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:

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 ( and to my Facebook page (