Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Songwriting: The Power of Love

This afternoon I went over to a coffee house I go to sometimes to write. It overlooks the Rock River, and has a nice vibe to the space. Sitting there I started to notate the final draft of a new song. I had finished the words (lyrics) over the weekend, after having struggled with them for several weeks. I had a pretty good idea how I wanted the song to sound, and earlier on had sketched out, as usual, a few musical phrases and chord patterns. This afternoon I sat down and got to work in earnest. I finished the song later, at home. I would have finished it at the coffee shop but I ran out of score paper and had to come home to print out one more score page.

Since I completed the large commissioned work for a concert of new music for Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus in Madison, WI, I have learned that to avoid depression I had better always be working on an artistic project. I can afford no gaps in between projects. I need to always be working on something, and always have something new to get busy on, the very minute some project is completed. I've learned since the surgery last summer that not only can I use art-making as a way of coping with daily and moving forward with life, that also works to well to keep me from falling into the realm of Bad Thoughts. Writing this song was all about keeping myself working, artistically, which does help keep away the Bad Thoughts. It's too easy to fall down that gravity well of dark and brooding worries, otherwise.

Right after I finished the large commission in October, I started to feel depressed. Started to feel worries about the future begin to creep back over me again. I had a few weeks of things getting worse. Then I was commissioned to create a new CD of music for meditation and healing, and produced Darshan. That project was finished just before Xmas 2011, and sent off to the client in time for the holidays. Then I had this new song to work on. The point here is to always have something to work on. Don't let gaps between projects get very big; better yet, don't let them develop at all.

And my attitude about life has mostly been better, as a result. The holidays this season were rough, as bad as I can ever remember them being. A lot of factors contributed to that, not least some plans that feel through, and not least because of some of my other friends also having a really bad time lately. But now the holidays are in the past. Even if it's hard to believe, some days, you have to keep on going as if everything was okay, and that life will go on. You have to make plans, even in the face of desperate worry about your future. You have to act as if life will go on, and everything will be alright, and that life is worth continuing. You have to have that kind of attitude. Otherwise the forces of entropy win.

So, today I finished a song. And that feels really good.

This song was written with the intention to perform it as a fundraiser Cabaret next March. Every spring Perfect Harmony puts on a variety show, a Cabaret, as a fundraiser. This annual event brings in an audience of fans and new friends every spring for dinner and a show. There is usually also a silent auction as another fundraiser, to which I have donated artwork in the past.

I wanted to get this song written now, so that I had time to learn how to perform well. I will off on another roadtrip for awhile this winter—dietary issues, ostomy, and other matters notwithstanding—and I will need to have song memorized and up to performance level by the time I get back.

It's an odd moment that I'm sure many more experienced songwriters feel: that moment when the song isn't yours anymore, but another song you need to learn to be able to play it well. It has its own objective existence, now, and even though you wrote it, it's not "yours" anymore. So you step back, obtain a level of objectivity, and commit to rehearsals as if you learning any other song, rehearsing as though it was a song someone else wrote that you're learning to sing, now. That's just part of the process.

The song's topic is one that has synchronistically been on my mind for several weeks now. Because of some of the problems and situations, and questions about life and its meanings, that have been happening to some of my friends, and to other people I care about. The topic of the song is reflected in its refrain:

The love of power
or the power of love—
which way will you move?
Which one will you choose?

That's a question that keeps coming up. I doubt it's limited to just my circle. It's a question that the whole globe is asking itself right now. It's the question that lies behind many political ambitions and social justice crises happening right now in the world at large. It's the question that drives us towards finding spiritual answers to every problem.

The love of power, or the power of love?

Here's the first page, just to give a taste of this song and its format:

(Click on image to see larger version.)

And here are the first two verses and the refrain, as seen on this score page, to give you a taste of what the song's about:

I can see in the dark
it’s where I used to live
that place in the shadows
where everything burns
as the sun falls down
rats chew at the sieve
dark blood on the moon
means the world is done.

The laws of nature
are not the laws of man
and the laws of spirit
means you help who you can
what you send out
is what comes back again
better make love a promise
better stick to the plan.

The love of power
or the power of love—
which way will you move?
which one will you choose?

I've become a songwriter without ever intending it. This is the first score of this type that I've written in probably a decade. I've written some jazz charts before, and pieces for bands that I've been part of, in the past. It's interesting to me, to reflect upon the past, and realize that the last time I wrote anything like this was when I used to live in Madison, a decade ago. Obviously, there's some connection between writing music and being involved in the music scene of Madison, WI. I've played the occasional jazz gig since moving back to this area, since I was free to resume my own life after my parents died. A couple of weekends from now, I will be playing live improvised music for an art gallery opening in Madison. And then in March, I'll perform "The Power of Love" for Cabaret. Then in June perfect Harmony will premiere Heartlands, the major commission for chorus and piano that I spent most of 2011 writing. That will be a full concert of my new music.

So obviously Wisconsin has been fertile ground for me, for writing music. I intend to keep up with that. I intend to continue on this path. I intend to make a career of writing music. I intend to keep writing songs, as well as contemporary classical music. I intend to just keep writing, no matter what. It feels both good and intriguing that I am writing in new directions and styles, that I continue to develop diverse musical tools and ideas, that even now I can't predict what I'll write next, only that I intend to keep writing, no matter what.

So Mote It Be.

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Blogger Elisabeth said...

What can I say? I can't read music but I can read poetry and song writing as I understand is something else again. You have such amazing talent, Art, and these days you go from strength to strength. Writer, artist-in multiple forms, photographer, poet, composer, musician, and now, songwriter. I'm sure I've left out half your other skills, but at least I tried.

4:09 AM  
Blogger Audy said...

Thank you for writing this. I stuggle with writing songs and I know depression both, when working too much on it or not at all. I need to find balance. I haven't even tried to live by it and I am self-learned, admiring your skill. But it feels very good to read about the struggles of dark thoughts and entropy. I have God as a stronghold, otherwise I couldn't stand. Wishing you great thoughts and many blessings. Oh, and success, though to what direction it is to be inclined to, only you must decide.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

"Dragoncave" has been included in this weeks Sites To See. I hope this helps to attract many new visitors here.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks, E. I appreciate it. As you know I'm pretty restless as an artist, so I'm always trying new things. This songwriting thing looks like it will endure, though. I feel I've come a long way with it just in the past year.

Thanks for the comments, and for stopping by. I agree, balance is essential to everything.

Thanks for the link and comment. It's always nice to receive some notice.

12:46 AM  

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