The Art of Songwriting

I don’t really understand it [songwriting]. But I do know that it seems that the best ones [songs] often just appear. Like you’re sitting there with your guitar or the piano and ‘Bang!’ there it is-it just falls out of the sky. I hesitate to even try to understand it for fear that it might make it go away. It’s a spiritual thing.
~Tom Petty

Songs are happening within us and around us all of the time. This is what I tell the kids with whom I am privileged to write songs. We just have to listen, pay attention, and be ready to hear the songs inside our hearts and in our environment. It is a lifelong practice of being aware of our creative and spiritual voices as well as the voices of our sacred relations on earth and in the cosmos.

I love sharing my songwriting process with others, especially with kids, and am thankful to have had many opportunities over this past year to do so with groups at festivals, schools, community centers, churches, temples, and last month during my first ever songwriting camp at the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor. For one full week I met with 17 kids, another musician counselor, and two teenage volunteers to write one group song and 17 individual compositions.

The result was a very diverse range of voices and styles all singing and rapping about what nature means to them. But the result was not as important as the process, and that is what the art of songwriting continues to remind me. As I prepare for my next gig, as I walk to my next appointment, as I record my next album, I need to maintain my awareness of the songs that are happening within me and around me. As long as I keep my connection strong with this eternal soundtrack, I know I will be walking in a good way and that I will plant good musical seeds.

I am excited to share the fruits of one of these seeds with you this fall, in the form of a benefit CD featuring the Dream Seekers youth group, an alcohol and drug prevention program for Native American youth ages 8-18 at American Indian Health and Family Services in Detroit. I have worked with and written songs with the Dream Seekers over the past several years. The CD features these as well as traditional Native American songs, and culminates in a youth group prayer written and recited by group members in both Ojibwe and English. Stay tuned for more details on this special album.

Another one of my musical seeds is becoming available as well. The recordings I made over the summer at Plum Village are on a CD called “Wake Up,” and are available by supporting the Wake Up US Tour, a movement to bring the practice of mindfulness in the Plum Village tradition into the lives of young people. Learn more about this effort and how you can support it and receive the Wake Up CD at: http://igg.me/p/39267?a=243644&i=shlk

Enjoying the fruits of this way of walking, I give thanks to all who make my steps possible, and who give me beautiful experiences along the way. Let us continue this walk together in peace, love, and wonderful music, listening intently to the songs happening within and around us in each moment.

Joe

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