Nov 252006

This, of course, is the second part to my previous post on “why writing is easy”. Well, for those of you in a hurry, I can say as much: It really isn’t. But it seems to be for me.

I’ve been writing a lot about this so it isn’t exactly a secret: I don’t even find making music easy to do. You know, music makes noise. As a child I have been living in a house where the landlords complained about us children all the time. (And they even had children of their own.)We even learned to climb the stairs quiet as mice. So imagine their reaction when we bought a piano. And I actually enjoyed playing so much that they restricted me to one hour per day. Oh, and when we moved to our own house when I was fourteen, my piano sat in the living room and everybody told me to please stop playing so that they could watch TV. Even today, when I’m on stage, I have a strong impulse to apologize for taking up people’s valuable time. And for being loud.

So after years and years of avoiding to call myself a musician, of looking for outside proof, for a license to make music, in the end I found that in the course of those years not only did I make a lot of music without realizing it, I had acquired a degree in music education as well. So, some fifteen years ago I stopped agonizing about it and just started saying that I am a musician. I have a right to it. I’m making music. And I’m earning my money by teaching it.

But I’ve been blocked all the time. I’ve been wanting to write songs since the age of twelve. I started humming something, hadn’t a clue how to catch it, and then I stopped. When it comes to my biggest and most precious dreams I’m easily discouraged. When in university I met somebody who actually wrote songs. AND HE WAS JUST A NORMAL PERSON! I thought, “Well, if he can do it, I might too.” Started walking around with songs in my head, but didn’t know how to write them down or record them. When I tried to write them down, they changed, because writing down music requires much practice. And I didn’t have any recording equipment. So it became a “one day”-thing. One day I’ll write songs.

Then I attended a workshop on vocal improvisation by the fabulous Rhiannon and we had a song writing exercise. We did a writing exercise for the lyrics on one day and were sent home with the homework of setting some of that words to music. Improvisation was allowed and one could take all the other singers and let them sing. Or you could bring an instrument. I loved this exercise. Loved it. I went home with a melody to some of my amazing lyrics going round and round in my head. I couldn’t wait to go to my piano and write the melody and harmony down.

When I came home there was a letter telling me that everything I had done that year to further my academic career had been futile. The work of nine months was dismissed as being not up to standard. Wham! I phoned a friend, I phoned my advisor, I cried, I talked with my husband… My little melody was gone.

But then I did something that I’m really proud of: I sat down at the piano, took the lyrics and made up a new melody. And wrote it down. The next day at the workshop I taught the whole workshop to sing my song fragment in harmony. Rhiannon looked at me and said, “Where did those harmonies come from?” Well, I can’t say.

Then I knew that song writing really mattered to me. And then I promptly forgot and finished my dissertation and and didn’t get my degree after all. I got pregnant and had a son. And then I knew that one day had to be now. Since that workshop every year in November I have made a commitment to myself to write songs. And each fall I’ve written half a song or so. Last year I started in earnest. For Christmas my husband even gave me a card saying that he had founded a club to further my attempts. He gave me his old hard disk recorder and I recorded two of my songs. He mixed them. And then I found that though melodies come easy to me, since I’m a singer who has been doing jazz and improvisation for ages, I was handicapped by my piano skills.

Off I went to take lessons. And that teacher is brilliant and I learned a lot. But instead of writing songs I fell back into student mode and only thought about playing jazz songs on the piano. Then I tried to write songs again. Then I started the blog. And then was now.

Some days ago I had an epiphany: I’ll only learn to write songs if I write them. (Yeah, I know, deep thinking, that.) So I made a commitment to write crappy songs until I know how to do it. And then I’ll have to learn to follow through. Beginnings are very easy for me. Lack of ideas? BWAHAHA! Capture them somewhere? Harder. Finish something? BWAHAHA again. But for a different reason.

You have to see that writing is really much more easy: it’s portable, it doesn’t make a noise and you learn how to do it in school. And also you don’t need equipment. Well, not much anyway.

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