Saturday, August 16, 2008

Memorable Performances

We were sitting around camp at Song School and a reporter stopped by to ask “what was our most memorable performance of past festivals.” Being a little flip, I said Big Joe Kinser, She Only Loves Me When She’s Drunk. I went on to tell the reporter that the best music happens at Song School, not the main stage.

Two days later, I see it in print. There’s a photo of me, Joe’s names, and a bunch of names you’d instantly recognize. However, I still stand by my choice. Here's the story,

It was the last day of Song School 3 years ago. We had a night filled with great performances. The last performer of the evening comes up, a big guy, small guitar, cut off shorts, etc. I remember thinking here’s a person out of his element, first time at Song School, and he has to follow all these great acts. However, he captured me from the first line, “She only loves me when she’s drunk, when she’s drunk I’m a bar room hunk...” I went home singing that line and to the dismay of my wife for the next year. Three years later, I still remember that song and moment. I just found it on UTube - check it out.

Another moment I remember is Paul Reisler getting up on stage and singing, “I can’t remember, what I forgot.” He never sings on stage but his vocalist was a no show. You could see his hesitation until the first words came out. An incredible performance that brought tears to my eyes.

I guess my point is, it’s not the production, it’s the emotion. Emotion of the performer and the listener. It’s being your authentic self on stage and with your song. It’s a magical blend of right place, right time, right song ...

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Directed writing – add depth to your songwriting

I found myself in the unenviable position of having to sing an original song in 20 minutes and having only two verses, no melody, no chorus, and no final verse. Amazing as it sounds, I wrote a bridge, another verse and even shaky melody, and gave a performance that wasn’t awful.

This was the experience of day four of Paul Reisler’s directed writing course at Song School. The first three days we went through a process of developing the concepts and ideas for a song. As Paul stated, “premature writing destroys creativity,” “many songs suffer from a lack of depth.” In this class, we went to the bottom of the ocean.

The process was:
1) The story – We had a partner tell us a story about an event that transformed their lives. We were to listen and use this as the genesis of a songwriting idea. We were not tied to the story and had full liberty to change the event, add a different ending or write about something totally different.
2) Concept – Identify the transformation in one sentence and outline some points for a story.
3) Mind mapping – Taking the points identified, we then used a non-linear outlining technique called mind mapping to further define and describe.
4) Clustering - Circle key concepts that emerged and underline key images.
5) Free writing – We then went through a process of free writing (writing for a set time period with no editing, letting the pen flow) around an image or concept identified in the clustering exercise.
6) Identification of key points – We went back and highlighted key items that emerged in our writing.
7) Fairy Tale – We then transformed the key points from the free writing into a fairy tale, i.e. “Once upon a time...”
8) Creating metaphors – Taking key words from the fairy tale we then went through a mind mapping process to create a metaphor. This was a really cool process that hopefully I find time to describe later.
9) Putting it together - Writing and performing the song.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it was. It reminds me of the line that good songwriting is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

The interesting thing was how easy it was to write the song after all the upfront work was done. For someone who typically writes with a guitar in hand and looks for words that rhyme, this was totally out of character. Also the song that developed was different from anything that I had written. Cool... Many of the others in the class had the same experience and some amazing performances were given on day 4.

Will I use this whole process again, maybe? Will I use some of the components, yes!

Would I recommend this workshop, definitely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Song School 2008

I just returned from my third year at the Lyon’s Song School sponsored by Planet Bluegrass. Having skipped last year, I'm once again blown away with the expereince.

Over 4 days, I had a chance to study the craft of songwriting, vocals, guitar, and even native American flute from talented instructors that included Paul Reisler, Annie Wenz, Arthur Lee Land, Josh Ritter, Susan Werner, Steve Seskin, Moira Smiley, and Rebecca Folsom. The hardest part was picking which sessions not to attend.

I learned as much from the other “students” during evening impromptu song circles and general discussions. Many of these "students" are already performing musicians and teachers themselves, an amazing assembly of talent.

As I get a chance to digest the material, I will try to share some tidbits here. I may also just say the heck with it and write for the next month

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