Musical Interlude: Hopeful Me/Angry Me

Hope Remains song lyrics

(Note: This post is a convergence of a couple of ideas, including DigiLitSunday, where the theme this week is “purpose.” I am sharing out and reflecting on that theme as I contemplate making music as a protest moment.)

I often respond to the world by turning to songwriting. Admittedly, my first attempts at writing songs always seem to slant negative, and then I often have to wrestle the words back towards something more positive and productive (well, sometimes a song just needs a downcast view of the world to be truthful and honest).

As I continue to go through my stages of What the @#&% over this election, I have been turning to music to vent. My purpose here, in both the writing and then the decisions I make with the production of my music, is to find a creative path into grieving and, then moving into action. It’s meaningful for me to write — it’s how I process — and my guitar has always been a companion during difficult times. I find comfort there.

This weekend, two songs emerged. One song is hopeful, if a bit mournful; and the other, a remix project, is angry and resentful.  My friend, Terry Elliott, wrote a post with poems and a hackable text that he called “Flip the Coin.” Each of these songs belongs on the same coin. How you feel in a given moment is how you might flip the coin.

The more optimistic song – called Hope Remains — is my attempt to remind myself, and maybe you, that we have each other in dark times, and that even in the darkness of the world, there is light. It can be hard to see. We sometimes need to search long and hard for it. We often stumble. But it is there. I wrote this one for me. I wrote it for my friends. I wrote it for you. Hope remains.

This song came together rather quickly. I knew I did not want to reference the election directly. That’s not what it was about. I started negative, and turned positive. In less than an hour, the lyrics and chord changes were done, and I had recorded the demo on my iPad. My original purpose in recording was to keep the song raw. No production – no reverb or compression or anything. The next day, though, I knew it needed something more, something lingering off the edges of the guitar and my singing. I then layered in the bass/cello on the bottom end and did a slight mix of the guitar/flute on the higher end.

The second song — called Welcome to the Boardroom — was my attempt to use Trump’s words against him, crafting a dangerous-sounding remix with his own voice as the underlying track. My purpose? Channel anger into song and use his own words against him. I put his voice through all sorts of effects, and gave the tune a driving beat, with an underlying distortion field of instruments. Listen in headphones to get the full effect. I also added in strange sounds, to aurally show how off-center and off-kilter I feel right about now. I felt a lot better afterwards. The cathartic effect, I guess.

Peace (we have each other),
Kevin

 

I Am The Stamp: A #CLMOOC Poem Becomes Song

Postcard mashup

One of my favorite post-CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) connections is the Postcard Project. I’ve written about it before. Last week, Wendy Taleo wrote a very interesting poem, after “reading” the stamps on the postcards making their way to Australia.

Read Wendy’s poem.

I wasn’t the only one who wondered of Wendy’s poem could be remixed into a song. Ron L., one of my regular musical companions and gifted artist, also had the same idea. So I took a chance at it, and boy, it was a bit more difficult than I thought. Mainly, I had some struggles because they were Wendy’s words. I didn’t want to change what she wrote too much ( I did ask her permission to remix and she graciously gave me the go-ahead, noting too that all of her material is Creative Common licensed.) I tinkered with words and phrases.

Turning Wendy poem into Song to sing

The final paper had lots more of those scratches. The difficulty was finding rhyme and rhythm to my guitar part, while still maintaining the Wendy-vibe of the poem. The result was a chorus that I wrote, and then a sort of Dylan-like singing of the verses to make them fit into the structure. Some parts work better than others, as song, in my opinion, and I wish it all worked better than it did.

I told Wendy and Ron I would try to make a demo of whatever I came up with. Here it is:

Still, despite my own “hearing what could have been better in my recording,” I love the concept of a song for the stamps on the postcards that we send, and the personification of the object as it travels through the world, bringing words and stories and art to each of us in the mix.

Thanks, Wendy!

Peace (sing it loud),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Make It All Right

Sometimes, I pick up the guitar, and the songwriting flows as if it were something else beside me. As if the song were just there, waiting patiently for the moment. This demo of You Make It All Right (Glitter and Gold) is one of those songs. I randomly sang the first line, and in that moment, I knew the entire song and story. The chords fell into place immediately. I wrote this whole song, which I really like, in about 15 minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.

Songwriting rarely goes that easy. Usually, it’s a struggle with parts of the song, moving words and editing phrases and adding bridges, and reworking the entire meaning. It’s not unusual for me to start writing a song about one thing and end up with something else entirely when I am done.

When the song just falls into place, it’s a strange, magical feeling. I’m proud of this one, for the story it tells of friendship in the face of hardship, for the mandolin-sound of the guitar (the capo is the neck) and for the possibility with my bandmates. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes, a demo falls apart when it becomes part of the band sound.

Peace (flowing in song),
Kevin

Musical Collaboration and Celebration: Come On Through

COME ON THROUGH

(Verse)
This is what it means
to be on the side —
to watch it all unfold
to watch the world fly by

(bridge) This is where you are
You’re on the inside, not out,
and even in the quiet
you figure it out

(chorus)
We’ve got a place for you
and when you’re ready
Come on through

Lurkers learning lots
lessons followed
on their own plots
words un-hollowed
(Bridge/Chorus)

Self direct your learning
And unexpected turns
Squash any limits
Reach out in return.
(Bridge/Chorus)

A discussion that unfolded some days back via the Rhizomatic Learning ‘uncourse’ (which is not happening) centered around how best to celebrate those folks who watch online learning networks (like MOOCs) but don’t participate.  I don’t like the word “lurker” and prefer active observer. These folks (you may be one) are valued members of the community, too, even if they don’t actively participate. Sarah suggested a song in celebration of the observers of networks, which I took as a call to collaborate.

I quickly set up an online document on TitanPad and opened it to up anyone to add lyrics. I honestly don’t know who wrote what lines. Isn’t that interesting? I did a little tinkering with the words to make them fit within the rhythm of the song, but not much.

A few days later, as the words were being written on Titanpad, I was messing around with some open tuning on my guitar and came up with the underlying structure. I went into Soundtrap, a collaborative music recording site, and put the guitar track down and then invited folks to join me. Ron and Sarah, from other parts of the world, did, and over the last week or so, we’ve been slowly pulling the song into shape in Soundtrap.

Here it is. Ron added the many keyboard layers and some of the underlying vocal pieces. Sarah added some mandolin. I played the guitar and sax, and we stayed with my scratch vocals, although we had hoped others might sing instead of me.

Peace (looking in, looking out),
Kevin

Channeling Anger into Song: Build U Up Tear U Down

When I first started writing songs nearly 30 years ago (yikes!), it was all about politics and anger (it was the Reagan years). I wrote songs protesting the military actions in Central America, about the trickle down policies of the land, about corruption at its deepest political core. I would play at coffee hours and open mic nights. I recorded a lot of songs on my old four-track music recorder.

At some point, I sort of forced myself to make the shift into more personal songs for myself, or I wrote songs that could be played by a rock and roll party band. I never forgot my political protest roots, really, but I tempered my art with peace, love and some understanding. (Maybe that is a symptom of growing up or something).

But the current US presidential race has me pissed off all over again, channeling those early years of frustration in the political sphere. While I don’t name Trump in this song I wrote the other day and recorded yesterday as a demo (just me and my guitar), it’s all about him, particularly his use of language and rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Words matter. We tell this to students all the time, and we teach it to them as the heart of writing. Words matter. What you say and what you write has meaning and depth. Then someone like Trump takes the stage and spews off venomous words and divisive ideas intended to splinter us, not unite us. I can live with political differences (many of my friends lean way right … we have interesting conversations) but I can’t live with vitriol. And Trump is now backed by a major political party.

Yeah, I’m angry and it’s only May.

I am hoping we knock Trump and his supporters down a few pegs with our votes and reactions. (I am not advocating physical confrontation here, of course.)

The chorus to the song goes:

You may think you’re on top but we don’t care
We’ve got our eyes on the prize so best beware
You can say what you want but we’re not amused
Every word that you say comes back on you

Peace (brings us together),
Kevin

Exploring the Muse: SongMap

SongMap

At the DS106 Daily Create the other day, we were given the task of creating a “hand drawn” map. In other words, get away from the computer and make something on paper. I’m glad I did that because this map got me thinking metaphorically about how I go about writing songs. Plus, I got to poke fun at myself and my own wanderings in this imaginary world where I hope melodies and rhythm will come together.

Peace (on the map),
Kevin

App Review: Music Memos

Music Memo App

Well, now … this is some sort of magic. I had a songwriting friend who urged me to check out this new free app by Apple called Music Memos, and I finally got around to it yesterday. Yes, it is pretty nifty. You can record ideas, and not only will the app record (not all that special, really), it will lay out the chord structure (see image), and allow you to add in automated bass and drums.

So, the musical idea takes shape in the app. Sort of. It’s not perfect (the drums start off and end rather awkward and the bass doesn’t always want to be in tune with the song) but it is a great way to “jot down” musical ideas and at least hear them begin to come into formation. I jangled in a few chords and was pretty impressed with the results.

Did I mention this one is for free?

Here is a song I did in the app, moved to Garageband for a slight mix, then into Soundcloud, and then into Zeega …

Peace (in making music),
Kevin

EduJoy: Scenes from a Pop-Up Concert

I am the advisor to our Student Council, and the group just hosted the first Pop-Up Concert — a sort of unofficial concert of sixth grade musicians (including teachers) for an audience of sixth graders and anyone else who wandered into the cafeteria after lunch. We didn’t really announce it or anything.

I wrote a song for the event, and I was joined on the stage by my school technology friend and guitar player, Steve. The song is called One True Friend.

There was a sixth grade A Capella group who did a fantastic job (but not sure of permissions to share photos and videos) and then a few individual student performers, including these two gifted students who work with Steve on music on a regular basis.

Sara (on the ukulele, singing Riptide)

Gabby (singing a song she wrote)

It was a cool way to end the week before April vacation, and to showcase student talent in a concert that wasn’t all that stressful (although the students were still nervous).

Peace (in the share),
Kevin