Song Trails in the Cassowary Coast Part 2: Making A Song

Hoping to hear from all the songtrailers out there continuing their song-writing journeys!

This article has been published in the Critical Mass Blog.

Please leave comments on that blog, as well as here.   I am sure Queensland Music Festival and Tutors want to know what you thought of the workshops if you were there.

Song Trails in the Cassowary Coast Part 2: Making A Song

Written by: June Perkins      Date: 29 July 2011
DSC_0079
To make a song – guitar, keyboard, people, words – Courtesy June Perkins
I can’t believe I had never heard of Song Trails before this year.  Vanessa Bromley who runs our local Tully music shop and Evolve told me it was coming through Cassowary Coast and asked if I wanted to be put on an ‘expressions of interest’ list.

It wasn’t definite the trail would be heading our way so she was drumming up interest.  I said, ‘Sure why not? Count me in!’ Then later I heard from our Cassowary Arts Officer, Kath Barnett- all systems go!

I have written poetry since I was eight and completed four years in classical guitar training over twenty years ago.  Since that time I have never neglected my guitar although I have  played mostly popular and folk tunes to amuse the kids and myself.

The poetry has been going well and I have published a few pieces and co-edited an anthology for the Licuala Writers of the Cassowary Coast called  Under One Sky, but it is only recently that I began to write songs.  The main catalysts for my song writing efforts were shifting from city to small country town living, as well as wanting to add music to our group’s public prose and poetry readings.

Cassowary Coast, our home since 2006, is super wet and a complex place when you dig under its surface.   Now, we have had the dubious experience of being through two severe cyclones and living in their aftermath.  We’re in a fertile place for experience that inspires words and music- as well as being great for growing sugar cane and bananas.

The concept of Song Trails intrigued me when I found out more about it – just how were forty people with four talented song writers, going to create songs in four hours? When we arrived and found out that we only had one hour and thirty minutes of the time for the song creation, and production I was mildly terrified.  Can you really co-write a song in such a short amount of time with people you might not even know?

As I explained in Muso Intros the workshop artists first introduced themselves and ran an informal panel to put us at ease before we got down to song making.  We were then asked to immediately put into practice some of the principles they had shared with us.  We moved into our song- writing groups: two groups of twenty, with two artists to lead us.  I found myself in Peter Farnan and Leah Flannagan’s group.

DSC_0056Peter and Leah say ‘go with the flow’ – courtesy June Perkins

Our first exercise was two minutes of automatic writing on the key word ‘Ahead.’  We were asked to put down anything that came into our head.   We were ‘free-writing.’

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Participants Freewriting – Courtesy June Perkins

Then people volunteered to read their productions – and words flowed from our pages to our mouths, to the group, to butcher paper and white board.  Farnan asked us to read slowly and stopped us at phrases or key words that sprung out at him.  We ended up with a group set of phrases and key words to work with.

song in progress
Song in progress, courtesy June Perkins.
He noticed in our words – time shifting, a sense of loss, references to bed and associations with beds like mattresses  (perhaps because it rhymed with ahead) and interesting phrases like:

‘Everytime I think of flowers I wanna make fires’

This ended up being our chorus.

We were asked what key, ‘major or minor?’  We went for minor.  Farnan began to play chords on the keyboard and turned to Flannagan every now and then for her input, ‘what do you think here?’   Flannagan hummed a melody as he played more chord combinations.

As our chorus solidified people wanting a song compass asked, ‘Are you going to tell us basic song structure?’

Farnan urged everyone to go with the flow, explaining that ‘this song is organic and its structure will emerge in the process of doing.’   We went with the flow.

Our group song ended up with: a chorus, two verses, a bridge, a guitar solo and a gospel feel, through this surprising process.

As we added in the ideas from the group, and explored the snippets we had ‘automatically written’ we stripped away unnecessary words, and repetition, to make the lines scan better for the song and seem more mysterious.  As we did this new phrases came into being and made their way into our song.

At one stage our song was heading for Bob Dylan territory and then gothic, Black Sabbath day style – gravestones were in danger of appearing, perhaps the influence of some of the musical tastes in our group, but another element wanted some light – something positive and less bleak (although Farnan felt the words did not have to be read as bleak). Flannagan encouraged our efforts to balance the song, and so a mattress to protect (from one of our automatic writers) began to appear in the lyrics. Song writing can be a real ying and yang gig I’ve since concluded.

We sang the chorus with Farnan accompanying us on keyboard (he is a brilliant pianist), as we thought about whether the lines flowed into each other well enough.  Finally the discussion lead to verses that seemed to work.  The skeleton of our song came into a fully fleshed being.

Our song seemed to speak to me personally of the anger of being in a cyclone, and then recovering to win the day.  Maybe our automatic writing had unearthed something we needed to speak about, but we had not set out with a specific idea to do this.

I am not sure what it said to others so I hope they will respond to this blog.

Later we got together with the other group facilitated by Rebecca Barnard and Robert Forster, and shared our song, and they revealed theirs – a heart-warming  and cheery song with food at its centre from “Mama’s Kitchen,”  which I think will be shared on the live stream as well.

DSC_0074Robert and Rebecca sharing their group’s song – courtesy June Perkins

Our group formed a spontaneous Cassowary Recovery choir to sing to the other song writers.   We were inspired and maybe even healed  by the process of composing and belting out a gospel rhythm song expressing so much of what we have been through on the Cassowary Coast.

We closed the whole Song Trails evening with a brief sharing of our own songs.  I wish we had more time as there was so much talent in the room from our local area; it would have been good to  get to know them as individuals and maybe hear more of  our panel’s thoughts on our local song-writing efforts, but there just wasn’t time. Our guest artists were apologetic about this and gave us a few sentences or sang along enthusiastically.

DSC_0092Local Band – sharing their work – courtesy June Perkins (more at my flickr space)

Still the group unity in creating and the joy in performing that new work is really what Song Trails seems to be about; we can follow each other up.

Song Trails has inspired me to seek out talented musicians and singers to collaborate with and to keep working on my song writing skills.  You can follow my continuing song writing efforts and progression if you like on Gumbootspearlz youtube.

Why not share your comments about being in a song trails workshop?

Especially those of Hugenden; I heard your song last night at the Song Trails concert in Innisfail and cannot get it out of my head!  Neither can anyone in my family.  It is so beautiful and to think you got that all from the word “chill”, sends chills down my spine.

I’d love to hear from other Song Trailers on the critical mass or my Unity’s Garden Site.  It feels like we are one big family now.

**

You can visit catch June at Aftermath’s ABC’s Open Project.   She  has a song “Rain is All there is” for you to comment on if you want to help her in her song writing journey.  For more photos of the workshop visit Gumbootspearlz flickr.

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