Connecting Songwriters Throughout Northeast Ohio
“Why Are We Here?”
Ken Moody-Arndt, President
|Naaah, I’m not going all philosophical on you. Not yet, anyway….|
But I got another reminder, on a Wednesday night in November, of why I am “here,” anyway, as part of this group devoted to the art of the song. Why do I do this—why do I make the trek, first Monday of every month, to whichever Falls or Summit or other Cuyahogic entity it is in which our meeting is happening this month?
On that Wednesday I went with my wife Kathy to see a group with whom many of you are no doubt familiar: the Flatlanders, a Texas trio, three guys who have known each other for “…about a hundred years,” if guitarist/songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore is to be believed, and playing together off and on for about 50 years. I think he may have been exaggerating. Or maybe, insofar as he’s a Buddhist (OK, wrap your head around that one: a Buddhist country songwriter from Texas), he might measure time differently than we do. But I risk digressing. Or going all philosophical….
Anyway, I sat there in the audience, looking up at them playing their music in perfect sync, singing songs with lyrics that say something about things that matter, and, yes, now that I think about it, going all philosophical, at times, anyway: the city of Dallas, viewed from a DC9 at night, as metaphor for life’s contradictions, “Borderless Love” as a meditation on one-sided stories that pass for real, with lines like “…it’s the fearless who love and the loveless who fear.” I looked up at them, looked up to them, as guys doing what I want to do: write songs like that, lyrics that say something about stuff that matters, and play them for any who care to listen—any who care to listen: people like Kathy, who has no enduring interest in pop or folk or country music, but who nevertheless came away from the performance as moved as I was.
|That is why I’m here. That is why I make the aforementioned trek. I came at first, back in 2008, simply because I wanted to be around other musicians. I discovered here, along with that precious fellowship with like-minded songsters, a commitment to the art of the song that I am really not finding anywhere else—at least, not in so explicit and disciplined a way. And that’s why I’m still here. I have brought virtually every song I have written before this group. Most of those songs I have changed or revised in ways large or small as a result of feedback I’ve gotten here—I say “most of them” because there are some I didn’t revise because of feedback I got here; that would be the one or two I don’t play anymore, anywhere. |
That is why I keep coming back: out of a deep appreciation for what I get, here. Where else, outside of a workshop that would cost four or five times as much as the $25 per year we pay here, can we get positive, constructive criticism that can make a good song great? Come and participate! Help Songwriter Summit continue to offer that commitment to the art of the song. Bring musician friends who can help us grow. Bring non-musical friends to represent all the people we hope to reach with our lyrics that say something about things that matter. See you on December 2!
Join Us For Our Next General Meeting
December 2nd at 7:00 PM
2555 State Rd, Cuyahoga Falls
Song Challenge Announced For January Meeting
Bring A New"Character-Driven" Song To Share
|Chances are you've heard character-driven songs all your life. Maybe you didn't see them that way but you'd recognize one if your heard it. These are songs like The Reverend Mr. Black that highlight the character of the protagonist in the tune. Or maybe it's Bill Morrissey's Birches that shows you the personality of the main character. |
In this particular genre it's not the story as much as it is how the character - real or fictional - reacts to or deals with the narrative.
Guy Clark did it with Randall Knife. Springsteen did it with Glory Days. Now it's your turn.
Our January meeting will focus on songs built around a character you might know or one you create. Maybe it's a relative who is exemplary for one reason or another. Maybe it's the neighbor down the street with the perfect lawn driven by a personality flaw you have yet to discover. Or maybe, just maybe, it's a fictional individual who exhibits some particular facet of their life that makes them compelling. We've had song challenges before and they're not uncommon as writing exercises. Hey, we're songwriters. You've got over a month to work on this one. Let's get the year off to a good and exciting start and see what we can come up with on January 6th.
Member Profile: David Palomo
|Board member David Palomo is director of Music Together Summit where he also teaches early childhood music. Since research tells us infants and toddlers develop tone and rhythm competence on a parallel track to their developing language and motor skills this is important work. David came to this from a counseling background and when he took the Music Together teacher training and saw how the classes also supported the child's emotional growth and connection with the parent. It was a"no brainer" he says to get involved.|
He notes that this has influenced his songwriting in that it connects him with the basic process of music development."Every day my teaching puts me in touch with the elementary processes of music in the psyche."
Early on in his teaching career he found himself doing a sotto voce whistling of little tunes when driving home from class. He had discovered a kind of music source in the unconscious. Now he keeps an easy access recording app on his phone to catch these little musical suggestions from the psyche.
David was kind enough to answer a few questions about his process when it comes to creating music and his involvement in Songwriter Summit.
What keeps you coming back to Songwriter Summit on a regular basis?
I find it’s always inspiring and stimulating to hear what other people come up with. Hearing all these fresh musical ideas with their compelling stories gets me out of the little mad scientist dungeon in my own head. I always learn something and I always leave in an improved frame of mind. I just wish there were more time to hang out with everyone and learn more.
What drives your writing?
Some sort of music seems to be going on in my unconscious. Carl Jung held that dreaming is going on all the time and that we only catch it when the threshold of consciousness is lowered when we can catch a glimpse of this process at work. He was more visual than I am—I think I’ve stumbled on an auditory analog to what he was talking about—a stream of music activity going on below the level of immediate consciousness that I catch now and then when I'm zoned out while driving or working around the house. That's how I see the little bits of tune-age I find myself singing at odd moments when my mind is wandering.
The producer Don Was once told a story of working with the Rolling Stones and hearing Keith say"INCOMING!!!" and then he would break off a riff or a melody. And it was Keith who once said in an interview that there's really only one Song and we just plug in from time to time. I guess that's when he says Incoming!
This a long way around the barn to say that what"drives" my song writing is more like trying to catch a wave in the ocean of the unconscious and ride it as far as I can.
Lately, I notice that in writing for kids, it's a matter of starting with an urgent need:"I need a song about this” and I drop right into a space where there are all kinds of ideas stirring around. For example, this year I have a lot of kids in the preschool where I also teach who are having a hard time with boundaries and controlling their bodies. So one day I just started singing the phrase"I Keep My Hands To Myself" and let the basic song take shape right there with them in the moment (note—I took out the phone recorder after about a minute so I could catch the basic idea for later refinement).
"I also like the challenge of writing for pre-linguistic children--you get to focus on the melodic and/or rhythmic feel of the song."
| I also like the challenge of writing for pre-linguistic children--you get to focus on the melodic and/or rhythmic feel of the song. You want to go a little heavier on the rhythm because that's more likely to evoke patterned movements in their limbs. You can also just use vocables for lyrics (ba ba, da da, woo woo etc). If you write for this age range, a song without words (using vocables) lets their brain focus on just processing music instead of music and language. |
Frankly, I struggle writing for adults. Lately I do a bit of"mental health" songs--profane musical rants that won't (and shouldn't) see the light of day. For most of my life I’ve been good with words and that’s where I started with my songwriting. Now I’m getting all these little snatches of tune and the lyrics are harder to come by.
How would you describe the music you create?
Experimental. I hear something and think,"I'd like to try something like that." For example, I did a song"How Long?" after hearing CSNY do"Ohio." My song"Heart So Cold" came from a badly remembered Jimi Hendrix lick.
In recent issues of The Bridge, I’ve talked about modeling guitars and multi-effects modeling amps. I have some songs that began by just noodling around with some of the different sounds I can get and finding one that really resonated with me that I kind of just jumped on and rode it until it was a song.
In terms of style, this technology has let me play around with electric rock and country sounds as well as acoustic songs.
What advice would you share with other songwriters?
Go, sell what you must, and get a copy of Songwriting Without Boundaries by Pat Pattison. It’s a book full of “object writing” exercises that run from one minute to 10 minutes. I like to open it up and do an exercise every morning.
Also, here's my takeaway from Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird By Bird: she talks about how she always has 3x5 cards with her and writes down things she observes or hears or ideas that come. She says this is how you pay your respect to the process. I try to pay my respect to the psyche by having that easy access phone recorder at the ready.
I'm still working on paying my respect to to process by figuring out how to use those little bits of tune-age I collect on the phone recorder. I have an embarrassingly large backlog.
Here’s where I invoke again that quote from Keith Richards about there being just one Song and we all just plug into it now and again: So you pay your respects by keeping your notebook or recorder and maybe, just maybe, every now again you get plugged in to the Ur-song.
What are your thoughts about working with a co-writer?
Sad to say, no. That's more a matter of time and energy constraints. When I lived in San Francisco I had a street poet ask me to set some of his work to poetry. A couple of them came out OK. It's something I'd like to try more of.
Finally, we asked what was the difference between the best song he'd ever written and the worst?
Most people say they can't tell the difference (grin). The bad ones are where the idea is pedestrian or the language not concrete so it doesn’t engage the listener’s imagination. I’m on the fence about using familiar chord progressions vs branching out. I think there’s got to be something familiar that resonates with a groove in the listener. My bad ones don’t do that.
Two Christmas Guitars
Bob Wrobel, Guest Columnist
|The Christmas season has always been a special time of year for me. Part of what makes it special is a connection two particular guitars have with Christmases past. |
The connection started in 1964 when I was a senior in high school and just becoming aware of folk music. Inspired by what I was hearing, I wanted to do more than just listen to it. I decided to give it a go myself.
That Christmas my grandmother gave me $50. I decided to use the money to purchase a guitar and found one at a local music store for $35.
I can’t remember what brand it was; however, it seemed to be a decent guitar. Of course it had high action, lousy intonation and less-than-stellar sound but what did I know about guitars then anyway? I could afford it and was ready to learn to play.
Not really aware of the guitar’s deficiencies, I played that guitar through the ensuing months, becoming somewhat listenable.
That brings us to the Fall of ’65 and my freshman year at college. On campus I discovered that there were actually better guitars out there. I shared with my parents that I hoped to upgrade my guitar as soon as I had the money.
"Needless to say I was ecstatic."
|Little did I know that when I came home for Christmas break my parents would present me with a Cherry Sunburst Gibson J45! I wasn’t expecting that at all. Needless to say I was ecstatic. Thank you, Mom and Dad. I’m grateful to this day.|
My dad told me that he and my mom heard what I said about wanting to upgrade my guitar and decided to get me the J45 as their Christmas present to me. The guitar remained my mainstay over the years and bears the scars of many performances and jam sessions.
The J45 carries with it lots of fond memories, especially those of my grandmother, my first guitar, and Mom’s and Dad’s love, generosity and support all those Christmases ago.
These days you’ll usually see me playing a Taylor 812. However, I still have the J45 and play it every so often. I may even perform with it again.
As to my first Christmas guitar, I lost track of it after a friend bought it from me. It served me well. I wish I knew what finally became of it.
Family, fond memories and those two guitars - they’re all part of Christmas for me.
Holiday Fun With MIDI—Or—DIY Karaoke
|Every year I do a Holiday Family Sing Along. We’ve outgrown our studio space so the last couple of years (and again this year) we’ll be at the Fairlawn Library.|
Along the way I wanted to do something more than just my guitar. I’d read about the wide world of MIDI and when I looked into it, I discovered a really fun way to add some instrumentation to a Holiday Family Sing Along.
For the purposes of this discussion, all you need to know is that you can get a pre-fab MIDI file, throw it into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation—your recording software), do a couple of clicks and then hit play. The pre-fab MIDI file is really like an old style piano roll for a player piano. In fact, that’s the model that the developers of the technology used. The specific track with MIDI information in it is still called ‘the piano roll.’
I’ll be including a link to a video where I’ll show you how this goes using the Ableton software. I’m not sure if you can do it in Garage Band, but you can do it in Apple Logic or PreSonus Studio One (which might be the most versatility per dollar).
Do This First
Your “piano roll” ain’t gonna do you no good if you don’t have a “piano.” To do this you have to turn on some sort of synthesizer which should have come with your DAW or computer. My computer came loaded with Microsoft’s Wavetable Synth. Kinda cheesy but it gets the job done for what I want to do without me spending $$$ on a more sophisticated set of sounds.
Here’s what I did to turn it on in Ableton:
|From “Options > Preferences” I selected the “Link/MIDI” tab at the right and where it said “Output: Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth” I set the Track and Sync columns to ON. |
This means that when a track with a “piano roll” plays, the “piano” is turned on for that track. Sync refers to sync to a keyboard but I turned it on anyway. Remote is for remote control using MIDI—no need for that here.
Next let me show you two different versions of Jingle Bell rock I got from two different sites on the web. The sources for Christmas MIDI files seems to change every year so a lot of the MIDI files I saved came from sites that no longer exist.
|This first arrangement has only 3 MIDI files (piano rolls): Percussion, Piano and French Horn. Note the right side of Channel 1 where the percussion is playing. The are 3 square areas—but it’s the middle one that contains all the vital information. On the bottom half of that middle square you can see where it shows that it is playing through the Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth (although the name is cut off). Just below that it says Channel 10. If you compare that to the other two tracks, they both say Channel 1.|
Here’s all you need to know: any time a MIDI file/piano roll has percussion data on it, you need to have it play through Channel 10. You can usually get away with having all the melody instruments on another channel but if you play a percussion MIDI file through a channel other than channel 10, it will get played as melody.
Let’s look at another MIDI file of Jingle Bell Rock:
|The four MIDI files for this arrangement are named Jazz 3, Elec Organ, Elec Piano 1, and Fantasy. In this arrangement, Jazz 3 is the percussion file, playing on Track 10. The other tracks play on channels 2, 3 and 5.|
You can find out more about the general MIDI spec on Wikipedia at this link.
Here's a demo video of me importing a MIDI file of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and doing the set up so it will play. I’ll show you some of the other MIDI files too.
Wrapping Up (pun intended)
As I said in the video, MIDI World is the only site from my collection that still exists.
Other sites I see for this year are Westnet, Rose’s Music Pages and Prairie Frontier.
I hope you have as much fun as I do playing with these files. You’ll find a lot of these pages use the same file and just rename it. I leave the naughty/nice judgment to the fat guy.
In the immortal words of Kinky Friedman: May The God Of Your Choice Bless You.
Internet Find of the Month
Eva Cassidy: Somewhere Over The Rainbow
A Lovely Voice Gone Way Too Soon
This One Will Bring A Huge Smile
EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS FIND
Walking In Memphis
With Backstory: The Transformative Power of Music
Our Next Meeting
|Our next meeting will be held on December 2nd at The Elks Lodge, 2555 State Rd, Cuyahoga Falls. If you are presenting a song please bring 30 copies for distribution to the other attendees. Copies will be returned to you at the end of the meeting. You do not need to be a member to attend a meeting or bring us a song.|
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Officers And Board Members
Member At Large
Member At Large
Member At Large
Member At Large
T. B. Announced, Jr.
Member At Large
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