Rising to the Challenge: North Easton Lets Go of the Lap Bar

Some rights reserved by flatluigi (Flickr) under Creative Commons license.
Some rights reserved by flatluigi (Flickr) under Creative Commons license.

Throughout our Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 – one of our participants really stood out from the crowd.  He was able to turn out well written fully produced recordings week after week as the assignments from Pat Pattison seemed to pile higher and faster.  North Easton is not only the winner of this year’s challenge, but also our current Featured Member.  We asked him to blog about his experience participating in this year’s challenge.  Here’s what he had to say…

In His Words…

My feet ache as I shift my weight from one leg to the other. I patiently stand there in the hot summer sun, staring at the backs of people heads who are staring at the backs of peoples heads. A lineup, a waiting game for the next ride that will send me soaring up and down, left and right, over and over as my heart battles my voicebox for room in my throat. 60 minutes traded for 2. Seems fair! The climb up the clickety clack tracks, the rush in the final seconds before we inch over the top and scream down the other side. My hands clenching the bar at first, mind racing against the thoughts of peril vs pure adrenaline bliss. Stomach tightens as it swirls back and forth against the force of gravity, eyes watering, cheeks pressed back and a smile carved into my face like words in stone…and then in the blur of peripheral vision, my tightly clenched fingers begin to relax…my eyes open wide as I lift my arms to the sky and truly soak in the roller coaster ride before me. I become one with the speeding cart across the rails and the adventure truly is one I own…forever.

According to Albert, the only source of knowledge is experience. So when I took on the great journey into the mind of Mr. Pat Pattison, (the songwriting guru who walked 63,000 songwriters through the 6 week course offered through Coursera)…I was completely captivated. As a father of 6, a music teacher, and the husband of a wife finishing up law school, I was slightly intimidated by not only the course, but the idea of a weekly blog inspired by the Songwriters Association of Canada. But why not…let the roller-coaster ride begin.

Rusty fingers and tongue tied words fought to keep up with the concepts dangled before us all. The simplicity of Box thinking and the new revelations of all the parts of your song intensifying and strengthening the chorus. A bunch of new friends we made, all asking the questions that help bring the point of the song to the surface.

Diving into the unstable waters of week 2, I happily held my breath and tried to stay under as long as possible. Gathering new tricks of the trade before coming up for air. As an avid movie watcher, I often pull emotions, camera angles, intense situations into my songs, and with Pat holding a cheat sheet up at the spelling Bee…it became so much easier to bridge these two mediums together.

Like most songwriters, I thrive on rhyming. The dance of the language and sound that twists and turns as it burns a picture in the listeners mind. The rhymes they link the words, make us think that what we heard is not only important but real, phrases that make us feel resolve as we solve the story line, the state of mind, the point of view or just something new that no one else has said. I fed on week 3, and got caught up in the free thought of perfect vs family, additive, subtractive, assonance, and consonance and will probably never again write a lyric without the chance to hear it in another way.

The windows into the minds of my fellow songwriters in Canada and beyond was my favourite part of the entire adventure. Reading conversations, reviews, ideas on direction…hearing the doubt shared by others, the hopes, the desire and passion as it came out and seemed to inspire everyone I chatted with. I learned more from you guys, than from Pat himself. I throw my thanks into the ring and if you could see my smile upon reflection of these past weeks…you would know!

I am not the songwriter I was at the beginning of this course. I think most of the other writers would agree with me that we have all changed the way we look at writing, and every day that passes by I personally realize how little I know about everything on this planet…and that kind of excites me for the journey ahead. So let go of the “lapbar” put your hands in the sky and scream.

In closing, and to sum things up with a quote from a very famous Doctor.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
                                                                                              -Dr. Seuss
Take a listen to some of his songs…

And the winner is…(Songwriting Course and Blogging Challenge)

northeastonSeveral weeks ago over 50 S.A.C. members signed on, not only to complete Berklee Professor Pat Pattison‘s online songwriting course offered by Coursera, but also to blog about their experience in the 2013 S.A.C. Songwriting Course & Blogging Challenge.  From the get go, the private Facebook group was a flurry of activity as people shared song snippets, inspiration and things they had learned from Pat.

Fast forward several weeks later, and not everyone made it to the finish line.  The course proved more intense than many people anticipated.  But everyone benefited from participating.  Unbeknownst to participants, a winner was selected to receive a FREE ONE YEAR S.A.C. MEMBERSHIP to be added to their existing membership.

It was difficult to choose because, those who did make it to the end, really put their heart and soul into the process.  In the end, North Easton was selected for his display of inventiveness, creativity, and personality.

Over the next few weeks we will be posting highlight blogs from each week, to give you an example of what people were learning along the way.

In the mean time, CONGRATULATIONS to North Easton.  And congratulations to all who took part and walked away with a new set of songwriting tools and skills.  Here is North Easton’s final song submission:

Special thanks to Debra Alexander for helping us to blog about the course along with facilitating the online discussion.  And here are some tracks from other participants that made it to the finish line. ENJOY!

Ember Swift



Ross Douglas

Michael Holland

Dawn Schumilas

Jennifer Potter

Songwriting for Survival – Inviting Your Audience to “Follow the Lion”

by Debra Alexander

The Final, Sixth Week of the SAC Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 is upon us. Our relatively small (50/65,000) but extremely dedicated and talented group of Coursera Songwriting Class Participants has braved jungle-like entanglements of song form, plot development, point of view, number of lines, lengths of lines, rhyme schemes, rhyme types, melodic and harmonic rhythms, and song structure. In short, we’ve been asked to climb the highest tree in the forest and have a look around in order to make decisions on how to support our lyrics with prosodic choices for every syllable, word, phrase, line, and section contained in our songs. And we have emerged from the jungle a new and upright-walking species of survivors.

Berklee College Professor of Songwriting Pat Pattison brings us full circle in the last lesson and reminds us that the reason we set out on this journey was because we, as songwriters, have ideas that we want to express. Our ability to translate to an audience how we feel about our subject will either bring our audience closer and intensify the feeling, or distance our audience and dissipate the feeling. The tools we have developed during this course are now at our disposal to aid us in our endeavour to create emotional resonance.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the development of one of Pat’s songs, starting from the initial idea to a fully realized lyric and melody. The final decisions required in writing the song concern phrasing, which Pat calls the “body language” of communication. In every day communication, it turns out that our actual words account for much less meaning than our tone of voice and our body language. So phrasing, in songwriting, is an extremely important skill to cultivate. We learn how to write front heavy vs. back heavy, and strong bar vs. weak bar phrasing to create stability or instability. Additionally, tone of voice can be equated to certain melodic intervals, and our awareness of these relationships can help us intensify the feelings we’re trying to express.

One of the most fascinating segments of Lesson Six was, for this writer, the part where Pat describes the work done by ethno/evolutionary musicologist by Joseph Jordania in his book, Why Do People Sing? Music In Evolution. Jordania posits that our tree-dwelling hominid ancestors, over the millennia, learned how to drive lions off their kill by making noise together, and that this skill fed the entire tribe. For 2.5 million years, we were scavengers who followed the lion; we were coming down from the trees, learning to raise our voices together, “singing” to get our supper! Singing is actually linked to survival, and predates language. So remember, Pat says, “when you write a song…invite your audience in, let them sing with you, let them bond with you. Let them be your tribe.” He goes on to say that songwriting “is really a lifetime of fun, a lifetime of exploration, a lifetime of growth…”

I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Songwriters Association of Canada for inviting me to participate in the SAC Blogging Challenge 2013 as mentor and guest blogger. And now, I have to go after a few of those lions I’ve been trailing.

All ye hunters, please post:

1. How you feel you have used front heavy, back heavy, and/or weak bar phrasing tools to assist the expression of your stable and unstable ideas.

2. The URL to your Week 6 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

The Adventure of Prosody – Week 2 – Challenge 2013

by Debra Alexander

Week One is nearly water under the bridge, and S.A.C. Bloggers are now swimming in the currents of prosody with Pat Pattison, as he guides us through his free Songwriting Course. It’s not too late to register through Coursera as long as class is still in session, and we’ve got 5 whole weeks to go. Catch up with the details here:S.A.C. Community Songwriting & Blogging Challenge.

Prosody, in simple terms, is how everything works together in the words and music you write to express the central emotion, idea, and purpose of your song. You can make choices in how you communicate that reinforce your ideas and deliver your messages more effectively. Elements like melody, harmony, tone of voice, and harmonic rhythm combine to create unity, and these are just a few of the areas that a conscientious songwriter makes decisions about.

Pat argues that the most effective vehicles for expressing prosody in a lyric revolve around terms of stability and instability. He explains how the number of lines and the length of lines contribute to create emotion. An even number of lines feels stable, resolved, and balanced; an odd number of lines feels unstable, incomplete, and unbalanced. Number and length of lines can also be manipulated to spotlight important ideas, stop or create motion, and create contrast between song sections.

So bloggers, pull up the chair of your choice, sit square or on the edge of your seat, and please post the following for Week Two:

1.  The idea you chose for a verse with an unstable structure, and the idea you chose for a chorus with a stable structure.
2.  The URL to your Week 2 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog.)

From Boston to NY City to Dublin to Touring Worldwide – Laine Henderson’s Adventures in Songwriting

Choosing to pursue  your passion for songwriting and music can take you places you never imagined.  For S.A.C. Member Laine Henderson, this has meant leaving the Vancouver North Shore where she was born and raised, studying alongside the very best at the Berkley College of Music in Boston, making a go of it in New York City, performing and songwriting in Dublin, then touring the world with the world-famous Riverdance show.  Each part of her adventure has added to the fabric of her music as well as the story of her life.  While we all might aspire to perfection and glory as our destination, Laine’s story is living proof that the journey has great value unto itself.   She recently released her album, “Occasional Rain.”  We look forward to hearing where these new songs will take her.

1.  Please tell us about your experiences training at the Berklee College of Music and how you came to discover your gift for writing songs.  I first attended Berklee on a vocal jazz scholarship. I wanted to study jazz music and sing jazz music. It was music all day, all night and weekends too. Every evening the classrooms would be filled with jam sessions and the studios would be busy splicing together projects. I received a few late night panicked phone calls to help finish a jingle project. It was overwhelming and inspiring. Songwriting came the following term as I scanned the school syllabus for classes. It had never occurred to me until that moment that people WROTE the songs we sing and I could do it too. I was very fortunate to have my first writing class with jingle writing legend, Jon Aldrich. He was wonderfully inspiring and made it sound so effortless. So, I jumped in pen first and began writing and trying to express my self poetically and tell my stories. Luckily they sounded fairly catchy and held together with just piano or guitar. When I hit Pat Pattison’s lyric writing class the following semester I was in for a shock…cut 50% of my lyrics and music? Do that again? My writing was never the same.

2.  You have lived for periods in New York and Dublin.  What was the environment like for making music in these places and what brought you back to Canada?  Moving to New York was a natural progression from Boston. Most of the people I went to school with were trying to make it there. There were open mics Mon-Thurs and then gigs to go to on the weekends. The week was packed with music, just like at Berklee and just as intense but without the safety factor of college. I would write in the mornings before catching the subway to whichever record label at which I was temping, then come home and write more before going out. I wrote a lot and with so many open mics was able to see what worked and what didn’t pretty quickly. It was all very exciting.

A few years later, Dublin became my new home. After the fast paced lifestyle of NYC, it was a complete shift. I quickly found myself among a good company of writers in Dublin via a few open mics. My first real gig was alongside Luka Bloom at the Ruby Sessions, which was amazing. My style of writing became more simplified and the goal was to tell a good story.

I brought my family back to B.C. more for personal reasons that musical ones, but it has been a very rewarding return. Not being centered in Vancouver, I thought I would bring the Vancouver scene to me at a writers round I hosted in White Rock. I met so many great writers every week and certainly feel apart of it now. Great support from writers like Ivan Boudreau and Jon Pippus have made me feel part of the writers scene and S.A.C. I am writing better now than ever.

3.  How have your travels affected the songs you write, as well as your record-making process?  My travels have always had to do with changes in my life so I think my writing has changed with each country or city. When I first started I was very jazz influenced and complex with a lot of turmoil. Life was fast paced and I rushed through my first album trying to cram in lots of texture and sound. Then, I wanted my life to be simpler and as a result so was my music. My recordings, nothing was pressed, became more acoustic which is where I was at for a long time. Now, I am pretty happy most of the time, so I am writing pretty happy songs, which I love. Luckily the producer of my album, Matt Rogers, sensed that because he made everything have a good feeling even if it was a slower song. We built everything up from the bottom and I had no idea where it was going, but Matt did and I trusted him completely. It was a long time between albums but definitely worth the wait.

4.  What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered and how did you overcome it?  I have in the past liked to do things the hard way, but I think the biggest challenge for me was starting anew in a new country with only 2 friends in the same city. With no job, little money and few friends, I did what any writer would do….write…and get a job in a coffee shop. Getting out to those open mics made all the difference and bit by bit everything else came together. As it happened, I met the musical director for Riverdance in that coffee shop.

5.  You toured for two years as the lead vocalist with the Riverdance show.  How did those years grow you as a songwriter and how did they limit you?  The touring was great, fun, surreal and tiring and I wouldn’t have missed it. Singing Bill Whelan’s music every night was amazing and an honor, but while on tour I pretty much stopped writing. I dragged my guitar on every plane and to every city but when I went to write it just didn’t happen. Maybe it was the unfamiliar hotel rooms or changes in altitude, but I was blocked. As time went on, I wanted to be singing my own words and return to real life and get back to playing my own music. I became more committed as a writer than I had been before.

6.  What achievement in your musical journey has meant the most to you?  Riverdance was a pretty big deal, but, as a singer/songwriter, finishing this latest album has been the highlight so far. Working with Matt was amazing and having a finished product I am truly proud of was something I wasn’t sure would ever happen.

7.  What are your goals for the coming year with the release of your new album, “Occasional Rain”? One of my goals was to play Bluebird North hosted by Shari Ulrich. I have been to a few shows and always enjoyed them but felt I was capable of being up there, but not until I had something to hand out. I am happy to say Shari has invited me to play April 10, 2012, so that’s one less thing to do next year. Other than that, I want to get my music out to the world and write my next album. Hopefully, a couple of music videos will be showing up on Youtube and a few TV/movie/commercial placements will happen as well. If you know how I can get a song pitched to Michael Buble, let me know, I have a great one for him.

Visit Laine’s Songwriter Profile.