Starting from Silence

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a small but attentive group of fellow songwriters on a snowy night in Guelph, part of the Guelph workshop of the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC).  It's been a few years since I used to do this regularly, so I prepared for that meeting by jotting down a few notes -- conversational nuggets, really -- that I could reference in organizing my thoughts. Afterward, I realized that in the process of doing so, I had really taken a real step forward.  Not so much with the 15 pages of notes, but just in getting started.  In print.

You see, for several years now I've been telling myself, and others, that I would finally get started on my own songwriting workshop.  And I didn't. I wasn't getting started ... I was just talking about getting started. Maybe, persuading myself that I could start. Or maybe, giving myself permission. 

No shortage of opinions:
It's not that I'm short of opinions on the subject of songwriting.  Far from it ... get me started, and see if I will ever shut up.  I'm passionate about the subject.  However, I've also tended to be somewhat reticent about putting myself forward as any kind of authority, without a history of writing hit records. Still don't have that. Maybe I never will, and what then? Should I never share any of the things I have learned, or experienced or felt, because I have not yet qualified as a hit writer? But that's not where I'm coming from anyway -- I'm just trying to be a tad helpful to my fellow songwriters. 

Stepping out:
If we wait for fame to tell us what to think, who to like, and what to support, then all of life becomes one massive "me too" ... and where does the creativity and originality come from then?  

Useful resources:
Let me tell you:  there are some great writers out there, and some of whom have written books about it, and some of whom are offering workshops or mentoring and teaching:  Ralph Murphy, Harriet Schock, Steve Leslie, Steve Seskin, Jason Blume, James Linderman, to name but a few whom I know and respect. By all means, track their work down, and learn from them.  Sheila Davis' book on The Craft of Lyric Writing, and Ralph Murphy's book Murphy's Laws of Songwriting are two very excellent works that I strongly recommend. 

Starting from Silence:
In a recent blog, I suggested that a national songwriters day ought to be preceded by a day of complete silence, if only to drive home the point that music is a relief to silence, like birdsong is a relief to twilight.  But there’s more to it than that.

To me, silence is a well to drink from, as well as a page to write on. It’s the deep breath before the song starts, or starts to take form. It’s the moment before the strings are caressed or the keyboard struck, or the ink begins to flow.  Maybe it’s the moment where you wave a lightning rod at the approaching storm, and pray for more than lightning bugs (thanks to Samuel Clemons) to answer the call.  It’s also the asking of a question:  how do I feel? What do I feel? Who do I feel like becoming today? 

Typical introvert – I often don’t know what I mean until I’ve written it. So for me, the process of writing is often about the process of watching some kind of meaning (and story) emerge and unfold.  But then, writing is more than “channeling” – it’s about using craft to shape what I’m doing.  Storytelling is more than story-finding.

So if we start from silence, we still move forward with craft, and deliberation, and a passion to let the world hear how we think and feel, and what we have to say. 


PS ... Life is short: write your songs ! 

Leave a comment