Monday, November 30, 2009

Songwriting Is A Doing Word

"Songwriting is a doing word." This phrase has been running around inside of me for about five months now. It has marked the beginning of my return to songwriting, my renewed foray into my creative space, which had long been dusty and mis-placed. I may have heard it somewhere, but I am fairly certain it one of those divine relations, right words, right time to help me on my way.

The phrase carries for me both an encouragement and a warning.

An encouragement that creativity is implicitly active. The act of creating is act. I take pen to paper, words to melody, soul to canvas and by this very action I begin to reveal what has previously been concealed within me. It reminds me that regardless of the quality of what I create, continuing to practically create something out of nothing is an act of faith, and that only good things can come from habitually taking creative action. Latent creative potential keeps what I see invisible to the rest of the world. Taking creative action blesses and re-creates both the giver and the receiver.

The warning is even weightier to me than the encouragement. And it is a weightiness that has severed me from the chains of writers block. It is simple and yet it is sharp.

Songwriting is not my identity.

It has felt like it is for a long time. Music, creativity and songwriting are core to me. If I go to the centre of my heart I find a note there. And so with this intuitive knowing of what was intrinsic to my inner being, I began to hang my hopes and expectations and visions of my future upon the knowing that "I am a songwriter". And therein lay the catch. What I imagined would spark and release me weighed me down, for "I am" statements, I have learned, are not to be approached lightly.

I have come to believe that I breathe the deepest and the freest, when the "I am" statements in my life finish with words that are relational. That reflect how my inner being relates to my Creator and to my earthly relationships.

I am loved. I am known. I am wanted. I am chosen. I am gifted.

I can sit down and rest secure in that room in my heart. And funnily enough, from there, the creativity that is still inherent within me starts to spring up of it's own accord. I don't like to trifle with semantics, but quietly within my heart I know and state now that "I write songs" rather than "I am a songwriter." Once my creativity is free to act, instead of trying to carry the burden of my being, it's amazing what gets loosened up on the inside.

So I have determined that I will not place the burden of my being upon my pen, nor upon my piano. I place my being in the hands of the One Who Loves Me Most and watch him free my soul to bloom again.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Creative Frequencies - The Gift Of Art In Our Highs & Lows

Life is lived at a certain pitch. There is a familiar set of relational sounds, a mid-range emotional frequency matched with an interaction equilibrium of sorts that is more or less maintained throughout the general ether of life. Most of what we experience emotionally is adequately felt and communicated through the conversations and interactions found in our personal world.

But from time to time, or perhaps season to season, the emotional frequency/tuning of our lives can hit a range that is more extreme than the usual mid-spectrum range of our work-a-day lives. We experience the heady thrill of falling in love, have a spiritual encounter which fills our souls with golden joy, or arrive at the giddying heights of a long-sought triumph. The high-pitched hot notes of this emotional frequency are not easily conveyed to those around us, and we fumble with the limits of language to try and share what is happening.

At the other end of the spectrum, sorrow and heartache can take us into that chilling emotional range where pain is sharp, and internal conflicts ominously threaten our norm-neutral living space. Adding to the hue of grief that colours this sub-zero emotional region is the isolation that comes with being tuned to a frequency of feelings that are ‘out-of-range’ for normal conversations and interactions.

It is intrinsically human to want to share our highs and lows, and to connect emotionally through the roller coaster of life. Yet, how strangely difficult it is to communicate with others during our highest highs and our lowest lows, even with those whom we love like our own selves.

There is an ancient proverb, which says, 'Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy', which is not an exhortation to give up communicating (!) but perhaps a recognition that there is an eternal dimension and capacity for sublime fullness of experience built into us as human beings. The extreme experiential frequencies we are capable of feeling seem to remind us of the existence of the Divine in our own creation, and to remind us to honour the mystery and dignity of each uniquely formed soul. If our experience of life on this earth can be felt on a broader spectrum than can be adequately conveyed to our fellows, it seems as another clue to me that 'we were made for another world', an idea that the great thinker C.S. Lewis explored in his writings.

How wonderful is the gift of art and creativity within this dynamic! Art is so often created from these ‘extra-terrestrial’ emotional frequencies and carries the tone of an experience that is more easily sensed than explained, better ‘caught’ than taught. A song written from one who knows heartache can find you and carry you when your own sorrows pull you from the normal regions of interaction. When joy is beating in your soul, such release can be found in finding the song with a beat that makes you soar, turning it up full volume and dancing the night away in your own kitchen!

Music and painting, poetry and dance are all art forms that seem to be sublimely equipped to grapple with the emotional extremes of our experiences, more effective often than explanations and conversations. Why else do we dedicate songs to our friends, write poetry for our loved ones, paint rather than describe the image we see in our minds eye? Why does going to a music concert with friends feel in many ways like a spiritual encounter, like we are all united and caught up into something greater than ourselves?

In all these ways art is capturing and communicating what words alone cannot. To experience extreme emotional frequencies is the terrain of every human soul. To capture something of that experience in such a way that your fellows can join with you, is the joy of the artist.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Creative Expression: The Bridge Between Two Worlds

The artist lives in two worlds simultaneously. The external or outer world, the skeletal framework of his life, with which he engages to work and play and practically relate to those around him. Less visible, but perhaps more potent, is the existence of his inner world, the womb of creativity, where he perceives and listens with different eyes and ears and lives a parallel existence within this private space.

How different these two worlds are! And how separate they can feel from one another. One deals with tangible realities, the other with invisible realities. One deals with the here and now, the other is musing on past, present and future all at once and framing a view through which to understand them. One is relatable and accessible, the other is difficult to capture and contain in a way that can be shared meaningfully… and yet, what is the job of the artist if it is not to capture something of those invisible realities and make them known to the outer world?

Now, you say, the artist does not have the monopoly on the private musings of an inner world. Naturally. Point taken. Invariably though, the artistic temperament seems to feel the keenest divide between the worlds, to have the most vivid experiential dichotomy between the two, and to have the greatest need to reconcile them. Enter creative expression.

When the world inside your head feels more real to you than the world outside your front door, the action of creating something that can be expressed, seen or heard produces sharp relief. Presenting your inner interpretation of the world you experience seems to produce a bridge that links your two worlds together. When a melody comes up from inside of you and sings to your surroundings, when lyrics are penned that make known a thought that was previously known only to you the ripple effect is profound.

The very act of creative expression in this context is an intersection or apex of your dual realities. It gives you, the thinker, the reflective one the chance to be known, to relieve the inner loneliness that comes from flowing in a river with a deeper current than most. It gives the opportunity for the world around you to interact with your inner world, to be given a back-stage pass if you like to the theatre of your heart. There is great joy in being known, especially in giving glimpses to such a core dimension of you.

Not only is there the relief of reconciliation and the joy of making yourself known however, but also there is the thrill that comes from presenting something valuable to those around you. To serve others is to be enriched. To allow others to perceive something newly by seeing through your eyes is to contribute greatly to the world. To enable them the vicarious relief of getting something said that is so hard to put into words is no small service.

And so it seems the bridge of creative expression is a two way street, a servant that serves two masters by all at once providing the artist a way out, and others a way in. And in doing so, both reflecting and participating in the Divine.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Creative Discipline - Clearing the path of your songwriting pursuit

Creative discipline. The mere union of these two words seems to hurl questions in one’s direction. Why does the statement seem to contradict itself? Why does the concept feel like it appeals simultaneously to diametrically opposed parts of myself? Being creative means throwing off the constraints and structures that discipline imposes and just “going with the flow” doesn’t it?

The colloquial understanding of the nature of both creativity and discipline does seem to make their marriage counter-intuitive. The term seems to assume the concept that inspiration can be commanded. That it will come at your bidding, within your schedule. That it is always within you and can be tapped at anytime. There is certainly truth within this. It seems to me though, that there is a broader paradoxical reality in the elusive mystery of inspiration, which makes such artificial absolutes seem incomplete and almost boorish.

Perhaps we should make a distinction between creating ‘something’ and creating ‘something inspired’. You know the difference. Some days you sit down to write a song and it just flows out effortlessly, carrying all the hallmarks of inspiration. Other times, it is a labour of love – if you don’t despise it by the time it’s finished! In both instances something has been created. But you are likely to feel very differently about one than the other. And listeners are likely to feel very differently too…

So if we take as given the common wisdom that “you get nothing if you do nothing” and the knowledge that by concerted and diligent effort you will certainly produce “something”, then we are free to look further behind the curtain and explore what role discipline may have in our pursuit of “something inspired”.

As a songwriter, if you are happy to be casually creative, then it is perfectly legitimate to write when inspiration strikes and to leave long pauses when it doesn’t. There is no rule that song writing has to be consuming.

However, what if there is something deep inside of you that badly wants, even ‘needs’ to write. To ‘get out’ what is tumbling around inside like a full bowl that needs to be poured out. To add to the dilemma, what if you find yourself blocked or ‘artistically frigid’, as though there were a disconnect between your inherent desire and your freedom to let yourself engage with that desire?

This is a dilemma indeed, for to be in this position is to be at add odds with one’s self. At odds with a very central and core part of one’s self. And that is not a rift that can be maintained for very long without cracks appearing somewhere. The most common course of action here is to take none. To avoid the deep knowing that something within you is wanting to make itself available to Inspiration, by avoiding the creative process altogether. This is the attempt to avoid the pain of the disconnect between desire and reality by dulling down the desire. At great cost to one’s own heart, and great loss to the world within it’s reach.

It at this point that discipline appears as an unlikely hero, offering to clear the path extended from your deepest desires and to rid it of it’s blockages. This is not the personal discipline that will methodically schedule space in your schedule, nor the professional discipline that will set a five-year plan and stick to it. This is the discipline of the soul that will avoid avoiding, and will sit down in your creative space and allow the inner fears, questions and anxieties that block your creative path to be felt, seen, acknowledged and faced. It is the discipline that will ask “Why am I afraid of tapping my creative space?”, “What is stopping me from living from this desire”, “Why do I think I’m not allowed?” It is the discipline that leads a heart to repentance. It is the discipline that will hold something broken out to the Healer instead of hiding it away.

This kind of discipline may be a confronting ally in your creative pursuit, yet it seems that once truth is acknowledged and faced, Grace appears to soothe what is frayed and to fix what is broken. And I suspect, that it is in this process that the way is cleared to connect with True Inspiration once again.
creative space, creative project, creative resources, more creative, being creative, creative world

creative space, creative project, creative resource, more creative, being creative, creative worldcreative space, creative project, creative resource, more creative, being creative, creative world
creative space, creative project, creative resource, more creative, being creative, creative world

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Songwriting: Exploring The Mystery

Song writing is an inherently mysterious process. There is an indefinable quality in the way in which inspiration for a song comes and is translated from ‘nothingness’ into substance. You soon learn that no matter how deep you hone your craft or sharpen your technical skills; you never outgrow your sense of awe that sometimes songs will just ‘come to you’ that you need simply to ‘let out’. The discovering of and chasing after this elusive mystery of creativity is the great quest of any artist.

Of course there are legitimate and pragmatic fundamentals in any art form. Held in tension against any ethereal mystery are the practical tools and realities we have great command of. It goes without saying that any art is communicated via certain fundamentals. Beautifully mathematical relationships between notes and harmony; wonderfully comprehensive interactions between words and melody; perfectly intelligent methods of combining the raw elements of song matter are all essential fundamentals. But to sum-up the art of song writing in terms of it’s irreducible minimums is a reductionist approach which may well describe the nuts and bolts of a song, but will never quite capture the soul of it. Anything that is truly creative, meaningful and transcendent cannot be reduced to the confines of our methods and formulas no matter how cleverly we put them. The intangible remains.

So how to navigate that tension? We have a healthy respect for the craft that prepares the way for the art. Lyrics harmony, structure, form, and melody; the combinations and interactions of these forms are a high craft. It is possible and often necessary to write by skill and craft alone when the elusive inspiration departs. This approach can still create good songs, even great songs, often mimicking the footsteps that inspiration left behind. As a songwriter I will not hold back from getting up close and personal with the rudimentary tools of my trade, but I will do so and not say that this ‘it’.

I have tasted and I am ruined and I am addicted to that mystery feeling. Therefore in all my craft endeavours I am alert and expectantly preparing for inspiration to make it’s way into my equation. And oh the excitement when the inspiration comes! To write this way is to be caught up into something more magnificent than yourself, and yet the joy of being so inextricably linked with Mystery is the songwriter’s dance of delight.

This, it seems to me, is how the songs that linger in your heart are written.