1st May 2015
I used to think songwriting and composing were only done at the piano. So, of course, I was often filled with guilt for not spending more time at the piano. It was my dear friend, the songwriter Meg Christian who taught me that time spent doing errands is part of the song-writing process.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, an errand is “a short trip taken to attend to some business.”
So it is that I am “running an errand” in Scotland and Wales this Spring, I will be travelling once again to the Callanish Stones in the Outer Hebrides as well as to the stones pictured on the cover of Avalon in south Wales.
At this point, I’m beginning to wonder when the trips back and forth to the UK are going to stop so I can sit down at the piano to write what is bubbling up through the crevices and crannies of my experience. I have already gone to Wales twice in less than a year’s time. On the other hand, since I started writing music in 1964 – forty years ago now! – I have come to trust that the process and music will reveal itself to me in their own time.
The trajectory of new music has a kind of natural history. These are the phases: I complete a recording project (such as Avalon) and then I spend a couple of years touring with the new recording. At some point, the stir about the new recording quiets down and I move into much more quiet place. Time to garden. Time to go scuba diving. Time to walk the labyrinth. Time to listen to what I feel called to do – to see – to experience. Walking the labyrinth came from this place and ultimately resulted in my last CD, Avalon.
More recently – I have been called to visit ancient stone circles in Wales and Scotland. The purpose of these visits has yet to be revealed to me but that I should make these pilgrimages right now is absolutely clear to me.
Everything in my songwriting past suggests that the time will come when I begin to long for time away with the piano. This longing will gradually build to such a racket in my life that I will have no choice but to pack up and go somewhere to literally sit at the piano until the songs begin to come flying through. In the past I’ve settled into a cabin at the Russian River or a cottage in Bodega Bay – both in Northern California. I have no idea where I’ll be sitting this time.
What I do know is that there is reason to believe that if I end up in a quiet space with a piano at the end of this travel to the UK, I will begin to write what I have, what I have experienced, what I have been given. These songs will be the material on the next recording, which I will then perform whenever I get a chance.
So there you have it: the natural history of a song and evolution of a performance.