Critiquing your song
by Holly Tashian
It's one thing to write a song, letting the words issue forth without too much
censoring, and letting the melody flow where it wants to go. But the
song isn't finished until it's had a good lookin' over, i.e. critiquing.
can be one of the most challenging steps in song writing, and probably
the one most of us would like to avoid. Critiquing your song is, however,
the most important step and the one that makes a good song better
and a better song great.
To make the job easier, here are a few tips on critiquing that I've
learned while working for the Nashville Songwriter's Association International
as a song evaluator. If you're interested in learning more, visit
the N.S.A.I at www.nashvillesongwriters.com.
Read through this list and be honest as you evaluate your creative
effort. Hopefully you can answer "yes" to most of these questions.
If not, it's time for the eraser!
A. Theme (underlying idea or concept)
1. Is the idea one that a lot of people can relate to?
2. Is it a unique or "fresh" approach?
3. Is the idea believable?
4. Did you avoid confusing the listener with too many themes
or details that don't lead to the hook?
5. Are the characters interesting and/or believable?
Note: Occasionally I hear a song that is offensive in one way or another,
and I wonder who would want to sing such a song. It's a good idea
to remember to put your singer in a good light. Most singers will
turn down a song that makes them look like jerks!
1. Is there a memorable title or hook? (Exceptions are certain
love songs or story songs).
2. Is there a strong opening line? (Who, what where, when…)
3. Do the words sound in-fashion or up-to-date?
4. Are the lyrics something you would hear in a conversation
5. Are the lines concise and does every word count? Did you
eliminate rhymes that are too predictable? (true,/blue, heart/ part,
6. Is the use of clichés kept to a minimum?
Note: One of the most common problems I come across in critiquing
is what we call "telling the listener what's happening"
rather than showing by example. If you say "they fell in love",
it's just a fact. But if you say, "They kissed" the listener
has an image to intensify the lyrics.
1. Is there a strong marriage between melody and lyrics?
2. Has an appropriate mood been established through the rhythm
3. Is the musical hook memorable?
4. Is there an interesting melodic change between verse and
chorus and/or verse and bridge?
5. Does the melody build into the chorus?
Note: A memorable hook is also called a "motif" and it repeats with
variations throughout the song. A good example of a motif is the first
few notes of "Sentimental Journey." Notice how this phrase and rhythm
gets repeated throughout the song, with slight variations in pitch.
This makes for a very memorable song.
D. Overall Impact
1. Does the song have a beginning, middle, and an end?
2. Are all the verses strong and non-repetitive?
3. Is the message powerful?
4. Does the song generate emotion?
5. Is the storyline good?
6. Does the song resolve itself to the listener's satisfaction?
Note: Variety is the spice of life, and this goes for lyrics and rhythms
as well. If your verses have lots of words coming together rapidly
(bunching), it is a welcome relief to draw the words and rhythm out
during the chorus or bridge (running). We call this technique, "bunch
and run." A good example of that is "Sunny Side of the Street"
or "Blue Skies." Notice the variety within the song.
One last word(s): If you are too close to your song to critique it,
ask someone else, whose opinion you trust, to listen to it with this
list in hand and have them give you honest feedback. This is a powerful
tool and one worth using every time you write a song. Good luck!
[© 2006 Holly Tashian]
Holly Tashian lives in Nashville and writes with
her husband, Barry. She has had songs recorded by the Nashville Bluegrass
Band, Roland White, the Stevens Sisters, Daniel O'Donnell, Ty England,
and many other country and bluegrass artists. She and Barry teach
creativity classes at Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp, Puget Sound
Guitar Workshop, and Summer Acoustic Music Week. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit her Web site at www.tashian.com.
Comments? E-mail the editor at email@example.com.
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Tricking your muse
by Holly Tashian
I'm one of those people who has to clear their desk, do the dishes,
make the bed, eat a good breakfast, and put on their makeup before
they can get anywhere near the guitar or notebook to write a song.
Chaos and unfinished business seem to clutter up my mind making
it very difficult for creative ideas to penetrate my consciousness.
now that my desk is clear, and I've paid the bills, run off a load
of laundry and answered my email, I'm ready to write about this
illusive muse called "Creativity." How do we connect up with our
creative selves? How do we find fresh new ways of approaching the
universal themes of love, lost love, and a few other subjects?
Well, I've devised a few tricks that seem to work for me. Here they
are, neatly numbered in no particular order.
1. Look around. What do you see? If it could talk, what would it
say? I'm looking at my cup of tea that has the words: "You Will
Come Back," printed on the side. Hmmm, could be a song in that.
So I start writing a stream of consciousness about coming back to
my hometown, how it's changed, how they've torn down the old Dairy
Queen where we used to hang out after high school. At some point
my ramblings begin to make sense, and I actually come up with an
idea that's worth writing a song about, that's universal, and that
has an emotional impact. Try it! You'd be amazed at the stories
a paperclip, or a piece of art can tell once you look at them as
alive and talking to you.
2. Another trick I use is to create a random list of titles. I like
titles that have colors in them, that have places in them, or certain
objects. "The Red Car," "Balloons on My Birthday," "I Love Chicos,"
"That's Why I'm Here," "Take It from Me," "If Loneliness Could Talk,"
etc. When I've got about 10 titles, I choose my favorite and start
writing everything that comes to mind. Eventually, I try to shape
it into a chorus. Then I write the lyrics to support the chorus.
This is my favorite way to write.
3. I find that journaling is a good dumping ground to let all those
whiney voices and complaining thoughts get onto the paper and out
of my head. It opens the way for bigger and brighter ideas to come
forward. It's like clearing off my desk. Once the junk's cleared
out, ideas start coming up and the next thing I know, I'm putting
them into a rhyme scheme.
4. Sometimes - and it's pretty rare - I hear a melody that inspires
lyrics. It's usually a catchy rhythm that could be used as a skeleton
to hang lyrics on. For example, there are some terrific old gospel
songs that have standard meter that can inspire a whole new set
of lyrics and a different set of notes. That way I don't have to
reinvent the wheel. After all, isn't creativity putting two things
that already exist into a new combination?
5. One of my favorite tricks is to put on my songwriter's antennae.
I have a little notebook with me, and I go out shopping - say to
Kroger or Home Depot - and just listen to the conversations around
me. I jot down anything that sounds like it could be a song. For
instance, I heard someone say, "Loneliness brought us together."
Referring back to number 1 on this list, I think of loneliness as
personified. What would it be like to be "Madam Loneliness"?
6. Then there's reading. My favorite resources are The New Yorker
and The New York Times. They have some dandy writers to feed the
imagination. And of course radio and TV are excellent places to
listen for lyric ideas.
7. Lastly, I suggest that you join a songwriter's circle, or start
one of your own. Get together with other musicians and get some
feedback on your songs. This can be very helpful and very telling.
By the way, the best advice I've gotten on songwriting was from
my sister, who said, "Don't try so hard, just write about what you
know, for pete's sake!"
So that's the short list.
As for actually writing a song, that's a whole 'nuther subject.
Personally I like Sheila Davis's "The Craft of Lyric Writing" and
Jimmy Webb's "Tunesmith" for some solid advice on how to write a
good song. Good luck and may the muse be with you!
[� 2004 Holly Tashian]
Holly Tashian lives in Nashville and writes with
her husband, Barry. She has had songs recorded by the Nashville
Bluegrass Band, Roland White, the Stevens Sisters, Daniel O'Donnell,
Ty England, and many other country and bluegrass artists. She teaches
creativity classes at Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp, Puget Sound
Guitar Workshop, and Summer Acoustic Music Week. She can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit her Web site at
Fathoming folk friendships
by Bernice Lewis
It's a gloomy
April day during what is affectionately known here in the Northeast
as mud season. I am sitting at my computer trying to figure out
how to make a short tour to the midwest this fall. I drop a line
to my friend Beth, whom I met a few years ago when we were contestants
in a songwriting contest in California. She lives in Indiana.
Less than 24 hours later, Beth sends me a short list of active
venues and contact names along with an excited offer to share
a show or two in order to squeeze in some time together.
My pal Katie writes that its 92 degrees and sunny on her mountain
top in Arizona, and that she can't believe she is still writing
and performing at (add some well chosen expletives here) 80 years
I know it's time for the Wildflower Festival in Richardson,
Texas, where I am lucky enough to perform every other year. Last
year it was so warm that I had to raid my friends' closets for
skirts and tank tops.
And then there is Kerrville. I can tell by my dreams, which
feature a weekly panic attack over arriving late and being unable
to find a campsite. It's never really happened...I just dream
it every year out of the sheer excitement of wanting to be there
under the Texas sky listening to the sounds of acoustic guitars
and beautiful voices and real songs made up by real people about
The folks I meet often ask me how I do it? How do I manage
to tour the entire United States (and then some) playing music?
They cannot believe that I do it without an agent, that I rarely
stay in hotel rooms and often don't rent cars, and hardly ever
eat three meals a day in restaurants. I try to explain...I fumble
with words like "network" and "support" and
"fan base." But these words are too antiseptic... I
don't know how to tell people about the families I have in every
stop, how different they each are, and yet how tied they are
to this music and its survival.
There are people who are perfectly content with the music
on the radio and the CD selection at Wal-Mart. There are people
who cannot live without live music and the spoken word. For them
it is a kind of food...a necessity. These are the people I know,
depend on, work for and with. I sleep in their guest rooms (I've
often said that I know America from her guest rooms), borrow
their cars, hold their babies, record their stories. I know when
someone marries, divorces, gets sick, loses a job, comes out.
They are my friends. There's an old adage about never doing business
with your friends. I cannot fathom doing it any other way.
Bernice Lewis is a Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter.
Her most recent CD is Religion & Release. Learn more about her
by Harvey Reid
I am banging at the keyboard at 12:33 a.m. trying to grasp the
fleeting sensations of this whirlwind trip to Italy, at a particularly
poignant moment. Today was hard, a 14-hour work day with waking
up at a crummy hotel in the middle of nowhere, jumping into the
vehicle within 10 minutes, and spending close to seven hours
in a van, mostly on freeways, with two different Italians, one
who speaks pretty good English and the other almost none. I am
dying to have a conversation in real English with someone, so
I guess it is whoever reads this.
I did a demonstration/concert in a music store in downtown
Milan today at the music shop of Prina, a 55-year-old woman who
sells a lot of acoustic guitars in her old-fashioned shop. I
am doing eight such things in seven days, plus some gigs and
a guitar festival, and it is quite different from a typical day
in York, Maine or a coffeehouse gig in Vermont. I think it went
well and they liked me, but I feel somewhat like a freak show
in world dominated by mass culture or at least mass-media glimpses
of non-mainstream music. I barely fit into America, but in other
countries they know nothing of my world of public radio airplay,
coffeehouses and non-mainstream music and culture. This place
has no counterculture - not that we do, but at least the world
of coffeehouses, open mikes, house concerts, non-profit folk
gigs and public radio airplay is feeding thousands of us in the
US, and as far as I can tell there is no such thing here in Italy.
I was trying to explain to my host here about open mikes,
and about house concerts, and people selling CD's out of their
cars and over the Internet. They don't even have people teaching
guitar at music stores here. That alone supports thousands of
independent musicians, or at least keeps food on their tables
to go with the gig income they have. I bought a house by working
outside of the system, and cannot even imagine a world where
there is nothing but mainstream. Their idea of "alternative"
is Ry Cooder or David Lindley or Stevie Ray Vaughan, and though
I like those guys a lot, I don't consider that they are part
of the same system that supports me or most of my folk music
friends. I guess I should feel lucky that there is an underground
folk scene, even though I usually don't feel lucky to have a
meal ticket at the folk lunch wagon, since it is not even a middle-class
existence. Somewhere below janitor seems to be where most folk
musicians end up on the income scale.
Italy is a place of cultural struggle, but they don't realize
it. And it is sadder to see an old culture be blitzed by TV than
it was to watch the recent demise of the hardly even existent
American culture. The signs of the termite-rot of Western TV
culture are everywhere, but so are the remains of their own culture.
Kids with Michael Jordan and Levi's T shirts. Maybe they can
just take a few things from Hollywood and not lose their way
of life, but somehow I suspect it is a more slippery slope than
they realize. They are just getting their first supermarkets
and traffic jams on the freeways, and I don't think they get
it that they will put the local butchers and cheese-makers out
of business. When I mention that I see the invasion of Hollywood,
they say - "Oh, it's just the kids that like video games...."
It seems to me they don't get it. Cultures rot from the bottom,
starting with kids. Two generations where the kids don't learn
to cook or do the other customs, and they can vanish. Italy is
in no danger of losing its language, although a steady creep
of technology words is invading. When they discuss computers
or music technology I can actually understand because so many
of the words are from English. They are chatting away non-stop
on their cell phones (they are absolutely everywhere - five times
as many as in the US) and smoking like chimneys, and they tell
me little things like "The young people don't drink wine
so much. They like beer." which tells me that the kids are
buying into the beer commercial thing, and before you know it,
the small wine producers will have a smaller market and the big
changes will start slowly grinding away.
Hell, 50 years ago in the US there were no refrigerated trucks
to carry food everywhere, and you could probably get local cheese
and bread and milk, too. It would not surprise me at all if the
TV and American Wal-Mart steamroller blitzed all these countries.
It's too powerful, and no one has ever seen it before, and no
one knows how it works. TV is a Trojan horse, and it's unclear
if the diversity and non-mass marketing control of the Internet
can come fast enough to prevent the Budweiser commercial machine
from taking control. That's a comforting thought - to think that
the Internet might somehow save the world from TV.
I guess my trip here could almost be summed up in an experience
I had today in Milan, where almost no one spoke English. I needed
some duct tape, and I was in a music store, and I thought it
might be simple to request some, since I assumed that musicians
everywhere relied on it. Not only did they not know what I meant,
but it was 15 minutes before I gave up. I tried to draw a picture
of a roll of duct tape (hard to do), and pantomime using it to
tape down some wires, and describe the color (gray, silver, like
plastic and cloth both...). They brought me packing and cellophane
tape, and it turns out I have a million-dollar business idea.
Not only will I sell shower curtains to the Italians I will sell
them duct tape. And I will mail a multi-pack of Wal-Mart duct
tape to my Italian friends for Christmas.
Harvey Reid is one of the outstanding writers and performers
in acoustic music today. Find out more about Harvey and his recordings
The key to becoming
by Bob Franke
The key to becoming "national" is to become local in
a lot of places. The key to becoming a viable local performer
is talent and a mailing list. Show the local venue that you can
fill the seats more cheaply than a "national" act by
demonstrating that you have the numbers in your computer and
can put out a mailing that will do the job.
Hype the mailing list, do the data entry (or hire somebody
to do it if your day job doesn't give you the time), and use
the technology and a sense of responsibility to take back the
power that too many artists have given up. Identify and develop
a relationship with your audience, and you will become much more
attractive (assuming the aforementioned talent) to any promoter.
I toured regionally and part-time for many years, then started
adding regions. I worked nine years in a candy factory until
my tax returns told me that I was making more money at music,
at which point the PC enabled me to trick myself into responsible
business behavior, and I started doing this full time.
The scene has changed a lot since then. There's been an historic
shift of power from labor to capital, but at the same time the
means of production have gotten a lot cheaper, requiring less
capital. Information is more freely available. There are more
gigs and it's possible to find them, and it's easier to get your
information to your audience.
The good news is that the same imagination that can put a
song together can keep an old car on the road and enable an old
PC to spew out a mailing. Software companies love musicians because
of this fact. The bad news is that doing these things is no easier
than your day job.
Large corporations are doing their damnedest to reshape this
music into their own packageable image. If artists don't work
as hard with similar tools to keep the music faithful to real
life, the culture is in trouble. Some of it is about money and
power, and an artist has to be familiar enough with those issues
to survive long enough to say that it's about other, more important
things as well. You can't do this in ignorance, and you can't
do it alone. Keep talking to each other. Good luck.
[© 2000 Bob Franke]
After more than 30 years in the business, songwriter Bob Franke
knows whereof he speaks. His latest CD is Long Roads, Short Visits.
Learn more about Bob at http://pobox.com/~telepole.
Creating a new venue
by Steve Key
I walk into
a room - a church, a museum, a restaurant, any kind of room.
Usually my first thought is: "I wonder what it would be
like to do a show here." Although I am a performer, I'm
usually thinking not of playing the show myself, but organizing
it, presenting it, just for the sake of the show.
Recently I've presented monthly concerts in the sanctuary
of a Unitarian Church, weekly songwriter showcases in a corner
cafe, and house concerts in my living room. That was all in my
previous home in Nashville, Tennessee. I've returned to live
in Washington, DC, and my eyes and ears are open to finding the
Next New Venue.
It's been five years since I moved from DC to Nashville. Several
of the church-based coffeehouses that were here five years ago
have closed. The trend now is house concerts - maybe six or seven
monthly series have started around DC in recent years. But my
wife and I live in a two-bedroom condo, so I don't think a house
concert is the way to go this time.
Why did the church-based coffeehouses close? Presenter burn-out,
dwindling audience - hard to say which comes first. It takes
a lot to build a following for a venue and keep it growing. It's
difficult for some of us to delegate important tasks, to build
a core group of volunteers, and to connect with the community
who could be your audience.
Performers can't bring in the audience all by themselves.
And presenters can't do it alone. There has to be a combination
of performer publicity and the presenter's organization that
brings the people together for a show.
I started a venue in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx
called the Uptown Coffeehouse. My wife and I were members of
the Society for Ethical Culture, and it was the Society's 100-seat
meeting room that we used for concerts twice a month. The leader
of the society let us use it without charging rent, because he
was sure we would fail to get an audience anyway.
Another couple from the society took up the task of making
and selling the baked goods and refreshments. My wife and other
members of the society were willing to take tickets, sell performer
albums, etc. I borrowed a sound system and did the sound and
hosting myself. I also booked the music and did the publicity.
I probably took on too much of the work, but at least I had a
core of six to eight volunteers to help in running the show.
I knew I wasn't going to get the New York Times to carry our
concert announcements, but the Riverdale neighborhood had a weekly
paper that would. In fact, the editor later showed up to play
one of our open mics. We had two radio stations - WFDU in Teaneck
NJ and WFUV right there in the Bronx - which had folk shows that
would mention our shows, sometimes even do ticket giveaways and
interview performers the day of the show.
I tried to book a variety of performers to build a varied
audience. My thinking was that if I could get a variety of people
in the door and they enjoyed the show, they might come back to
hear somebody they didn't know just because they liked the venue.
So we had solo acts, touring acts from Boston and local singers
from Greenwich Village, topical singers who had played the popular
Clearwater Festival, Celtic duos and trios, a Woody Guthrie Tribute
show, and now and then, an open mic.
Our first sold-out show was in our second season. It was on
Super Bowl Sunday, and the act was the Wood's Tea Company. They
had a strong following, but I think we had built an audience
that was ready to hear an act that did some traditional folk,
Woody Guthrie ballads, popular Irish folk songs, cowboy poetry
and funny stories. I believe the sold-out show was a combination
of our grass-roots organization and the performers' work in audience
I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for contemporary folk music
with friends and total strangers. It's a drag to book somebody
and then have only a small group show up to hear them. So I have
to think a lot about what I'm doing, where I'm doing it, how
I'm going to make all the connections necessary to have a successful
If I keep all those elements in mind, I may be able to create
a new venue with sold-out audiences again. Hmmm, I wonder what
it would be like to do a show in that room over there?
[© 2000 Steve Key]
Steve Key followed the success of his song "Record Time,"
recorded by Kathy Mattea, to Nashville. He recently returned
to Washington, DC. Steve would welcome hearing from you at email@example.com.
Feeling the power
by Richard "Hershey" Shirman
|Copyright ©2001, Blues
I was inspired by The Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. I saw
both when I was fourteen, over the objections of my parents,
and was hooked.
I am now middle-aged and disabled. Were it not for music,
the great musicians who continue to play the songs that I write
or select, what a miserable so-and-so I'd be.
This is not a unique tale, but it does demonstrate the real
power of music. After all, but for music you wouldn't have read
a word of this, would you?
I don't intend to bore you here with my efforts (eventually
successful) to force myself on the music business. I'd rather
share the emotions that it has generated and try to explain the
various degrees of togetherness that encompasses the world in
which I have chosen to live.
When still only fifteen, I joined my first group - an r'n b
outfit, made up of guys aged up to twenty (almost adults in those
days). They accepted me as an equal because I knew my music and
did a reasonable job as front man.
I went from there to forming my own group, recorded, almost
made it, traveled the country, met stars, but found that my chosen
field is a universal adhesive.
One can still talk about the greats one met along the way.
When I first encountered Jimi Hendrix in a London nightclub,
I got all excited as I thought that I'd just met Little Richard!
I was out of the business for almost ten years, met an angel,
married her, but became more and more frustrated with my lot.
She hadn't known me when I was performing. She found her husband
a nicer guy once he was back performing.
My grandiose nature demanded BIG so I ended up with a ten-piece
outfit. I found a tremendous camaraderie. The fact that some
of the musicians were working with household names made no difference.
Smoke-filled university, club and pub dressing rooms became the
focus for the biggest social club in the world.
My business was on the rocks but my sanity held out for a
long time thanks to the unique bond that music brings.
Eventually, the business went. So did my house, the car, etc.
Bankruptcy followed. I entered into the strangely focused world
of the nervous breakdown where I wrote songs, but my angel, our
progeny, and music kept me here!
I woke up one morning, paralysed down one side. Though I'd
been diagnosed a year before, multiple sclerosis had announced
In hospital I lay there thinking not "Will I ever walk
again," but what kind of band I would have next, who I'd
have in the band, what size it would be - this was the opportunity
I'd been waiting for!
Some of the old band mates came to visit me at home, made
music with me, had me almost falling out of my wheelchair with
laughter, and generally helped speed my recovery.
When, after five years, I made an album, I received a call
from the ex horn section leader, asking "Would you like
horns on it" You may not see each other for twenty years,
but you meet again, time stands still, and the jokes come thick
This my old friends fitted in gratis between working with
the likes of Gary Moore, Bill Wyman, and Beverly Craven.
My physical movement is limited, but I still have my music.
Some of the best players around still admit to being in my band,
and, thanks to the real power of music, you have been reading
about the luckiest man alive.
[© 2000 Richard Shirman]
Former front man of the British band The Attack, Richard Shirman
now leads Hershey and the 12 Bars, whose debut album is Greatest
Hits Vol. 2. You can e-mail "Hershey" at firstname.lastname@example.org
and visit the band's Web site at hersheyandthe12bars.com.
Producing a concert
by Jeff Brown
Let's say you're
a member of a non-profit organization and you're looking for
ways to generate income, community awareness, and hear some great
live music. Why not produce a concert?
If you've never done one before, you may not know how easy
they are to produce. That's not to say it's not a lot of work,
but all in all, it's usually worth it. What can you do to make
it as easy as possible? For one thing, don't spend your time
re-inventing the wheel! There are several great resources out
there. One is called Note by Note, produced by the folks at Redwood
Records. It has lots of information. Another guide is available
on-line at: www.alaska.net/~jbrown/concert.html
Here's a quick run-through of what you need to think about,
whether you want to read a guide or not.
Let's assume you have in mind someone to perform at the event
and that you've already negotiated with his or her agent or with
him or her directly. Next, you'll have to secure a place for
them to play, a way for them to be heard (such as a sound system),
make posters and contact the media in your community.
How do you want to price your event? Perhaps the best bet
is to look at other similar events in your community and price
accordingly. What kind of tickets do you want to have? At the
door? In advance (where?) A different price for adults and kids?
You might need to decorate the stage, arrange for meals and
accommodations for the performer(s), and clean-up afterwards.
When I run sound for an event, I like to think of the audio
chain, or how the audio gets from one place to another. It's
similar with producing an event. Write down all the things that
you think you might to make the event successful, ask your friends
if they have suggestions, and try to put them in an order. A
lot of times, it's paying attention to the little details, like
where the power outlet is in the hall, that make events troublesome
Do you have an emcee? My rule of thumb is to never be the
emcee if you are organizing the concert. You want to worry about
making sure the concert is happening smoothly, and although it's
a fun ego trip to be on stage, it's best if you leave that part
of the concert to someone else. Make notes for the emcee well
in advance of the event so it's not a last minute thing where
you forget to thank someone crucial.
Are you planning on serving food? Who will make it/pick it
up? Who will serve it? Do you need a permit from the facility?
Will you be serving alcohol? That alone will open up a can of
worms, if that's your cup of whatever.
Of course, before you get too far, make up a budget. This
will help you plan things as well as figure out ahead of time
whether your event will make or lose money.
It's fun bringing live music to an appreciative audience,
and important for our art to survive. If you're inspired to produce
an event and need more information, please check out How To Produce
and Promote Small Concerts at www.alaska.net/~jbrown/concert.html
Jeff Brown is co-program director of KTOO-FM in Juneau, Alaska.
You can e-mail him at email@example.com
or visit his Web site, www.jeffersonbrown.com.
by Paula Joy Welter
I went to get my faithful and dauntless Honda CVCC's oil changed
at a Placerville, California, garage one day with guitar in hand.
Afterward I was on my way to a guitar lesson with my favorite
guitarist in the world, Nina Gerber, in the Bay Area, a long
As the mechanic, Tony, wrote up the paperwork to begin the
maintenance on my Honda, I asked if he minded if I changed guitar
strings during the wait. He said he didn't mind at all, so I
sat in the reception area and did just that.
Just as I finished changing the last string and was bending
down to put my guitar back in its case...Tony walked back in,
finished with the oil change...and said, "You can't put
that guitar away until you play me a tune," in a kidding
way, but meaning it. I said, "Okay. I've played in stranger
I sat down and sang a tune I wrote for a far-away sister called
"Deep Within Wisconsin Green." When I finished, he
said that he would love to hear another.
For some reason, I felt like playing a tune I wrote called
"Joanna's Gift." It's a true story that happened to
my friend, Joanna, which I put to song after hearing about the
moment from her (see lyrics below).
I played the tune. When I finished, I glanced up, ready to
get going. I was a little embarrassed when I realized that Tony
looked to be on the verge of tears, and not ready to speak. Since
most men I know don't like to be seen in that space, I looked
away and made some small talk, putting my guitar, finally, in
When I asked him how much the bill was for the maintenance
on the Honda, he said, "Nothing is owed, just sign this,"
and handed me the invoice listing the repairs. On the bottom,
in the line where the payment total is usually written, it said
I didn't feel that was fair enough compensation, so I got
a CD out of the trunk of my car to give him, which he happily
I later told my friend, Joanne, the inspiration for this song,
about this moment. She was living downstairs from me at the time,
and we shared moments over tea sometimes. It was just a moment
that stuck in my mind as powerful in unspoken ways.
Interestingly, Joanne told me that she knew Tony, too, since
she also takes her Honda there for repairs. She happened to know
that he had lost his wife a year or two before and was now raising
a young daughter on his own. All this time, I thought he was
happily married. I didn't know he'd been through that loss, though
I'd taken my car to him for years.
Before sharing the music, I never felt Tony was the kind of
guy that really said much to anyonekind of private and to himself.
After that moment of music shared, however, Tony and I always
had a nice conversation whenever I'd go in. He'd ask me about
my music and travels, and I'd ask him about his latest adventures,
which he talked about much more readily.
Eventually he married again and had another child. Now he
looks a lot happier and more carefree whenever I've gone in to
get more work on my Honda done.
Here's the song:
SHE STOOD IN LINE AT STOP 'N SHOP,
GROCERIES AND HER PRIVATE THOUGHTS,
WHITE ROSES FILLED JOANNA'S CART,
BUT NOT THE ACHING COLDNESS IN HER HEART.
THEN ABOVE THE MARKET'S NOISE
JOANNA HEARD A WOMAN'S VOICE
"SUCH LOVELY FLOWERS YOU HAVE TODAY,"
AS FINGERS REACHED TO STROKE THE SWEET BOUQUET.
SOMETIMES STRANGERS TOUCH OUR LIVES
LIKE SOOTHING RAIN FROM SUMMER SKIES.
SOMETIMES STRANGERS HAVE A WAY
OF HEARING WHAT WE CANNOT SAY.
SOME HAVE FLOWERS, SOME HAVE NONE,
BUT THE FRAGRANCE AND THE SORROWS SHARED
ARE COMMON CORDS THAT BIND US ALL AS ONE.
JOANNA KEPT HER TEARS INSIDE,
BUT SAID "THIS WEEK, MY MOTHER DIED. "
THE STRANGER SAID, "I MISS MINE TOO,"
AND THEN THEY TALKED AS ONLY WOMEN DO.
JOANNA PAID AND TURNED TO GO,
BUT FIRST SHE LET SOME KINDNESS GO;
IN GIVING HALF HER FLOWERS AWAY,
SHE FELT SOME ACHING COLDNESS MELT THAT DAY
CHORUS REPEATS, then again:
SOME HAVE FLOWERS, SOME HAVE NONE,
BUT THE FRAGRANCE AND THE SORROWS SHARED
ARE COMMON CORDS THAT BIND US ALL AS ONE.
© 1994 Paula Joy Welter
P.O. Box 660004, Sacramento, CA 95866-0004
Paula Joy Welter is an "occasionally touring singer/songwriter
mostly now performing on the western side of the U.S." Learn
more by visiting her Web site at www.paulajoywelter.com
or sending her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments? E-mail the editor at email@example.com.
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