So this weekend I had an incredible time at a SongCircle Songwriters Workshop with coaching from Tina Shafer and Jenny Bruce. The other songwriters in the room were so talented as well! I felt my own song felt lacking in many ways.
To explain, what I finally decided to do literally at the 11th hour was to write a song based on conversations with other people around Zuccoti Park not part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I had a lot of fear about going in that direction worrying I might ostracize other writers in my class or even for making bold statements. But my friend from work shared an essay her son had written as part of his application for Masters programs in scriptwriting. He said that he had to draw from his experience and write from his heart. I felt inspired to do the same and finished the draft while at work only having a vague idea of the melody and chord changes which I did my best to work out the morning of the songwriters workshop.
What I presented was . . . all over the place and had many great ideas but was not cohesive and very wordy. It was suggested to really know why I wrote the song, what I wanted to say, and to listen to other protest songs. I did my best with what little time I had (having dinner with Donna, going to Catholic Underground, escorting Donna home by train, having the cab driver not listening to me and getting lost). By the time I got to work on the song at midnight, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to use a tag chorus after looking at some Dylan songs. It took me much of the night and the morning to condense my original thoughts, work out a tighter structure and rhyme scheme, but after a lot of work and about 4 hours of sleep (thanks to daylight savings time) I had something to present to class.
The next day, as I listened to other members of the class, I found myself feeling anxious about presenting. Each person that performed seemed to have much more polished songs than my song. I tried not to get down on myself and remember this was all about growing as a songwriter. That and (again) I truly had the pleasure of working with very gifted songwriters all of them diverse.
When I finally played my song, I was congratulated on the complete overhaul I did and given further recommendations to bring the song to completion. It was encouraging to know that songwriters like Paul Simon and Sting would have many revisions of their song before having a completed work. What surprised me the most was when I was asked point-blank why I’m not using my violin instead of guitar. Normally, this is a point where I would get defensive and deflect many of those questions with sure-fire confidence that I had been down that road many a time and found it leading to a dead-end. Instead, I was not put off by the question but simply spoke my truth: I don’t know how I would do that. A year or two ago, I spent about a week trying to be Andrew Bird (a violinist known for using extensive looping techniques to crested songs with just him and his violin) before deciding after becoming increasingly frustrated with the skill it requires to create interesting loops that I was no good at it (a frequent theme of my life, categorizing things I felt “no good at” as utterly hopeless). I mentioned this, and I was given a sampling of other artists that play violin and sing; artists I have never heard of before. I am eager to check them out and see if there’s anything I can glean from what they do.
In the end after the workshop had ended, I went ahead and played Broken World specifically for a young artist who inspired me a lot that weekend. I played it the way it was originally written: myself playing acoustic violin and singing. It must have made an impression and was well received by the remaining songwriters there as well as Tina and Jenny. I have always felt like what I needed was a full band OR an extensive training course in looping, with a pedal and high-tech equipment that would allow me to add, remove, and layer tracks into an amazing orchestra. In the end, what it really boils down to is I have a deep seeded belief that what I can do and what I have will never be good enough. This experience may have begun to peel that old wall paper away and revealed new possibilities.
If I walked away with nothing else from this workshop, I would have these moments of inspiration and connections I made with other artists out there; artists struggling to make their voices heard and trying to get what they’re saying across. What could be more important than that?