Month: April 2015

SAC Regional Writers Group – Guelph ON

sac_logoUp until this week I have stayed away from the songwriting groups that some of my musical friends frequent. My justification: I generally work on a song until I am happy with it and once I’m happy with it, I don’t want well-meaning suggestions about how to change it. It would be like suggesting another name for my child. And if I’m not happy with it, why would I perform it for others when it is clearly not ready?

I think participating in the SAC songwriting challenge shifted this mindset. First – instead of songs that came from a very intimate place of experience and emotion, the songs were assignments. “Write this style of song, with this tone, for this audience, for this voice.” That made it easier to step back from songwriting and look at it as a craft, not just a vehicle for personal expression. Second – writing a song a week for six weeks did not leave me time to edit lyrics or improve the song structure as much as was needed. So, I was left with six songs that need attention. (Actually just five – I wrote one that I like just the way it is.)

Prepared with a song in just the right state (not too rough, but not a fait accompli) I set off for the SAC regional writers group in Guelph with a few copies of lyrics. The group (facilitated by Peter Light) seemed a good size; large enough for some variety, small enough for every songwriter to be heard. After each song was played we went around the circle and heard feedback from every person. Sometimes listeners contradicted each other with their advice, other times there was agreement about what did or didn’t work in the song.

I liked the feedback I received. Most of the suggestions were great and I could see how even small changes could improve the song. One big surprise: almost every person wanted my poignant little uke song about heartache and loneliness to have a happy ending. There was one other female songwriter in the group – she and I were the only ones who wanted to preserve the longing, unresolved theme. Different target audience? Or did the ukulele bring out the romantic in those men?

I found this to be a great learning experience. To search for a SAC regional writers group in your area visit  I would suggest it particularly to musicians who tend to write alone. You never know, an exercise like this could be a gateway experience to co-writing!

[SAC Guelph Regional Writers Group, West End Rec Centre in the Parkwood Gardens Community Room, 21 Imperial Road South, Guelph; 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm]

Closing Night at the Magnolia Café

IMG_5907Oh the music was sweet at the Magnolia Café in Guelph. But the occasion, not so. March 31st marked the last open mic at the Magnolia Café and the last day the Café would be open for business. Host extraordinare, Ian Reid, shared some stats on the many performers who have passed through the doors since the inaugural open mic in February 2013 and thanked his stand-in hosts for covering the dates he was on tour (Dan Pharaoh, Mo Kauffey, Greg Denton). The usual 7-9pm event stretched to 11:00 to allow time for the almost 30 performers (beating the record of 26). Every seat was taken and there was barely room left to stand.

Instruments were well represented: Ian’s blue guitar (as well as others), banjo, ukulele, fiddle, washboard, IMG_6115harmonica, mandolin, a gusli (in case you were wondering what George was playing – a kind of psaltery), and a strange hybrid horn (looked like part brass, part garden hose); plus some brave a cappella performers. Ian fulfilled both host and soundman duties, as usual.

IMG_20150331_190333-2I enjoyed my last Green Goddess bowl – such a treat! Arvi’s sumptuous food will still be available from her catering business. And we can follow Ian’s musical adventures here.

The question of the evening was: will this gathering resurface in another location? It has a loyal following and there seems to be an appetite for a “listening room”, one where all ages and genres are welcome.  Several people mentioned in their thanks to Ian and Arvi that the Magnolia is not just about the music; there is a real sense of community that brings regulars back and draws newcomers in. Some folks have been inspired by this gathering to start playing and performing (see Rob’s story here).

I was happy to be at the first Magnolia open mic and thoroughly enjoyed the last. Thank you Ian & Arvi for creating this music-friendly space.  I hope to be writing about its reincarnation sometime in the future.

Songwriting Challenge – That’s All Folks!

Six songs in six weeks – I did it! And I even like some of them.
Here are a few observations in response to Lily Cheng’s (SAC Communications & Social Media person) questions about our Songwriting Challenge experience.

I do think I needed to be better prepared with respect to the technology I’d need to participate fully. A large chunk of time I had set aside for songwriting was spent surmounting technological obstacles, due either to lack of proper gear or lack of knowledge. I wasn’t expecting that and found it frustrating. I did get some good advice from fellow songwriters in the challenge that helped me (almost) catch up.

I started off trying to read everyone’s posts and listen to everyone’s songs. I soon realized that there was not enough time to do this each week so I listened to excerpts here and there. Maybe 100+ songwriters is too big a group to really interact with everyone.

As much as each new challenge seemed like a shock – What?! I’ve never written a [fill in the blank] song before! – it was also freeing to be able to write for someone else’s voice, try on someone else’s perspective, imagine songs in different settings. It allowed me to stray from my usual earnest folk song style. Instead of drawing from personal experience, I could play make-believe, be a different persona and see where that game lead me.

Listening to other participants’ songs was both stimulating and intimidating. Such talent! And so many interpretations of the same challenge. Meeting fellow songwriters – both virtually and in person – was a big bonus for me. Thanks for the long-distance collaboration, Todd Wandio, and thanks for visiting Elora, Mikalyn & Michael. I have appreciated the words of advice & encouragement from both James and Debra, our songwriting coaches, as well as other participants.

Would I do it again? I found it more time consuming than I expected and had trouble keeping up with the challenges alongside my work schedule. I might do a similar challenge if I had an arrangement with a friend who could do the recording/mixing for me and I’d be able to focus on the songwriting and performing.

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last song was posted and yet people are still connecting on the song challenge FB page. As much as it was time consuming, demanding & challenging folks aren’t quite ready to let go of the virtual community created in the past few weeks.

I wish my fellow songwriters many visits from the “song fairy” and continued creative success. I’ll watch for your names in liner notes, movie credits, Juno nominations…