Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Musical Era

Sometimes I think I should have been born into the 40s and 50s, early 60s. I love the songs from that era, probably because my Dad used to sing them to me and my siblings for lullabies. And probably because I already gravitate towards Patsy Cline, Doris Day songs, that are suited to my alto voice.

This morning, I had a chance to sing at a local care center. The rec director had contacted me a few weeks ago. Apparently, I had signed up somewhere and he was getting around to calling on the list. I wasn't sure what to expect, as far as age of audience, but I guessed correctly that they might appreciate songs from the 40s and 50s. So I googled a few more to add to my binder. Here's a sampling of titles:

Blue Moon
Sentimental Journey
Moon River
Mona Lisa
Unchained Melody
Amazing Grace
You are my sunshine

with Do your ears hang low? and Grandma's Feather Bed thrown in for comic relief. Also, one contemporary song, Outside My Window but that was about it (I decided to stick with the oldies because I wanted them to be familiar with the songs).

I got there a little late, they had already put on a movie and were reportedly "upset" when it seemed I wasn't going to show up. Flustered, I chit chatted while I set up my stuff. It was nice to have a microphone. I wasn't expecting that; it made it so much easier to sing. Then I jumped into my first song, Moon River.

Many were asleep, but some were alert, watching, mouthing the lyrics, nodding in recognition, clapping politely after each song. Song after song, I wondered what they remembered as I sang to them. Were they sad? Were they happy? I wondered what their lives were like before they sat in that wheelchair. They might not be as spry as they used to be, but their eyes shone with a youthful spirit.

Afterwards, one man said he owned 7 guitars and played in bands. I looked at his gnarled hands and wanted to give him my guitar to play, but I thought he might get offended if I offered.

It was such a pleasure bringing music to this group of folks. And the nice thing was, I genuinely enjoyed the songs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Co-Writing

I attended a co-writing meeting the other day. It was a group of about 50 people paired up in the genres of our preference. I told the "country" group that I like Sugarland, Rascal Flatts type of songs, and this lady raised her hand and said she did, too.

For the next half hour, we brainstormed a song. I wanted an upbeat love song and she seemed really open to it, too.

I discovered co-writing is fun and difficult for me.

Fun because we could piggyback on each others' efforts. Fun because it's cool when someone gets what you mean.

Difficult because it's hard for me to relinquish control of my own creative work. She had brought a laptop and was taking notes, and I wanted her to write down some phrases I had in mind, but she wasn't writing all of it. And I have a hard time letting someone else drive. As she formulated a melody (she had a beautiful voice), I told her, "Is it verse or chorus?" and she said, "I'm just playing with it."

I haven't been back since. I'm not sure co-writing is for me right now. But one thing's for sure. I want to complete that song. When she e-mails it to me, I will hunker down and see where it leads.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another Open Mic

I played at another open mic last night. Sang five songs on my acoustic guitar:

Fishing in the dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
Ain't Nothing About You (Brooks and Dunn)
Landslide (Stevie Nicks)
Wishing on a Star (a song I wrote)
House that built Me (Miranda Lambert)

Boy, it was hot in the hot seat! But I still had a lot of fun. After my set, someone complimented me that I have a rich, resonant voice and articulate the words well. He said he sometimes has a hard time understanding some lyrics when people sing, and I couldn't agree with him more.

I played around 7:30 to a dinner crowd that was a nice audience. I propped open my song book, just in case. I really do need to practice without the cheat sheet more.

Last night was kind of an impulse thing, but I have decided if I want to do this more, I need to practice as much as I can in between. I also want to write more songs.

One of the guys who looked about 50-something said he wants to cut enough CDs to retire on. He was serious too. I thought, what are the chances, but heck, if he wants to go for it, good for him!

For me, it's just a release, a chance to get up in front of people and share my love of music. Would I want to do more public performances someday? Sure. But I'm not betting my IRA on it.

Do I Want It Badly Enough?

I looked into the possibility of performing at a local event, but they are already all booked up. I wanted to do it badly, but didn't really check into this early enough.

Do I want it badly enough?

Do I want it enough to...

...learn my songs without a cheat sheet?
...look into performing opportunities?
...sacrifice time I would spend on family and writing to improve my guitar playing and singing?

My answer is, honestly, no.

But I have so much fun performing for others, it would be so cool to have the stage officially to myself for even an hour.

It's a scary proposition, putting yourself out there for people to criticize and judge. Already, I have gotten some criticism on my youtube channel. Nothing terribly mean. Not everyone's gonna like me, I know, but it still stung.

Do I want more of this?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Open Mic

I did it. I sang at open mic for the very first time. Squee!

I signed up for a time slot at an awesome joint's open mic and performed five songs tonight:

Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman
I'm Alive by Dave Matthews and Kenny Chesney
You're Lyric to My Melody by yours truly
Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers
The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert

Although it was 8 p.m., the place still had some very full tables and the crowd was great. I was a little nervous at first. When we were doing sound check, I forgot that my guitar has a volume knob. Hopefully vocals and guitar came off good. Sound system was excellent, for a small venue. I love having an acoustic electric.

I had my song book open but rarely referred to it. It was open "just in case". I liked engaging the audience in eye contact, and some people were complimentary. I know it was just "open mic" but I still feel like I reached a new level tonight with my singing and guitar endeavors. I love love love the fact that I could perform on a guitar and accompany myself. I am over the moon about that. I feel like I can do anything musically speaking. Guitar is such a beautiful and portable instrument!

What I loved: when some of the rowdies would hush at parts of my songs, when people were really paying attention to me, when my songs came off like I'd planned!

I hope to go to more in the future, though I am limited as far as our family's schedule. But tonight was a start. I feel more confident that if I aspire to perform at a community event like the county fair, i could do this. I plan to write more songs to perform in the future. I am leaning towards a blues/country feel to my songs.

Sometimes I feel guilty because my music is kind of a distraction from my writing, but I like to think of it as enriching me as a person. I love having music in my life!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Songs

So after the songwriting class, I went home stoked. I wrote a ballad called "This Pain Will Pass" which was a rich piece, but unfornately, a little like bread that is really yeast heavy. So I let that one rest while I whipped up another one based on an object-writing piece I wrote on "spring". It was about forbidden love.

My 14 year old daughter listened to it and she said it was okay. Politely, eyes averted. I asked her which one I should share, this new one called "Secret You and Me" or the first one I wrote from last year called "Wishing on a Star"? She said "Wishing". Which clued me in that maybe this new song wasn't so hot. My husband called the "Secret You and Me" an "affair" song.

So with heart about as heavy as that yeast bread, I set out to write a new set of lyrics. Yesterday, I tweaked it and came up with something I thought was infinitely better. It is a love song (nothing illicit!), "You're Lyric to Melody" which was a lot of fun to write. And I owe it all to my oldest daughter.

She's a great critiquer because she is honest if she doesn't like something. If she squirms then I know I have pushed the envelope. If she says it's good, she means it. She also gives me suggestions of alternate phrases especially to poetry, which she writes.

I took my song to a songwriter's critique meeting last night. I just had to go this time if only to redeem myself from the Christmas party.

Right before I performed my new song, I stared at the page thinking I have forgotten it! Fortunately once I started strumming, I remembered. (It was so cool to have my own acoustic-electric guitar to play, and it sounded great!)

The critique: my audience liked the musical metaphors I used. But they said I could vary, take up a notch, the chorus. Someone said she liked the "organic grassy" feel of the song. Mmm, Norah Jones? Colbie Caillat style?

(I felt bad critiquing this one guy about his song, but I guess it is part of being a songwriter, having a thick skin? And I was a little paranoid about sharing my song, especially after the president/host passed around a release form for us to sign we won't sue for plagiarism!, but I guess if someone actually thought my song was brilliant enough to be copied than I am lucky.)

I will take this feedback and revise my song in time for the second and last part of my songwriting workshop Saturday.

My husband calls songwriting my latest obsession. Sigh. Coz it is so true.

First Songwriting Class

I arrived just a few minutes before class started. My classmates were mostly men, with maybe five girls/women out of a total of thirty. What does that say about songwriters? Our instructor had an Irish name and I kept wanting to ask her if she was from Ireland, but I forgot.

I picked a chair with a turquoise-covered notebook, and then switched it at the last minute with a colorful striped one with a purple pencil. I was wearing purple that day, and I don't know why color matters to me so much, but I figured if you are going to go through the day picking things out, you might as well pick things that make you happy.

When I introduced myself, I said I had been in a band before, which I later felt silly doing because, well, what did it matter, really? Especially since some other members of the class later said they were also in bands.

The teacher spent some time talking about her experiences, which were interesting, though I wish she could have said a little bit more about stuff that I could have related to. And then she launched into the technical aspects of songwriting. Here are the major points I learned:

Keep it simple.

Keep it simple.

Keep it simple.

And then we went into object-writing afterwards. She gave us a prompt: mirror. It was like being at the edge of a cliff and diving in. I didn't know exactly what to expect, and I found things that I didn't even know existed! I posted my piece here.

What I learned from object-writing:

Evoke emotion. Someone shared their horror-themed entry, which was cool, but for me it didn't resonate emotionally.

Be specific. My classmates really liked it when I wrote: "It was always dusty and full of stray powders that spilled from the cheap makeup I bought at a store on Katipunan Road."

Use all senses. That is how a scene comes alive.

Bonus: I tried object-writing when I was stuck in my novel, and it forced me to write a scene more vivid than anything I have written lately.

Next week, we get to share a song! I am excited/nervous/purple.