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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What happens when you get a bunch of songwriters together?

By Ted Slowik

Monday night I took part in a songwriter circle hosted by Alex Hoffer at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. Alex is a gifted singer, guitarist, writer and performer, and a good guy too! Nick Domberg and Charlie Champene kicked it off, too.

This was the first songwriter circle at Chicago Street. Monday nights are typically the slowest night in the world of live music, bars and restaurants. This was a chance to play some songs or works in progress and get instant feedback from other writers.

I hadn't participated in a songwriter circle like this before. The closest was a daylong conference in 2010 presented by The Union at North Central College. There, professionals like John Joseph Thompson, who is director of creative and copyright development at Capitol CMG Publishing in Nashville, and musician Andrew Osenga offered feedback. But there were a lot of songwriters involved at that seminar, and it was a more formal process, so everyone only got to offer one song for critique.

Songwriting works at many different levels. There are the lyrics, for one, and the story or message they convey. Monday night we talked about writing with the audience’s reaction in mind. Sometimes, a song is written for an audience of one. It’s about, directed at or intended for a particular individual. We talked about a lot of topics to do with songwriting.

Alex and Nick had some good discussions going about the musical side of songwriting, the chord variations, the structure and changes of a song. I admire the musicianship of them both! I took away a lot of good ideas about trying different approaches to writing. I'm more of a lyricist who only knows basic chords, but I could appreciate the discussion.

The first hour we went around the circle, each playing an original song and talking about it. The second hour we were joined by Steve Becker, Mary Beth Daw and Chris Flood. They also played some of their songs, which are very good! It’s interesting to hear different perspectives, and appreciate how other people can take a vastly different approach to songwriting than you do.

Maybe some of the other participants never considered working collaboratively on writing a song before, yet that's how a great deal of songwriting occurs.

Sometimes when someone was playing his song, others would play along quietly. Nick played harmonica on some songs in addition to guitar, so there was some jamming going on, though that wasn’t the point.

Then Alex asked us to each take about 10 minutes and write part of a song on the spot. Suggestions were taken for topics, and a topic was chosen—something about the metaphysics of architecture, I think. I’m not really sure. I didn’t understand the exercise. I thought we were supposed to write about the topic of our own choosing, but I get it now. We went around and played our bits. It was a lot of fun!

The wide circle of musicians and songwriters that come through Chicago Street is an incredibly supportive community. Thanks Triz and Kathy for supporting live local music! Alex plans to host the Monday night songwriter circles at Chicago Street on a regular basis.