At Song Trails, a three day workshop created for the Queensland Music Festival, attendees were asked to move out of their comfort zones by working with people they didn’t know as well as with new combinations of instruments and voice to create new songs.
Young worked with old, punk poppers, with folk and country stylers, and rock with country and as for instruments we had saxophones, harp, guitars, flutes, trumpet, bass and voices – high and low – all came together to do what we all loved- make music. Tully Song Trails resulted in a rhythm and blues song -Throw me in the Water, laid back pop song – Solo, a grunge rock song with parts sung in German – Gone So Long, folksy – Coming in From the Clouds (or Mother Nature) and a poetry rap with folky chorus.
The musical experience of nineteen people from the ages of fifteen to seventy eight years old filled the room and spilled over into songs written with the aid of Peter Farnan’s automatic writing and the word palettes and textural hip hop ideas of Morganics. Morganics encouraged us to look for unusual rhymes if we could and inspired us with his wordsmithing on the spot talents.
Friday evening was a time to meet and play our songs and music. Saturday, we had a morning coaching session on music followed by an afternoon of song-writing. Sunday we recorded songs followed by evening concert for the community. It was a tightly packed schedule, but there was still a time for jamming and bonding with other participants in the breaks and in the workshop time itself.
On song-writing Saturday Morganics called on us to understand the history of our genres, and move into song-writing with that knowledge. He gave us a rundown of the history of hip hop, and participants who had previously dismissed it from their thinking and style shared that they now thought there might be something worthy in a genre where music can be a weapon and peacekeeping tool to remove the need for violence in communities. The interesting artistry of hip-hop is the sampling from known pieces to create new pieces; it’s a musical collage that might be an intellectual property minefield, yet those who practice it do with confidence that their sampling will gain the respect of those they sample or be unrecognised as the original piece.
Morganics spoke about music using metaphors of art from texture to colour and through this synaesthesia blurred the lines beyond music, into paint, texture, and impressively demonstrated building a narrative from the feeling a piece of music gave us. He encouraged participants to look for unusual rhymes and reflexive rhyme.
Peter Farnan shared with us his automatic writing mode, which he knew some of us were familiar with from last year’s Songtrails, but it’s such a brilliant and trusted method to use when you have little time to work on something, to find words from the subconscious and then build them into a pattern with simple chord progressions it was employed again. He encouraged us to avoid clichés through creating distinctive pictures and using our senses.
Our group, Shirley, Rivah, Charlee and I began with Peter’s automatic method to generate ideas. Most of our group wanted to write about the cyclone. At first I quietly thought – “Oh no, I really don’t want to write about cyclones again,” but as we settled on the trigger word storm I felt that I could live with that and we had to work fast with only an hour and a half to complete our song so making decisions quickly was important so I just went the flow.
Our subconscious revealed plenty of sound words, and Charlee’s full sentences had amazing phrases that formed the beginning of the song. Then, as we took key phrases from Rivah, Shirley and I, we found our song’s structure. Shirley guided our group, and brought us together as a team, keeping us focused and yet allowing all to input into the song. She played the guitar and found a simple chord progression and as we sang the song and bit by bit the song came together. Verses, chorus and bridge were built. We remembered what Peter said about contrasting differences between chorus and verses and applied different tempos and altered our key. Peter worked on tuning Charlee’s flute so it could blend with the other instruments.
Peter came and visited our group a couple of times, and gave encouragement and gentle suggestions. We took words out to make our song have a little more mystery and put more music into the song; we closed musical phrases needing resolution with instrumental riffs not words.
We thought of distinct pictures like: ‘Tin on the beach’ and people battening down houses. We had a storm expressed by trumpet and flute.
No wonder composers like working with the palette of a full orchestra, it’s like having a rainbow of sound at your disposal.
Then our song was born, but the journey was not over. We sang it back to the group and Peter began to shape our song here and there. He made more musical arrangement suggestions and adjusted our song here and there to give it more shape.
Still the journey was not over as Shirley encouraged our group in practice to find harmonies, and work over the piece again – and Rivah thought about how many notes on his trumpet, what key and where should they come from. Charlee found her flute contribution was changing – should she worry about that? Would she keep the same pattern? She worked in and around the trumpet.
Song Trails showed me what a band is like or could be like with a supportive environment and kind and knowledgeable managers. Our group didn’t get to record our song as there was only time to record two of the five songs written, but we did watch the recording process and on Sunday performed our song to an audience of around a hundred people from the Tully community who turned up for an open night concert. This was a magical night, with special moments like Bob Elliston and Michelle Walker singing a song dedicated to the diggers which was then punctuated by Rivah playing the Last Post on trumpet.
Song Trails was brought to the Cassowary Coast and sponsored by Queensland Music Festival, Queensland Government, APRA, Cassowary Coast Regional Council and Kareeya Hydro. It was free for all participants.
The video with this post features photographic highlights of the Song Trails weekend and is accompanied by one of the five songs composed in Tully: Solo, by Michelle Walker, Laurie Trott, Matthew Klotz and Sue Cole with mentoring and mixing by Peter Farnan of Boom Crash Opera.
It was a brilliant experience watching the mixing of this song coming together and I enjoyed mixing the photographic montages to go with it. My photographs were featured in the Sunday concert, and projected onto the wall so concert goers could follow our amazing Song Trails journey of the weekend.
First Published by ABC Open, 23 Jul 2012.
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