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 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.

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