It’s funny how you can walk into something with certain expectations but walk away with something you didn’t bargain for – something much better.
I spent mornings last week attending a songwriting class from Common Ground on the Hill. Josh Hisle, an Iraq war veteran, led the sessions along with his friend Dan Collins – both accomplished songwriters with an apparent passion for sharing their skills (links to their sites are below). I signed up for the class thinking I would learn about crafting songs – structure, form, and how to connect to your audience. We didn’t really touch on how to actually write songs in the context of verse-chorus-bridge-hook-etc., but my takeaway was that songwriters write about things that speak to them. Those things could be war, family, memories, feelings, characters, or even chickens. The other takeaway was that it’s okay to be nervous when you perform in front of people and that nervousness will probably diminish as you perform more often.
It turned out that everyone was expected to participate, whether singing or speaking his or her song/poem. Since I haven’t written anything since high school (expect for that Martin Lifespan strings contest entry a couple of years ago), I had to dust off a couple of songs. Actually, I not only had to dust them off but also had to add to and update them. Which brings me to another interesting fact about the class – everyone provided the story behind how the song/poem came to be written. That was awesome, not something we usually get when listening to a song on the radio.
I explained that the first song I was going to share with the class was written in 1974. I had been telling the women where I worked a summer job that I wrote and performed a song for the high school talent show. One of the women told me to write her a love song. I told her to give me a line, and at that moment she looked down at her smock and said, “My uniform is dirty.” I said, “Great, that will be a line in the song.” I believe she thought I was nuts.
I wrote the song, although it was short and not structured well. I pulled this song out of my binder, added a bridge and some new words in the verses, and sang it the next day for the songwriters. After class, one of the girls came up to me and asked if I ever told the women I finished the song. I don’t recall if I did. So the girl said I should let her know. After a little Internet searching, I found that the woman passed away several years ago. So now I guess I’ll flex my songwriting skills and write a song about missing the opportunity to let the woman know (her name was Joann, by the way) that I finished her song.
The thing I enjoyed the most about the class was being around songwriters, listening to them as they told us about and sang their songs. I can understand why artists form communities. It’s a rewarding experience to be around someone who knows what you’re going through as you explore ways to express yourself through word and song.
Oh, and one more huge takeaway – I plan to do this again next summer but may take even more classes from Common Ground on the Hill.
Josh Hisle – http://joshhisle.wix.com/music#!
Dan Collins – http://www.reverbnation.com/dancollinsmusic