Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bonnie's Songwriting Bootcamp!

My hope is that when I look back on this summer, I will have successfully dedicated 4 entire weeks to the development of my skills as a songwriter.  In my difficult to execute plan, I'll get all of my "other" stuff done before June 13th and be able to write and edit music every day until July 16th. 

The idea for this attempt at a self imposed songwriting camp came about in January when I was developing a travel grant proposal for  this summer.  I decided that I wanted to pursue activities that would help me become a better song writer.... I literally had my finger poised to click the "submit" button when it occurred to me that my goals might better be served by staying home.... after all, I have a piano, and a computer with software, a guitar and a microphone and if I carefully planned my time, I might actually get more done than if I were to travel..... I still plan to take that songwriting trek one of these days, just not this summer...... 

Although, writing songs is something that I've always done, I've struggled to acknowledge that it is something that I believe the Lord has given me to do because it's hard work.  Whereas singing has always been easy and fun, my ability to write songs has always seemed laboriously hindered by my lack of either musical understanding or instrumental skill.

I still remember the songs that I "wrote" when I was very young even before I could read.   There is even a recording of one of these early attempts somewhere.  Then in elementary school I remember spending hours on the piano bench, not practicing as I should have done, but with a piece of manuscript paper in front of me trying to piece together my limited piano lesson knowledge of music with the song that was in my head.  As a result, most of the manuscript paper I used back then  just has lyrics in between the staves with a few lone rhythm-unspecific pitches floating above.

I went to school to get a degree in music and learned more in those years than I can remember.  I had wonderfully kind friends who helped me craft my first meager attempts at what I considered "real" song writing into songs that at the time seemed beautiful.  I was even so bold as to submit a song of mine to a songwriting competition......Yet, even then (with confirmation from the competition) it wasn't a skill that I ever thought that I would fully own because I still had too many holes. 

THEN the best thing happened!  I graduated college and moved back home and had NOTHING to do but  look for a job.   I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and there was no one at all available for me to rely on musically.... so I began pushing myself to become instrumentally independent.  I wasn't so much concerned with finesse, just basic, "get it done" playing of whatever instrument best suited the song.....    Suddenly I found that if I was going to progress I HAD to synthesis all that I knew with what I could do.  Motivation is a brilliant teacher!  My playing of instruments may always be only a stick-figure representation of the song when compared to someone else's "Monet" version, but as I've heard said, "that dog'll hunt".

When I began teaching, my time to write grew scarce and was mostly spent editing and refining songs I had started earlier....some of which now have 2-3 versions.  Occasionally, I would play song snippets for people as a request for feedback and sometimes just for fun.   Mostly I would set up small writing projects for myself so that every 6 months or so, I would have written a new song.  It was during this time that I realized that nothing can ease the work of writing except writing.  In 2002 when I FINALLY got my hands on notation software I sort of figured that the software would write for me.... Someone writing a novel might expect their pencil to do the same.  So in trying to make writing music easier I had found yet another thing I needed to learn in order to write music well. 

My ability to write songs crept along at a snails pace and then in January of 2007 the Lord began to reveal to me through His word and through prayer that even though I had personally found the process of writing songs very useful in my own spiritual life, writing songs for no one to hear wasn't exactly the point.  The thought of sharing my songs on any kind of  formal scale made me feel a little sick both because of the vulnerability and because most of the songs I had been writing simply weren't ready.   So I arranged deadlines for myself that forced me to focus.  I told a friend about what the Lord was showing me and asked her to pray.  It seemed wise to wait and see if the sudden desire to share the songs I had written stayed constant over time, so I decided that I would wait until April to pursue it and if in April I still felt that it needed to be done, I would set up a concert.  So when April came, I arranged to do a benefit concert to help raise money for missions at the beginning of October.  I then set up a timeline for the summer.  I realized that if I wanted to get this done I would need help, so the goal became very simple.... Write until July and then get the music as close to being readable as I could get it in the time I had.  By August I was handing out music to people and in October we had a concert. 

Some of the songs were better than others.  I had time to compose a basic accompaniment for some of the songs, while others I left as just melodies and chords.  One song of the 12 just had whole note chords with lyrics above because the song was a little beyond me and I ran out of time.  In any case, we had a concert and there were people there.  We had coffee and desert and my friends helped me play and sing.  I think everyone enjoyed attending and the fellowship that can be found in the company of others who love Jesus. 

Since then, I've been busy! So compared to that time when I wrote so much, I've written very little.   Even so, some of the songs I prepared for the concert have been used in other contexts.  I've sung them at weddings and funerals and at church and even with a children's choir.

My favorite part about writing my own music is that I can tailor the lyrics to the specific occasion.    For example, a song I wrote called "One Life"   was written originally for a memorial service..... Next this song was adjusted to be a song for a commissioning service at church.    Then in two weeks the same song will be sung as a "thank you" to the teachers at my school for their hard work and dedication.  The possibilities are endless. 

Please pray for me as I try to get better at doing what I believe the Lord is calling me to do.  I want to be wise and disciplined in how I use my time this summer while acknowledging that His plans are much more important than mine.  There are several matters that need continued prayer and I would like to ask you to join me.
  •  I've simply got a TON of work to do before June 13 in order to free myself up.  If I had bought an airline ticket and had chosen to leave town THAT part wouldn't matter so much, but it's easy to procrastinate by staying busy which is easy to do at home. 

  • One aspect of this "camp" that I've sort of left open is how much I will seek out other people.... I hesitate to go on a people diet because as a single person who already lives alone, I sort of already am on a people diet.... on the other hand, I've never written anything when I wasn't alone.....soooooo  I need discernment about that. 

  • I thrive when structure is imposed upon me.... summer is totally NOT structured, so I'm hoping to actually write out a schedule just like you would get at a conference or camp and hold myself to it so that I don't waste a minute.  I don't know if I possess the discipline to abide by a schedule that I create myself.... pray for discipline.

  • Pray that the Lord would be glorified and that anything that I write would be of Him.

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