who go without breathing. at the end of it all you know is the sea, no coming back after the flood.
it's the moon again, chains the tide and marks the days with its comings and goings, waxing, waning, disappearing on the change.
how can one not move on, in the country of seasons? everywhere is proof of faith, things die and regenerate to days of glory and sun-scudded sky
and 15 minutes is up.
a simple and brilliant exercise, and one that i will certainly borrow for my classes and workshops. if you only had time for one, this would be it.
it covers so much - abstract, concrete, free flow and more thoughtful writing, private and public.
one thing we realized was that the prompts weren't important in themselves, and were almost interchangeable. but it's good to have an assignment to give you some focus. it's much easier to write something than it is to write anything.

Friday, February 20, 2009

reworking

as a rule, i don't rework my old songs, but i think it's time to try.

my book of songs is split in two, basically the good and the not-so-good. i was surprised to find the one i'm thinking of in the front half. i don't play it often, because it seems to fall flat when i do. but i think its potential is what made me put it with the "good". i really want it to work.

it's a song i wrote from my wife's perspective, a rather ambitious notion at the time, and a bit of a stretch. risk is good.

it started with a simple, killer chorus, the main idea:

"Don't say goodnight - say everything is gonna be all right".

and there's the problem. i'm an acoustic roots player, and it's a rock chorus. hell, even now i can hear the explosive horn section.

when i look at the song as a whole, it's pretty good. maybe what i need to change is HOW, not WHAT. do it more gently, without the bombast i hear in my head. hey, it's cheaper than hiring a backup band every time i want to play that one song.

and it's supposed to be from Deb's point of view. she's not the rockin' shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind of gal. it should suit her style as well as tell something of her story.

it's entirely possible that the lyric will need reworking as well, once it's done differently. probably best to try it out, see if it simply FEELS better, and then adjust the words to better fit the new mood. yes. i think so.

hey, thanks for listening. you've been a great help. if you've got another 3:47 to spare, close your eyes and listen to this. tell me what you think.

"The walls are spinning madly off in every known direction
The sanity that's with me still is in need of your protection
It won't take much to help me out, love and trust and patience
A few words at the right time could be my salvation
Don't say goodnight - say everything is gonna be all right

The book i write consumes me, i'm disappearing ink
Omen crows and deadlines loom in shadows, i can't think
The geometric tangle is of my own design
Life and Art don't imitate, here they intertwine
Don't say goodnight - say everything is gonna be all right

I know the work is worth it
Its beauty i conceive
I know my life is better still
Still i don't believe

Sometimes i forget to breathe, colours pull me in
A sea of grace so deep, i sink until i swim
And swim until i'm grounded on your foreign shore
Lift me up and take me home, and promise me once more
Everything is gonna be all right
Everything is gonna be all right
Everything is gonna be all right."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

this just in...

breaking news from the Mariposa Folk Festival front, where the battle is ever waged to bring the best of entertainment and education to an expanding demographic.

this year, for the first time ever, you can get an early start on a great festival by taking part in Mariposa Arts U, two days of fun and creative classes with experienced, friendly instructors.

two sessions each are scheduled in Singing, with the entirely wonderful Alyssa Wright, and in Photography. single sessions are offered in Printmaking with the very accomplished Juliana Hawke, and in Songwriting, with none other than... me.

i'm very excited to be a part of this. the committee getting it together is fantastic - hard-working, dedicated, and positive. co-sponsors Mariposa and Lakehead University are heavy hitters in Orillia's cultural scene. the dream is to expand over the next few years to become a major summer school of the arts.

it's a case of being in the right place at the right time. in my last post, i mentioned the triumphant return of Mariposa to its original home, forty years after it began. i was part of a folk band called Alex, which morphed into the Orillia Folk Society, and whose members were the driving force behind discussions which led inexorably to the festival's return to Orillia.

i can't take much credit for that. while most of the band was involved in The Big Show, and all the bureaucracy that entailed, others of us were happy to grow the folk society, hanging out at weekly song circles and discovering the best of Canadian folk talent at our monthly concerts.

when Mariposa returned in 2000, the folk society offerred equipment and personnel to run the Open Stage. soon after, we were asked to put on songwriting workshops at the Interactive Stage. what would become Arts U was the dream of a wonderful woman who ran the latter. it's been a few years since we started talking about it, but there was a very distinct feel - that it was only a matter of time before it came to be. it was supposed to happen in 2008, but circumstances conspired...

it was a disappointment, but we all learned a great deal from its loss. folks were naturally a bit gun-shy, but as soon as we got together in the fall to decompress, it was obvious the passion to make it happen was still there, and renewed confidence.

so pencil us in, in ink, on your calendar. Thursday evening July 2, Friday July 3, 2009. my class is 2 1/2 hours, slated for Friday afternoon. 24 bucks early registration (by May 24 - it's the two-four special!)

there may also be some sort of meet-the-teacher night in the spring at the Mariposa office. stay tuned.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Get Away!

i live to build community. and although that sounds like a noble and selfless thing to do, it hasn't really been like that.

when there was no discernible folk scene in our home town, the band i was in started up a Folk Society. now we have a weekly song circle where i can showcase my writing, make friends, and jam with them. and a concert series where we get to hear the best of rising Canadian talent, make friends, and jam with them.

i see a pattern developing...

when my best friend and i were suffering from a huge case of writer`s block, after co-writing a fabulous song, we started up a writer`s bloc. the next month, we were both writing again, getting together with helpful friends and...

when the Mariposa Folk Festival returned to its ancestral home, thanks in large part to the work of the aforementioned band and Folk Society, i volunteered our bloc to lead songwriting workshops, where we spread the love, made friends, and...

when i needed to supplement my meager income, i started teaching evening songwriting courses through Parks and Rec., where i widened my reputation, made money and friends...

when the bloc was firmly established, i realized it was, by necessity, a closed group. i wanted some way to share what we were doing with a larger community, make new friends...

i had also been working with my buddy David at a beautiful local outdoor education centre, which at some point came to be the setting for our shared dream of a winter weekend of fun and learning and healthy physical activity with our current and brand new friends. and jamming.

i introduced the idea to the bloc, who gave me unanimous support. so we booked the lodge, spread the word, lined up volunteers to lead workshops, and hoped we could entice enough people to drop a very reasonable $120 so we could meet expenses.

well, we did, just. and one weekend in the middle of January 2007, we all came together for an amazing time of shared music and joy. complete strangers became fast friends. atheists joined in the sunday gospel session.

the name, and the whole idea of the weekend was `D.I.Y.` Do It Yourself. we didn`t bring in big names, or outside experts. and it was fantastic.

i guess that`s my entire raison d`├Ętre: if you want something to happen, it`ll probably be quicker, and more to your liking, if you do it yourself.

i spent a lot of years complaining about things not happening, waiting, wishing. what a waste.

as soon as i started these little projects, i knew there were a bunch of people who would prop me up and support anything i tried, and thank me for doing it for them.

so now i`m in the middle of a beautiful, thriving community of musicians and listeners, that i`ve helped to grow. the folk society celebrated fifteen years this week. the writers`bloc is in its seventh. Mariposa nine. my Parks and Rec classes have expanded to sessions for teenagers as well as adults. i`ve started performing and teaching songwriting in public schools. the DIY weekend three weeks ago was the third annual, and by far the best ever.

selfless and noble, you might think. a bit of it, i guess, but mostly i did it because i wanted it to happen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"i like to be invisible..."

"... and i like to be the one

you can't

look away

from."


be that as it may, i apologize for my disappearing act lo these many weeks. it's not as if i had nothing to write about. i have three topics to choose from tonight, the other two will follow shortly, to make up for my remission.


eeny meeny, which one shall i choose? maybe i should just go chronologically, sort-of. because, strictly speaking, the last could be the first...


i was very excited a few weeks ago to hear that, for the first time, my Parks and Rec class for young writers was a "go". we had never had enough register before, and just squeaked through this time, with four.


the initial thrill was followed directly by panic. it would be the first time i had taught an extended course to a group of young people. on the surface, it might seem this was an over-reaction. career child care worker, experienced songwriter and teacher of same, no worries, right?


yet i was worried. adults and young people come from different planets, and sometimes i feel like a part-time visitor to both. how would the teens' class differ, and how should i change my preparation for it?


i thought about it for a week, without coming up with an answer. so wednesday after supper i drove over to the hockey rink, found our room locked but ajar (bonus! it's such a hassle trying to find the guy to open up), got out my usual notes and hoped for the best.


the kids showed up, half with parents, half without, all about the same age i think, early high school, three girls, one boy.


the first difference i noted was their ability to concentrate on the job at hand. write a full page first thing? no problem. i was impressed.


i had to tell them a couple of times not to put up their hands. adults don't do that.


the other thing i soon realized was pace: things move much more quickly. bang bang. we got through two hours of exercises and discussion with twenty minutes left. what to do? delving into next week's lesson would be dangerous.


so i decided to ask them to help me edit the song i had just written, which needed a bit of tweaking. i was meeting with my writers' group the next night, where it would probably be fixed to my satisfaction, but i thought, "what the heck?". give them a taste of lessons to come, might be a fun exercise.


well folks, it was more than that. they threw out some suggestions, we played with them a bit, and hey presto, i had a much-improved song. there was nothing for my fellow writers to help me with the next night.


so i left that class with a very good feeling, but knowing that i had some work to do if i was to keep up with them and give them all they could take in. they were hungry for it.


the major problem i saw was that participation levels were very different than in the adult class. in any group of students, you will have a range of participation. with adults however, the range is narrower. everyone has something to say, or ask, occasionally.


in my class of four teens, however, i have two extremes. two kids are very talkative - if i don't keep them talking songwriting, they're talking about something else. one girl has the odd thing to say, mostly encouraged by her growing friendship with the most talkative girl. the last girl volunteers almost nothing.


i was careful from the beginning to assure the kids that they didn't have to share what they wrote in class, but i assumed that they would each present something, sometime.


the quiet one seems content enough, she's writing and paying attention, so i assume she's getting something out of it.


and they all came back for week two, which is great, especially since it was a school night during exams.


if this was an adult class, tomorrow we would be continuing to expand our ideas through exercises and tips, talk more about structure and how to build the song after growing the parts organically.


but the kids and i are going to write something together. it will be chaotic, but i think they'll dig it. it will be fun, even if it crashes and burns.


wish me luck. i'll be back at you soon with topic #2 - my glorious DIY weekend.