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Rough and Tumble  

Fantastic show by Rough and Tumble, with Britt Mistele leading off.

As an engineer, it's rare that I enjoy the chitchat between songs when I do these recordings.  I usually spend a lot of time editing much of it out.  In this case, they were so engaging an entertaining, and the stories so relevant to the songs, that I left most of the show pretty much as it was on stage that night.  Fantastic entertainers and wonderful, professional musicians.

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.