Tuesday, November 17, 2015

11. 13. 15

In April of 1995, when I was finishing my CD Life Gets Real, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up, an act of domestic terrorism. I had just finished recording “God Is Sleeping” and paired my song with a lullaby version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

In October of 2002, a plane crash took the lives of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, their daughter Marcia, staff members Will McLaughlin, Mary McEvoy, Tom Lapic and two pilots. The entire state was grieving. I had a CD release concert scheduled the following week. I asked a friend of mine, a close friend of the Wellstones, how she was even functioning. She said, “There is work to be done. I’m going to keep working.”

Here I am in 2015 and I happen to be working on a song about Mother’s Day, the real Mother’s Day. The one organized by Anna Reeves Jarvis whose immediate goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. During the Civil War, she asked women to care for the wounded on both sides. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation for peace that begins: Arise, then, women of this day!

I am working on this song as I hear about Paris.

On Facebook, people are posting photos of the French flag along with expressions of their sorrow. A friend of mine posts a peaceful picture of his wife taken a year ago on a Paris street. In response, I post a couple of photos I took two years ago when we were in Paris: one of the Eiffel Tower, another of our table at Café de Flore, empty or near-empty coffee cups and plates with crumbs sticking to them.

I hear an interview with a woman who lives near the carnage in front of Le Carillon. She tells the interviewer that after she helps clean the broken glass from the street, she will dance because it is the only thing that will help her continue.

Soon there is a posting that says it is not Paris we should pray for. It is the world. The message is that this outpouring of grief for Paris is all over social media and the press, but there is nothing for the victims of the bombs that went off in Beirut or Baghdad.

When I hear about more attacks by ISIS or learn of another young mentally ill person who decides to slaughter others in a school or movie theater, it feels like a fist in my gut, I feel it take my breath, clench my heart.

Beirut, Baghdad, Mogadishu.
Kabul, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Ankara.
Kambari, Tripoli, Peshawar, Fotokol.
Copenhagen, Cairo, Lahore.
Tunis, Riyadh, Erbil.
Jalalabad, Kobani.
Garland, Texas.

These are only 20 out of hundreds of cities where terrorist attacks have happened this year. I have never had the pleasure of eating their food, gazing up at the sky above these cities, meeting their people, carrying the dirt from these places on my shoes.

But I have walked in Paris and mangled their language trying to order a meal. I’ve wandered through Notre Dame and Père Lachaise. I’ve had coffee with friends at Café de Flore.

I am connected to Paris because it is familiar. The grief is also familiar. It is indeed for the world because the horror continues and I worry that we will all become — or perhaps have already become — accustomed to it. Another bombing. More innocent people left dead, homeless, wounded in body and spirit.

I still believe the world is beautiful. There are some people who are doing their best to turn Eden into Hell, but the world itself is beautiful because of those working to turn it back into an Eden.

I stay open to all of it. The light and the dark. I keep my friends who are my family close.

I write songs. I sing them. It is the only way I know of to continue.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

This concept of being inspired by the seasons and writing to that inspiration has me putting ideas aside because they are not really about a season.

This is not seasonal, I say to myself, pen poised over paper, prepared to cross out what are quite humbly some very nice lines. But then I don’t cross them out. I leave them there. I decide to keep working on the song because who knows? Maybe it actually IS about one of the seasons.

Given some time — in this case, about a week — I realize that it is not solely about the lyrics. It’s how the song feels. Songs just have a seasonal feel. Autumn is melancholy; spring, hopeful. Winter songs can be depressing or ones we warm ourselves on. Summer is energetic.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to be a part of the Junior Composers camp taking place at the University of Minnesota. (For more on Junior Composers: http://www.juniorcomposers.org)

Along with the classical writing-the-notes-down kind of concentrations, many offerings were classes in improvisation, vocal performance, conducting, and songwriting. The person who had been tapped to teach songwriting for two weeks was unable to make it. I received a call.

“Full disclosure,” I said to the woman on the other end, “I really don’t know how to read music very well and never write it down when I’m writing. Also, I don’t have much experience teaching.”

“That’s fine!” she said a little too cheerfully. “You’re a songwriter. I’ve never heard of you but another instructor here says you’re a very good songwriter.”

Can’t say she wasn’t warned.

I think at least one of the requirements for being a good teacher is to actually be comfortable teaching. And I’m not.

The class was small, about six young people as I remember, and all of them much farther along as songwriters than I was at their age (14–17.) Their goal was to finish a song by the end of the week (they had already started writing) and then go into the studio and record it. I gave examples of my own songwriting, talked about how I approach a song. They played what they had been working on. Nothing really clicked until I gave them an exercise I have always enjoyed handing out at workshops.

Out of the newspaper and random magazines, I took a phrase, a headline, things like: “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” “late night hope,” “strangers on a train,” “frontrunner.” Since I couldn’t very well just give the kids the assignment without doing it myself I chose “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” and went to work.

During that one day when we were working on the assignment, I managed a verse or two. I liked it immediately but didn’t work on it again until about a week ago when I saw the verses sitting there along with a bunch of other phrases and thoughts that were not yet songs. The chords and the melody came right back.

Does it have any seasons in it? Does it mention the leaves or the wind or how the air smells? It does not.

But it has the energy of summer.

I’m going to finish the song and when I do I’ll post it to our website (annreed.com) and to my Facebook page (facebook.com/annreedmusic).

Monday, August 24, 2015

Winter Springs, Summer Falls

August 2015

    Spring arrives when I hear — not see, but hear — robins singing in the morning. They start their slurpy song a few moments before dawn, waking up the cardinals who then sing a tune from their repertoire.

    The seasons are experienced through sound: hearing birds before I see them, smelling snow before it arrives, feeling the changing humidity on my skin.

    This summer has been gracious, not too hot, not too dry. As I’m writing this, we are having a few days of heat and soggy air. Jane and I use the air conditioning sparingly, turning it on when it gets to be about 80 degrees in the house, and turning it off before we go to sleep. I do not like hot weather.
    Last week I heard the sound that announces the depth of summer and, like a lookout in a crow’s nest, the first sighting of autumn, still a ways off but approaching.

    I heard crickets.

    The boys are rubbing their wings together. Their fast chirping will start slowing down as the temperature drops each night. For now, they are doing about 30 to 35 chirps every 15 seconds. (Yes, I am a geeky girl. And according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, one can estimate the approximate temperature in degrees Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds then adding 40.)

    Wind, air pressure, humidity, the angle of the sun, the length of night and day all affect me deeply. Why not focus in and write about it? Why not write a collection of songs for all seasons, meteorological and metaphorical?

    The working title for this project is Winter Springs, Summer Falls. There are two songs already finished, recorded, mixed and out on iTunes. A third song has been written but not recorded as yet.

    I’ll be posting as I write and record the songs. Stay tuned.