This month I will join the faculty at The Music Institute of Chicago as a teacher of songwriting, and I am really happy, excited, and truth be told, a little nervous.
I wrote my first song when I was 11, with one of my best friends growing up, Sid. Sid was 13. I thought she was really cool because she could draw, write short stories, swing highest on the tire swing in the lot across from her house, and run really fast.
But when The Beatles came to America, Sid and I were equals. We were equals in our devotion and unwavering love for the Fab Four.
Every now and then, when we could get a ride to Randhurst (the first indoor shopping mall!) and would don our bell bottoms and Beatle caps – well, Sid had a Beatle cap – and walk around Marshall Fields speaking with British accents, sure that everyone who heard us would think we, too, were from England, and knew The Lads personally. Yep, we were goners.
Sid’s dad had a baritone ukulele that she learned how to play, and we started singing folk songs. We took our act (uniquely called Meg and Sid) to every neighborhood party. And although we loved playing the folk standards, songwriting called us! And being 11 and 13, our songs were love songs, naturally.
Leaves Do Fall
Leaves Do Fall
Drift and fall
As I look out my window
And I think that I do know – why I loved you.
A sad lament…just the way I like ’em! Our first hit. And you know, to this day it still holds up as a respectable first attempt. The melody was solid, the lyrics sincere, and the performance was always from the heart. I loved singing and writing songs.
Sid moved from our little hamlet of Crystal Lake to suburb on the North Shore of Chicago to attend the same great high school my son would go to almost 40 years later! I was really sad she moved, and very grateful she taught me some guitar chords before she left that I practiced so much I had to tape my fingers they were so sore. I just wanted to KEEP PLAYING.
Then my dad passed away, and I just grieved on the page. I did a swan dive into songwriting to help ease the pain. Then I met (insert music from The Godfather here) Mike Ferraro, and I started writing true heartfelt love poems that turned into songs. We broke up – more songs. And the Vietnam War inspired “why can’t we all live in peace” songs because I didn’t yet understand the politics behind the war.
For each phase of my life, songwriting has been my compass, my guide and really, my reward. Songwriting allowed me to put all my feelings on the page, and loved the process. Though, I must confess, honing the craft of songwriting is as difficult as working at the barre for a ballerina, practicing scales for the pianist, and changing one WORD in the 10th draft/rewrite for the writer. And you realize it’s a job – and a very disciplined job at that. But when you love it, it’s not work. (Unless of course you’re writing a jingle, or commissioned piece, and you are on a deadline).
To learn – read
Read the lyrics and poems of writers you love. I really didn’t “get” Eminem until I went online and read his lyrics. Powerful.
To know – write
You will meet yourself in the songs you write. And you will connect with others who you are expressing for.
To master – teach
We are teaching every day. Teaching others who we are, what we believe and what we think about the world. And that makes us masters in training.
How does a student
Exuberant for learning
To keep the brain wheels turning
The hard work that it takes us
In search of portals
That will make us and not break us
Before the muse
Lights the fuse
Or before we lose another groove
That will spark us
Down the path our heart was
Originally planned for
The hands for
Write, write, WRITE!!