Tag Archives: songwriting

From Tweet to Song?

These days I’m experimenting with Twitter, because I was told by young, savvy marketing types that if I want to promote my music, I need to tweet.

So far, I’m not convinced. Maybe it’s a bit of a generational thing: the young like to tweet while us more, ahem, mature types tend to think Twitter would be better renamed Fritter.

As in, who’s got that kinda time to fritter away, to try to whittle meaningful messages – because frankly, I have no interest in reading or tweeting stuff like “Had 2 fried eggs 4 brkfast – yum!” — down to 140 characters, and to follow all the links in your fellow tweeters’ tweets, not to mention wade through endless cryptic messages full of mysterious symbols like #FF and @AddThis that I don’t have time to figure out?

But I digress. So far Twitter has been useful for one thing. One of my first experimental tweets was this: “Horses are the music of the animal world. Curves like melodies, muscles like chords. So am writing songs about horses. Seems fitting.”

And then it occurred to me that maybe those ideas and lines could fit into a song. Because I’ve written nine songs so far for a CD I’m planning that’s all horse songs. I figured I needed a tenth to make it a nice round number. And the one thing I was lacking was a song about big, beautiful draft horses, like the Clydesdales that pull the Budweiser beer wagons, or Belgians, Percherons, or Shires – the biggest of all the draft breeds.

Now it turns out the British band Jethro Tull may well have written the definitive song on the subject, appropriately titled “Heavy Horses,” but it’s a long, loud, progressive rock epic, so I decided there was room for another, more modest tune about these gentle giants of the equine world. And those lovely beasts DO have curves like melodies (those necks, those hindquarters!) and muscles like big power chords…

So I have in fact just finished a song called “The Heavy Horse Song,” and I’m in the studio these days recording it and other new songs. Here’s the chorus:

Curves like melodies, muscles like chords

And the heavy horse rhythms are steady and strong

Curves like melodies, muscles like chords

And the jingle of the harness is the heavy horse song  [© M.L. Hammond 2011]

 So stay tuned for the complete version of the song, which I’ll post somewhere when it’s done.  Meanwhile, if you insist, follow me on Twitter at @chevalgal!

……………………

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Advertisements

Music and Horses

Sometimes, as a musician, your music life spills over into other areas of your life – and vice versa. Lately, for me, that’s happening in a big way: my music and my passion for horses are trotting along together in tandem.

And no, I haven’t run off to join the Mounties and their Musical Ride. J But for the last year I’ve been writing some horse-themed songs – enough, in fact, that along with five I’ve already recorded, I’ll soon be able to release an all-horse song CD. (See www.marielynnhammond for more info.)

A special barn concert                                                                               Not only that, on Saturday September 17, I’ll be playing my very first-ever BARN concert. That’s right, I’ll be playing some of those horse songs, and others, at a fundraising event at the stable where I ride in Whitchurch-Stouffville.  (A while back in this blog I wrote about house concerts – concerts that take place in someone’s home. Well, this is a spin on that concept!)

The stable is a special place, called Horses of Course, which accommodates riders with a range of disabilities as well as able-bodied riders. One of them, Krystianna L., was a plucky little girl diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was very small. Krystianna spent huge amounts of time at Sick Kids’ Hospital, but whenever she was well enough, she’d take riding lessons at Horses of Course. Her favourite horse was a little chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Meg.

Sadly, Krystianna died in 2009 at the age of 13 – but not before the folks at the barn put Meg on a trailer and took her to Sick Kids so Krystianna could see her one more time just days before she died.

Canter for a Cure                                                                                          So this Saturday her friends and family are organizing a day called Krystianna’s Canter for a Cure, full of horsey demonstrations, and activities to raise money for neuroblastoma research, and also for a bursary for young riders with disabilities who need financial help with riding lessons. And that’s why I’ll be singing my horse songs there. If you’re a horse lover AND a music lover, then this is the event for you. Not to mention you’ll be supporting two worthy causes.

It’s a benefit!                                                                                               And that’s something we musicians do a lot of: I don’t know a single musician who hasn’t played benefits and fundraisers, and we’re always happy to do it, because we rarely have much money in our pockets to donate, but we can usually find the time to sing for a great cause. In fact I’ve played so many I’ve even written a tongue-in-cheek song called “Not Another Benefit.”

But as well as singing about chestnut mares, naughty ponies, and other equines, I’ll be more than happy to play that song this Saturday with the sound of horses nickering around me.

……………………………………….

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Share

Research for a Song—Full Circle

A while back I wrote about composing a song that tells the story of the beautiful Sharon Temple, a national historic site in York Region. In the first post I explained what inspired me to write it (a visit to the Temple last summer) and how I found my way into the narrative. In the second I detailed some of my writing challenges—and serendipitous surprises—in telling the fascinating story of the sect, the Children of Peace, that built the temple.

In those posts I talked primarily about crafting the lyrics. But I also had to figure out what kind of music I should set those lyrics to.

Music played a key role in worship for the Children of Peace. Luckily the temple has published a booklet containing invaluable information on the sect’s music, plus the notation for all 20 tunes from the temple’s original barrel organ. So I started with one of the hymn tunes coded into the organ called “Egypt,” which has a suitably haunting, minor-key quality. It became my inspiration for the verses (I even used the same key, G minor), but I wrote a more joyous, major-key, hymn-like tune for my chorus, since the chorus begins:

“Oh we made a joyful sound, and we dressed in colours gay

We were neighbour helping neighbour in the truest Christian way…”

According to the booklet, the Children of Peace also put together “one of the earliest, if not the first, civilian band in Canada” that included instruments ranging from cellos to flutes to French horn. I’ll be going into the studio soon to record the song, and my piano player can’t wait to arrange some parts for these instruments.

And now my story of the writing of the song has come full circle: I’ll be revisiting the temple to perform the song there on Friday September 9. Every year the Sharon Temple holds an “Illumination,” when the building is lit up with only candles and lanterns. The program includes music, a speaker, and something called “our traditional Illumination cake,” served at the end of the evening. This year I’m honoured to be providing the music. Cost is $25 and it goes toward helping restore this historical gem (the building, not me).

Hope you can make it and hear the official premiere of my new song—it will be a truly moving experience for me to sing it in the very place whose history it recounts and whose music it echoes.

………………..

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Share

Where Do Songs Come From?

 They’re everywhere, a seemingly infinite variety, proliferating constantly. Songs, songs, and more songs. And like snowflakes, no two completely alike, despite the odd plagiarism lawsuit.

 This never ceases to amaze me. Our musical scale consists of only 12 notes (which repeat in octaves, but still…). And yet Western musicians seem to find endless ways to combine those notes for melodies and chords.

 And then there’s the lyric variety. Not as much of a surprise there, since the English language contains at least 170,000 words currently in use. (Which makes you wonder why so many lyricists still focus obsessively on analyzing their love lives, or lack thereof, and use the same old phrases and rhymes, such as “tonight/all right” to do it – but that’s another story!)

 I write songs, but even I can’t tell you where half my ideas come from. The creative process is part blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also part magic.

 For instance, I just wrote a song for a friend’s wedding. And yet I can’t recall where the idea sprang from, even though I started it just barely 48 hours ago. (No, for better or for worse, I’m not one of those folks who dash songs off in 10 minutes…) The first half of the first line just appeared: “When love comes a-calling…” And then, from some mysterious place, came the idea to repeat that line, completing it each time with a colourful expression or idiom.

 E.g., “When love comes a-calling / you can run but you just can’t hide,” and “When love comes a-calling / all your ducks line up in a row.” Anyway, thank god for Google and sites that list idioms and proverbs and the like, which helped me find more. And then other phrases just appeared in that magical way, seemingly out of thin air, without research.

 Also, the “love comes a-calling” line soon began to create a melody for itself as I repeated it in my head.  By the time I picked up the guitar, the song was half written musically too.

 The song’s now finished, I think it’s pretty good, and I even worked the couple’s names into it. (We’ll see how it goes over at the post-nuptial party.) But I still can’t tell you where it came from!

_________________________________________

 Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Writing Beyond My Means

Some people live beyond their means. I write beyond my means. What I’m saying is that I write songs that are sometimes too complicated for me to easily perform.

I recently went into the studio with a really accomplished pianist, Marilyn Lerner. She was my first-ever piano player, just a kid fresh out of music school, but who’d been taking piano lessons since she was tiny. She moved on into jazz and improvisational music and new music, but her playing is always full of heart and emotion. (Listen at http://www.marilynlerner.com)

But me, well, I’m not a schooled musician. I had three years of violin as a kid, which I begged for, because my parents were both tone deaf and music wasn’t a big deal in our home. And that was it for my formal musical education.

In my early 20s, having learned some chords on guitar, I ended up in a folky band called Stringband (http://is.gd/YKqX0M). A few years later I took a summer course at the Royal Conservatory for grades 1 & 2 theory – I figured it might improve my songwriting. But in the band we mostly worked things out by ear, and all that theory ended up out the window. So a few years later I took some piano lessons. I wrote some pretty cool songs on the piano, but I couldn’t really play the thing because I’m about as coordinated as a jellyfish.

Now for me, it’s all about the lyrics, and I often write complex songs with irregular structures and throw in extra bars and odd chords — whatever the words and story dictate. But then when it comes time to perform them, well, I can’t count beats worth a damn, especially while I’m singing.

So recording with someone like Marilyn who can sight read and who’s got a chart (written out by my producer, definitely not by this musical illiterate!), while I have only a lyric sheet with little chicken tracks in pen on it, the tracks representing the number of beats between lines or places where the words are actually a pickup, or need to be stressed – well, it can get embarrassing when I screw up. Which I did fairly often the night we recorded together, in part because the song is also very new, so it’s not burned into my brain yet.

So that’s what I mean by writing beyond my means. The only thing that saves me is that Marilyn and other schooled musicians I’ve worked with really like those complicated, quirky songs of mine, and seem to find the patience to deal with my musical ignorance.

And for that, like others who live beyond their means, I owe them a huge debt!

………………………….

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

 

 

 

 

Share