Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Best Compliment I've Ever Gotten.

On Sunday, I met, briefly, with John Fitzgerald, who will be singing "My Thanksgiving Prayer" with me on Wednesday. John is new to my music, so he was trying to describe it to a friend of his. He said to her -- and I'm going to put this into quotes but they aren't his exact words; I'm recreating them from memory, "I've been working with this amazing composer. His songs seem to start out conventionally, but somewhere in the middle, they kind of grab you and, by the end, you're completely overtaken. They seem to go somewhere unexpected."

His friend said, "I remember seeing a show a couple of years ago where the songs had that same effect. It was something about God and Merman."

Did you get that?

She recognized my songs, not from hearing them, but from merely hearing a description of them.

That might be the greatest compliment I've ever received, and I had to share it. She didn't even hear the song he was describing! She only heard the effect of the song.

I was completely taken aback.

Amy Coleman and I were sitting together yesterday, as we were waiting for the rest of the TLS cast to rehearse -- IT SOUNDS FANTASTIC, BTW -- and I was telling her about Amy Lynn Shapiro, and how much I've enjoyed mentoring her as a songwriter.

I said, "I obviously cannot take credit for Amy's amazing talent, but, since she had never written songs before, I discovered, for myself, what I look for in a well-written song, and what I demand from myself in terms of good songwriting. Without knowing it, I was shaping and molding her to think like I think so that, when I started putting music to them, it felt as if it were my own voice."

It's an awesome responsibility, of course. I'm not trying to turn Amy into a clone of myself. I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. Amy has her own distinct voice and point of view, but by helping her look for the guideposts that I, again, demand from my own self, singing her lyrics feels as honest as singing my own.

Amy Coleman said, "You know, you could make a lot of money giving master classes in songwriting."

I looked at her and said, "Perhaps. But, it's not like I have a syllabus or would even know how to academically create a program for writing songs. It's purely instinctive."

I received a note from an aspiring songwriter recently asking me if I would give her "a lesson in songwriting."

A lesson? One?

I responded by saying I wouldn't know how to give one lesson in songwriting. I don't think you can learn songwriting in one lesson. And some people can never learn songwriting -- at least, not the way I write songs, where the point is to dig so deeply into your heart that you leave the room exhausted and drained.

In the case of Amy Lynn, it was a case of mentoring over a period of time. She is like this word and idea factory. I felt more like a person riding a bucking bronco. The strength and power of what she brought to the table (the ring?) was already there. It was just a matter of giving it focus and discipline.

At the workshops in Los Angeles, where I've been volunteering as a facilitator, it's completely different situation. We don't even start with song structure or form, which you can learn from a book.

Sometimes I just sit and listen to the "student" talk, taking notes and writing down their own words. Then, I rhyme the words, look for the central emotional point, and give them back a lyric that is essentially theirs, meaning, every word on that page came from them.

They were sitting there writing a song without even knowing it.

It still remains a mystery to me, this artform. The more I write, the less I feel I know about it.

The woman I described above, who wanted "a lesson" in songwriting, told me her goal was to write for theater. Well, the truth is that I'm baffled about theater writing, even though I've written three musicals. I've taken courses and learned what's "supposed" to go into a musical, but I've never actually taken a "property"and converted it into a musical.

I just write from the heart, and somehow, it seems to work. Jim writes a book, and we have a show.

On Wednesday, Jennifer Wren will sing two of the songs that Amy and I have written. If you come to the concert, you can see for yourself whether or not I'm a good mentor. I love helping people find their "voice." I enjoy the artform of songwriting.

Could I make a "ton" of money teaching it? I don't know. I've never met an aspiring songwriter who actually had any money. Hell, I'm a supposedly "accomplished" songwriter and I certainly don't have any money.

But, to know that someone could identify my songwriting by a mere description of the effect my songs have? Wow. That's about the highest compliment any songwriter could ever receive.


Devin Richards said...

That's wonderful when something like that happens! Happy for you!!! :)

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