on being taught my own songs

Posted by on Nov 2, 2011

One of the delights of “doing what I do” is when someone else teaches me my song. This happens so often, and in so many ways.

It happens in the recording studio, when we’re crafting an arrangement of a song that, in many cases, I’ve been singing for a long time. But then one of the musicians I’m working with will bring something new to the table – an instrumental riff, a structural tweak, a change of tempo or “feel” – and suddenly the song is new for me and will never be the same again. I have been taught my own song, by someone who has picked it up and played it in their own way.

This is how Steve Hogg “taught me” Listen Up People (the picking pattern/counter-melody that forever changed the way I play/sing it), and how Darrin Schott “taught me” New World Coming (the little guitar “tag” at the front end of that song that has now become a “hook” that I use throughout), how J.K. Gulley and Rick Hutt “taught me” Take Heart (the slowed-down tempo and slightly revised structure that salvaged the song from the dustbin and landed it at the heart of the new CD).

Even more amazing and fulfilling, to me, is when I am “taught my own song” by a community that has embraced it, and sings it, and adapted it in whatever way to become part of who they are as a community. I’ve just come back from two weeks on the road (one week in Ohio, and another in Manitoba), where I experienced this repeatedly:

– in Stryker, Ohio, where they “taught me” Take Good Care as a simple refrain sung by the children, with actions… and “Peace Be With You” – again with their own actions and way that they have developed to use this song to bless one another.

– in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, with the request to sing “God’s Love is for Everybody” as part of a sending/commissioning service for a family moving to a different community… the moving way this commissioning was done brought out multiple meanings and levels in the song that I hadn’t realized were there…

– in Brandon, Manitoba, where the community sent me out after the concert by singing to me, as a congregation, my own “Sending Song,” as a blessing on my way (and a blessing for each concert-goer on their way)…

– in Archbold, Ohio, where after the concert the pastor approached me and asked for notation and words for the song “For Just Such A Time” because she wanted it sung at her ordination service the following week. It had become her song already…

– and on and on and on it goes.

A few years ago I was doing a concert in Saskatoon, and a little girl was in the front row with her family. They were obviously familiar with my music, and the rest of the family was singing along heartily, but she just stared, mouth open, all the way through the first 3 songs of the concert. Then, partway through the 4th, she hollered out:

“Mom! OUR music is coming out of HIS mouth…!”

What an honour, and a privilege, and a joy. When a song is embraced and adopted and adapted and transformed by a community into something that is deeply and truly their (“OUR”) own…

What more could a songwriter ask? I am deeply grateful.