Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Spirituality of Songwriting

Songwriting is spiritual because it is an act of faith. You start with a blank page, a silent guitar, and a full heart. A miracle happens when you dare strum the first chord, or strike the first key. It’s like yanking a rope that opens a curtain on a scene that has only been waiting for an appreciative musically deprived audience. Someone will NEED this song. A melody comes singing through your imagination and words whisper from someplace beyond yourself and suddenly you realize that you have made a connection with some universal reality come to answer the world’s broken heart.
Unless it doesn’t happen that way.
Songwriting is spiritual because you answer the call to do it even on the days when you feel nothing. The chords are all used up, the melodies cliché, and the lyrics have had all the life siphoned out of them by the stresses and distractions of life. Some days, I use one page of my legal pad, and other days I master trashcan hoop shooting rather than the song. But persistence always pays off and some of my best songs have happened on my worst days. I’ve developed the fine art of staring into space.
Songwriting is co-creating with the Divine.
Songwriting is a discipline.
The hardest part is getting started. Emptiness and the pressure to create are formidable foes, especially if you’re working on a deadline. You pace, you go walking, you read another book, you get on-line and use up precious writing on shallow e-words. You listen to CDs and feel intimidated by them. You listen to the other songs you’ve written that EVERYONE loved, and feel even more intimidated. You listen to the songs you’ve written that made money, and quit for the day.
Next day. You’ve mysteriously awakened with an idea burning a hole in you. You begin to write. Amazing. This is SO easy and natural. I can do this. Until you get to the last line of the second verse. It’s like a resistant force has blocked it from view, deleted it from the incoming messages. Now, the hardest part is finishing.
Want some advice? If you have trouble getting started, just start getting some words onto the page. Journal for a little bit to see if an idea emerges, or go back to your title book and pick a title, even if it’s not wowing you. (You DO have a title book, don’t you?) Settle on a title and write words that associate. The thing is, since every song is a gift, as you write, or play, you unblock whatever is jamming up the lines of communication.
Another thing you can do is - nothing. Let it go. My friend James Spruill says, “When you don’t know what to do, don’t.” This works especially well if you have trouble finishing. Step away from the idea and tell yourself it will come when it’s time. It will sneak off into your subconscious and then one day, at the most inopportune time, it will sneak back up on you and you’ll wonder why you couldn’t have thought of something so obvious sooner.
You will never run out of songs to write if you expect them to be there. Seek and you will find; ask and it will be given to you. A writer is always paying attention, because she knows the ideas are flowing around us everywhere all the time. In an empty room or on a crowded street, in a cathedral or in a bar, in good times and bad, there is always a song. Search for it. Knock and it will be revealed to you.

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