Getting In Tune with The Infinite

I have been been blessed to sing wonderful songs written by other people for many decades — as the MP3 player on the right hand sidebar of this page can attest.

And every now and then I have helped to write or co-write a song.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I bought my first ‘ukulele, that I started writing songs on a regular basis.

I love reading about how other songwriters have created their hits.

Composer Harry Warren and lyricist Johnny Mercer wrote “Jeepers, Creepers,” “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” and “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby.”

Warren gave Mercer the nickname ‘Cloud Boy’.

As Warren explained, “A lot of times when I would play a melody for John… particularly if it was after a good lunch… he’d stretch out on a couch and just lie there with his eyes closed and his hands folded across his stomach. He was way up there some place in the clouds. Of course, what came out later was just great.”

When asked by his father about his creative process, Mercer once said, “I simply get to thinking over the song — pondering over it in my mind — and all of a sudden I get in tune with the Infinite.”

Many songwriters have expressed a similar sentiment — that they feel as though they are acting as a conduit or channel for something greater than themselves.

The lyricist Ira Gershwin said that the composer Harold Arlen would never “approach the simplest musical requirement or idea without first calling upon ‘the fellow up there’ — jabbing his finger at the ceiling.”

I cannot say that I have experienced this phenomenon yet.

I have, however, noticed that lyrical themes sometimes emerge which surprise me and lead a song in a different direction than I had originally intended.

And I have had the inspiring experience of writing a song which gradually became true.

It is called “Can We Slow It Down?” — and I wrote it a couple of years ago when I was working full time at my day job in Harvard Square.

I realized recently when I was practicing it at home that my life has in fact slowed down since I began singing this song.

If you are curious, you can listen to “Can We Slow It Down?” by clicking on the audio player at the top of this page.

I will be singing it plus two other originals as part of a mini-set at a lovely open mic in Lexington — hosted by Nourish Restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue — on Tuesday, November 5, 2013, starting around 7:30 pm.

Perhaps you can join us.

The Subtle Power of the ‘Ukulele

I started playing the ‘ukulele three years ago after attending a class in Harvard Square led by the marvelous Danno Sullivan.

Since then I have been strumming on an almost daily basis — thanks to Danno’s lyric/chord handouts, the wonderful Daily Ukulele songbook, and the amazing group mind that is the internet (where one can find chords and lyrics and probably a demonstration video for almost every song under the sun!)

Soon after discovering the chords for a Coldplay song on line, I realized that many of my favorite pop songs have a surprisingly simple structure. Four chords! Sometimes three chords!

And thus my humble life as a budding songwriter took root…

I had written lyrics in the past with a friend who is a pianist, and I had collaborated on a couple of songs with another guitarist friend (again as a lyricist).

And many years ago I had co-written a couple of songs with bandmates in a pop/rock band.

But until I picked up a ‘ukulele, my songwriting efforts had been restricted to what I could cobble together using Apple’s blessed GarageBand program — songs consisting of my vocals accompanied by various loops and samples from the Garageband library.

In the past three years I have written a bunch of ukulele-based songs.

And in the past month I have attended three singer-songwriter open mics — daring to perform my original songs while accompanying myself (solidly but not very gracefully) on the ‘uke.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

In addition to helping me tap into a stream of songwriting creativity, the ‘ukulele has also given me a new way to hang out with my mom, with my dad, and with other friends and family members.

I just pick up a ‘uke, open up a songbook, and start strumming. Almost invariably the mood in the room shifts to something lighter and (literally) more harmonious as everyone starts to hum and sing along.

I find this to be amazing.

And I am very grateful.

Hurrah for the subtle power of the ‘ukulele!