Monday, March 14, 2011

Songwriting 101

In honor of National Music in Schools Week, I'm supposed to be rhapsodizing about the power of music in our lives.  Given that I met my husband in my church choir, given that my husband's fondest dream would be to produce first-chair trumpet-playing heirs, I was feeling quite enthusiastic about this topic until I sat down to write and my three-year-old began singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" in full voice.   

Give my kids (most kids) a song, and they will sing it -- over and over and over again.  My daughter came home from school the other day, excited about a coin-sorting ditty set to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."  Sadly, I have to say I that we all found this to be an improvement over full score of "Annie," which we've enjoyed in an endless feedback loop since I took her to see her first musical two months ago.  In desperation, my husband tried introducting her to "Guys and Dolls," which has resulted in many questions such as, "Mommy, is it illegal to play craps in the United States?"  Ah, teachable moments.   

Kate is also fond of making up her own lyrics.  Here's a gem from last week:
"I am cleaning up, cleaning up...  Why do Patrick and I have to do all the work around here?" 

She told me the other day, "I wish I could write down the notes to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" on a piece of paper."  Unfortunately, she has yet to learn to read music, let alone write it.  And I realized, as I was explaining to her why we had to wait for her daddy to get home and help her, that precious few of us -- even those who do read music -- know how to scribble out a few bars. 

I was reminded of those bumper stickers that say, "If you can read this [musical score], thank a music teacher."  While most of us have great appreciation for music, our literacy is often sadly lacking.  My daughter baked brownies yesterday and then sat down to draw a picture and write a story about the experience.  Unfortunately, she couldn't (physically) write a song if she wanted to.  It is my determination (and hers) that someday she will have the skills she needs to write anything she wants!

When I ask my college students whether anyone writes in his/her spare time, typically I hear disgruntled murmurs.  But when I ask whether anyone writes music, I always have at least two or three enthusiastic respondents. Lyrics = poetry, and one of the most refined and difficult forms, at that.  Someday soon, I will try a songwriting exercise, which I think will be a great hit.

Check out this post and terrific exercises from the National Writing Project.  (And please support the NWP, which is facing a dire financial crisis.)

The tune of the moment is now, "If You're Happy and You Know It."  Wishing everyone a happy Monday and a terrific week! -- Jeanne Marrie


1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the link to the great exercises, Jeanne Marie!