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It's Important 

(an article for the SVSA Newsletter)

In a hectic world, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. 

Recently, I was doing a little workshop in a small group at church, in which we were all working to “discover our life purpose.”  

We’d done a number of exercises, and had a lot of conversations.  Then we did a drill where, on one side of a piece of paper, I we wrote down things that gave us joy. 

I wrote down things like playing and writing music, of course.  Also hiking, doing Aikido, spending time with loved ones, teaching, debating, etc… 

On the right side of the page, we then wrote down things that we thought the world needed more of. I could have written really practical stuff. Instead, I found myself listing lofty concepts like understanding, compassion, patience, forgiveness, curiosity, and acceptance. 

Then, we were asked to match up the left and right sides of the pages, essentially answering the question of which of the things that bring us joy are connected to the things we think is lacking in the world.  Then, we were coached to find “actions” to take that would connect those dots. 

For me, there was no “silver bullet.” There was no magic “aha” moment in which I suddenly realized the missing piece of my life’s puzzle that would forever guide the rest of my days. 

But I did have a bit of an awakening. 

In my case, I realized that I simply need to keep working to be the changes I want to see in the world (pretty sure I’ve seen that on a bumper sticker – “be the change”).  I need to continue to practice my music, continue to teach what I know, continue to learn more, continue to cultivate compassion for myself and my fellow man, etc. 

And then, I need to connect with more people; one at a time, a few at a time, and many at a time. However I can. 

That’s where my music started to take on a meaning that it never really had for me before. I’ve always treated my music as something rather self-serving; something I do primarily for myself, and perhaps for the adoration of a few fans. 

But there’s more to it.  Music is a way to connect with people.  Music is one of MY ways of connecting with people. Whether you write love songs, or folk songs, or blues songs; whether you play covers, or originals; whether you play in public, or in private; music is a way of bridging the gap between human beings. 

And that makes it more than fun, or beautiful, or interesting.  That makes it important. 

So, I’m working on it.  I’m working on being the change I want to see in the world, and music will be one way in which I connect with people. 

You never know who you’re going to influence.

SVSA new home 

 want to take a moment and put on my SVSA President hat.

Aside, for those of you who don't know:
I am the current president of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association.   We meet the fourth Wednesday of every month to celebrate the craft of songwriting through socialization, mutual support, and song critiques.


Last night, we met at Roanoke's Jefferson Center for the first time.  We've been meeting since before my time (ten years) in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church in Roanoke (a.k.a. the Third Street Coffeehouse).  Fred Pryor, Director of Center Services at the Jefferson Center, met us there to give us an awesome introduction to the history of the place, and a tour that included the Music Lab and an inside look at Shaftman Performance Hall.  I got to put my hands on a sound board that was used to product Quincy Jones!  

There was a graduation there that night, so the first part of the evening was rather raucous, with hundreds of folks in the hallway outside the L.L. Rice Room where we met, but that was all over by the time we started our meeting.  Having tables in a "circle" (square, actually) where people could all see each other during the meeting seemed to really facilitate the conversation.  It also made it very personal when a song was presented via live performance, just sitting there at the table.  Very cool.

We had six songs presented, including one by a brand new member.  Unfortunately we had to table one more that night because we ran out of time, but I'm hoping that Matt Gibson will bring his tune next month.  I can't wait to hear it!





Pretty Good Team 

I brought a new song to a songwriting workshop with Sally Barris this past weekend, and it got panned.  I learned a few things in the process.

This particular song was written for my wife.  The idea for the song came from a moment when we were discussing our regular everyday things that we do, and juggle, and manage.  There was a feeling of warmth between us that only couples can probably understand -- couples who have tacked life and kids, and job changes and health issues and aging parents (etc..) together for a while.   At this particular moment she was also feeling down about some things she had screwed up (don't we all?).

Anyway, I smiled at her and said "you know... we make a pretty good team."   

I played the original version of the song for her, nervously, and she liked it.  Loved it, I'd even say.  This is highly unusual -- she's my toughest critic -- to the point where I don't even play songs for her any more if I just want her approval (as opposed to her opinion).

When I offered the song at the workshop, though, the song fell flat. The meaning of the song relied on inside subtext that only my wife and I understood.  It also wandered a bit (which was intentional -- another inside reference).  Finally, the "pretty good team" hook didn't go over with a lot of people.  I was told it felt almost negative.

I've been writing songs long enough to know that, when you offer a song for critique, you can't argue with your audience, and you can't be seeking approval.  I didn't argue, but I will admit that, despite knowing intellectually that I was "too close" to the song to be objective, I really did want approval of my peers -- especially of Sally.  I admit that it hurt to have the song fall so flat.

After I licked my wounds overnight, I tried to address the comments made by my peers, and re-wrote the song.  The new version is what's posted on my site under "new stuff, rough cuts."  This is the version that I took to our regular songwriters meeting last night.

The new version was well-received, though it still didn't seem to be a big winner.  Especially with the ladies in the group.  

Ah, well.  

SVSA Vision, 2015 

I have been voted in as the president of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association (SVSA) for 2015.  I'm excited about it.

Here's the article I wrote for the first 2015 newsletter:

SVSA Vision, 2015

Hello everyone. 

It's a brand new year, and the SVSA has a brand new rookie president -- ME!  I thought I'd take a moment to introduce myself, since not all of you know me.
My name is Mike Franke. I've been an active member of the SVSA since about 2007, and have served as a board member for the past couple of years.
I live in a 129-year-old house in Salem with my wife of 19 years, my two internationally-adopted 13-year-old children, my two dogs, three cats, two chinchillas, and (counting now…) currently about 5-6 guitars.  I perform around the area as a solo singer-songwriter act, doing a mix of originals and covers in a finger-picking, blues-biased style.  (check me out at mikefrankemusic.com)

I’ve had some time to talk with SVSA leaders in the past few weeks, and have formed a vision of some things I would like to accomplish this year.  I have several pages of notes, a really daunting mind map, but it all boils down to two themes: Improving our Craft, and Socializing,  Let’s talk about each of them.

Improving our craft

This is what we’re all about at the SVSA.  Nothing revolutionary there.  Since I’ve been a member, the primary means by which we do this are
  1. song critiques
  2. internal workshops (where the presenter is an SVSA member), and
  3. outside workshops (where the presenter is from outside the SVSA)
We’re always experimenting with each of these, and even in the relatively short time I’ve been a member, I’ve seen some changes.
With respect to song critiques, we’ve experimented with time limits, round-robin answers, several formats of written responses, and allowing live performances or not – just to name a few variations.

Larry Sakayama (our president for the past few years) has done a great job of “recruiting” SVSA members to share their knowledge in workshops.  We’ve also had several awesome outside workshops, including Darryl Brown, and Sally Barris with Don Henry. After discussion with our current SVSA leaders, I would like us to make the following tweaks…

First, I will personally be taking on the task of facilitating the discussion during song critiques to draw people into the conversation who don’t usually say much.  My mission would be to create a safe environment where people feel (rightfully so) that their opinion is valued.  I will try to help people get over any shyness or reluctance they might have, while still allowing plenty of time to hear from our revered regulars.   I hope that, in the end, this is a way to diversify our learning, and eventually our music.
We’ll also be continuously restating and reinforcing guidelines we’ve long had, which include basic courtesy (which has really never been a problem), and the importance of written comments.

Second, I will be asking for ideas on how to take our workshops to a next level.  Without taking the fun out of them, I’d like to give both “hobbyist” and “serious student” a more goal-oriented vehicle for advancement.  Some ideas that have been discussed is to expand upon the “song challenge” idea (remember February’s challenge?), and some new ideas like a regular “why does this song work?” feature.  Perhaps we’ll use the web site to reward members who really show improvement.  Publicity is good, right?

Thirdly, we’ll continue to seek outside workshops.  This year, I hope to expand beyond the obvious singer-songwriter workshops, to other ways of getting out of our own way.  More on that later.

Socializing

Let’s face it.  A very important part of what we offer at the SVSA is a venue for songwriters (musicians and lyrical artists, performers and non-performers) to hang around like-minded people.  This year, though, I’d like to offer a few new spices to the usual dish.

First, I will try to have a regular monthly meeting for SVSA officers and board members to get together and enjoy each other’s company, talk about what’s working and what’s not, and hear more of David’s stories.  (ha!).  So, for those of you contemplating serving someday, keep in mind that scratch-made blueberry oatmeal pancakes might be a perk.

I will encourage, and help organize, events outside of songwriting.  Hiking is one of my favorites, and I’ll start with that.  I’d also like to make a habit of attending local performances as a group – both touring artists coming through the area, and our own up-and-coming artists.  We will attempt to reach out to other songwriter groups nearby with all of this.

Finally, and perhaps most ambitiously, I think it’s time for the SVSA to get into the modern world and use the best of social media to reach out to a new, vibrant pool of talent and ideas.  Thanks to Larry, we have had a really awesome web site (svsasongs.com) for some time now, and I hope to leverage that even more: more dynamic content (pics, blogs, recordings), more links, more engagement. 

We have had a Facebook page for some time, too, though I think we could make better use of it.  We’ll dig into that and see if ReverbNation is something we could leverage.  We now have a Twitter account (@SvsaSongs) as well, and we’ll be experimenting with how to use it. Other ideas include live internet shows via tools like StageIt.com, and an organized and SVSA-sanctioned YouTube channel.

I’m convinced that, if Mozart were alive today, he would have a room full of equipment, a fast internet connection, a GoPro, and a zillion Twitter followers.

Tag, out

(whew) I’m tired already.  OK, so I know that, as the new guy, I have lots of energy right now, and that this is the honeymoon phase.  But if you keep nagging me (Twitter!), I’ll keep pushing the envelope.

If you’re a serious songwriter, I want to continue to improve SVSA as an asset and a resource for you. If you’re a hobbyist, I want to create an environment in which you feel supported, valued, and encouraged to improve – and have the tools to do it.

Which are you? 

@mikefrankemusic @SvsaSongs #WriteOn