Hi, All,

What a great benefit concert Susan Rose and I presented on February 22. Each of us did ten songs and we finished with a duet of Mary Chapin Carpenter's Why Walk When You Can Fly. We each then did a couple of encore numbers. The crowd was very enthusiastic and ready for what we were offering. The Boulder Friends Meetinghouse is a great venue--terrific acoustics and a nice semi-circular seating pattern.

I have spent the past couple of months practicing and tinkering with some of my old favorites that I think might use improvement. Over the time I have been doing this blog, I have I harped many times on the value of practice and how long it takes to groove in a song to the point that I can perform it with a sense of freedom and spontenaity. My experience has been that after performing a song 10 or 12 times I have the basics of the song down. Just practicing for this many performances means that I have played the song 50 to 70 times. The song becomes like a comfortable shoe that I can dance in without worrying about pinching my toes.

I like to play gigs on Friday evenings. It's the end of the week and audiences seem to be more ready to let go and want to raise some energy for the weekend. I have noticed that it works better on Friday nights to start off with a few up-beat, danceable blues songs. I often start out with Lost Luggage Blues. It's funny and has a nice beat. I've also noticed that I have a tendency to pick the same songs over and over. This means that I am neglecting my other songs, both in terms of practice and in terms of exposing audiences to the full range of my material. So I've taken to putting three or four songs into my practice list that don't intend to use in the upcoming concert but would like to get up to speed on for future gigs.

When I tinker around with my songs, I usually do one of two things: make minor changes in lyrics and phrasing or mess with the tempo. For example, I was performing for an engagement party and I wanted to customize the set list to take the parents of the bride-to-be into consideration as well as the couple getting engaged. I thought about Long-Time Love as a song that would be relevant for the parents. Originally, the song was done as a straight slow-tempo blues in the key of C. This form is OK and I used it to record the song for my Life Lessons album. However, for this gig I wanted something a little more up-beat. I tried two or three different rhythms, and discovered that the song sounded great in the blues form with a Carribean-style beat. That has now become my preferred beat for this song.

I have heard many performers complain about fans' getting bent out of shape if you change the lyrics or arrangement of a song. I haven't had much of that because I am not a music icon for much of anyone besides me. This gives me the freedom to let my songs evolve, and I like that experience very much. By trying different approaches in performances, I have gotten the feedback I need to know whether a change is an improvement or not. For example, I wrote I Miss Your Gentle Voice using a simple arpeggio fingering on the guitar and sang it as a straight slow ballad. But when I recorded it, I used a more dynamic delivery -- fast and dark approach to the verses and a spacious and gentle approach for the chorus. I felt that this contrast would serve the song well. When I performed the dynamic version, I got a lot of positive feedback. But when I tried performing both versions in the same gig and asking audiences which one they preferred, I was surprised. By a large margin, the audiences thought that the straight ballad approach better captured the heart of the song.

What I'm trying to get across here is that part of the joy and wonder of songwriting for me is watching my songs evolve. It's sort of like watching your children grow up. Actually, some of my songs are reaching middle age. But through exercise (practicing and tinkering) they have managed to stay fit and feisty.

Cheers for now.


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