It’s here! June! AKA Super Songwriting Month.
I have been waiting for this month since April, when I came up with the idea. I am so excited about it, that I actually wrote this post the night before.
My friend Lindsay, the piano player smiling here,
asked me how she can participate if she’s a piano player? This is a good point. I play the guitar (see in the picture? I’m the giant with the guitar…) so I will be writing/learning songs on that. But I really hope Lindsay participates (because two are better than one, of course), so here’s my answer:
Write songs for the piano!
Or whatever instrument you play. My friend Paul rocks the melodica (besides the piano). I say, if you play the melodica, this month can be for you too. And you too, recorder/trumpet/flute players. It might be harder for you drummers. Basically, just try to learn a song a day. On days where I give a songwriting prompt, write a song that goes well with your instrument?
Okay, so here’s how I’m hopefully going to go about posts this month. Each entry will have one prompt and one song of the day with some thoughts about the significance of that song. They may or may not be related.
PROMPT FOR DAY ONE: Learn an old hymn.
Not a contemporary (Christian) song. An old hymn.
Now, I understand if you are one of those folks who gets all squeamish at the idea of anything that has to do with your corrupt church experience. If this is the case, you might get a similar experience out of choosing some song to learn that inspires some sort of feeling of transcendence for you. More props for you if you can find an old song that makes you feel this way.
Because Salman Rushdie told Bill Moyers that, “All art began as religious art.” I don’t know if Rushdie is right but it makes sense if he is. Music is mysterious. It invokes (in me, at least) ideas of the supernatural.
And so, songwriting month begins with a religious song. These are usually songs that have lasted centuries and often come from crazy deep places. You might want to investigate the story from where your hymn came. Most of them have Wikipedia pages, I think. There are lots of people on the internet obsessed with old hymns and their stories.
There are hymns all over the Internet. Choose one for any reason at all: because it’s pretty, because it hits you as somehow true, because the words are hilarious and gory (there is a lot of blood in hymns– fountains of blood in hymns), because it was your grandma’s favorite, because you’ve never heard it before and it has a cool title. Figure out how to plunk it away on the guitar.
SONG OF THE DAY: In the Garden
I love this Willie Nelson version.
Here’s why I chose this song:
1. It brings back memories of my performing arts high school in Detroit, when a group of students competed in a speech/drama competition with an eight-person version of the play, Rimers of Eldrich. This is a tremendously creepy play about a corrupt little town, and there is nothing like a group of city kids trying to pull it off (and they pulled it off well, if I recall). They returned to this song throughout, as a sort of motif. It was totally creepy. Now the song has a sort of creepy-awesome connotation in my mind, and so I like that complexity. (Don’t worry, I am fully aware of how weird I am.)
2. My mom sings hymns every week with residents at a local Detroit nursing home and this is one they sing together. I love to hear the old folks singing this song. No matter where I am, they seem to be singing, I can get to the garden with Him. From an inner city Detroit nursing home, that shit is inspirational if nothing else is.
Recommended Listening: “My Mother’s Hymn Book” ~ Johnny Cash