A Lesson From Van Gogh

Well, June 3rd has come and gone. The first of the last hurdles is now over in the race to  complete my recording.  I’m very pleased with the results.  Today I head back up for four more days of work in the studio. This time I will record two songs on guitar and we will review all of the songs recorded thus far to determine what will make the cut for the cd.recording studio

One of the songs I’ll be recording next week is actually a re-do of a song I recorded last October called “A Stone’s Throw.” I didn’t like how the recording turned out but I didn’t want to give up on the song so I re-arranged it stylistically and now we’ll give it another go. It is the first song I ever wrote, which was about 4 years ago. Truthfully, it’s not the kind of song that I feel I am gravitating toward writing now. But giving it recorded voice feels necessary for closure to that period of my song writing.

For some reason, Stone’s Throw has undergone more revisions than any song I’ve written thus far. I’ve changed the key, the lyrics, the rhythm and the arrangement. Some songs are written quickly and have an immediate coherency while others, like this one, seem to evolve with fits and starts.

portratureI have been reading a collection of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. In his early correspondence, Van Gogh details his experiences of learning to draw, especially the human form. He works and re-works countless sketches, using live models, hours and hours a day. Landscapes too require much trial and error to get right. He expresses worry over the expense of using so much paint on studies that are then discarded. He tells Theo that he tries to draw with charcoal as much as possible while practicing so to save the costly paint for more evolved compositions. Pot of paint

Van Gogh’s letters reminded me that all artistic work really is work, no matter the artistic form. What we see as the “finished product” is the result of countless hours by the artist of honing their craft. None of us are immune from the learning curve. Van Gogh did not sit down one day and produce a masterpiece. I don’t know if I will ever produce a “masterpiece” but I can certainly attest to the fact that if you want to create something of value then you must buckle down and do the necessary work. It is unavoidable. You can’t go around to get to the other side, you must go through. Is this not true of life in general?

So, back to my song. Actually all of the songs I’ve written. The writing of the melody, the lyrics and the arrangement isn’t the end. The recording process is part of a song’s evolution. Sometimes you just don’t know how it’s going to sound until you record it.  All artists have songs that didn’t turn out as they hoped or just weren’t right and were either abandoned in the studio or reworked in some way. Of course, I’m hoping that this next attempt at  “A Stone’s Throw” will be a keeper for the cd. But I’m learning to remain open to the fluidity of the process trusting that no matter what happens, ultimately having done the work will produce the reward.Painted Background 259

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“Insist On Yourself”

June 3rd is looming large on my calendar. On Friday I go back into the studio to record the last two piano songs for my cd. Later in the month, I’ll spend four more days recording on guitar and reviewing all of my songs in preparation for release. I have been working on this project for more than a year now and am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.IMG_2283

IMG_2288Deciding to write and record my own songs was a giant leap into the unknown. An endeavor begun in middle age, with no knowledge of how to do it, and with only a fledgling’s self-confidence that I could do it. But when the opportunity presented itself to quit my day job a few years ago, and to focus on my music, I knew it was now or never.

It had never occurred to me when I was younger that I might possess enough talent to do such a thing. My religious upbringing encouraged conformity not individuality. It was an inhospitable environment for creativity to thrive. Nevertheless, my desire to create never died. It was just lying dormant, awaiting the time when I would evolve into the person who was confident in, and comfortable with her own uniqueness. The person I was always meant to be.

 “Insist on yourself: never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half-possession…Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two months ago I had only one song written to record on piano. Because we rent a large studio with a grand piano for the day, I knew it was necessary to have two songs ready to go. I had an idea in progress for a song, with a chorus already written, but I could never get any traction going on the verses.IMG_2290

After two weeks of laboring over it, I made the decision to cut bait and try for something new. The only thing I had in the wings were some lines inspired by the Greek myth about the Three Fates; Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the three women who determine the length of a life. One spins the symbolic thread, one marks its length, and the third cuts it.

The Three FatesRecently I visited an elderly friend who expressed to me that she had never allowed herself to develop her life’s potential. She had so many dreams and ambitions that never came to fruition because it meant leaving an unhappy marriage, something she could never get the courage to do. Now in her mid 80‘s she was looking back with regret over what might have been.

I was reminded of another friend, who for most of his life, has viewed the world through a very narrow lens. He likes bullet lists, how-to formulas and five step programs. He believes that the most important thing you can learn in life is how to control your emotions. But in the last few years he has glimpsed the vitality and richness of other cultures and world views beyond his ken. The world could be his oyster, but does he have the courage to loosen his grip on control? Will he take the leap into the unknown?

As I pondered my friends’ life stories and my own life’s metamorphosis I saw the thread of commonality and a song began to coalesce and emerge. No matter our individual circumstances, if we are evolving we will reach a point of awareness when we say life has been “thus” but now it can be “thus.” We will reach a point where it will take blind courage to move forward. And we will become aware of the thread growing shorter.

The Fates of Time                                                                        

Looking back at the beginning
You had a formula for winning
Your secret was control
You wrapped your heart in a blindfold

So you took it on the road
In every town a sold out show
People hungry for a cure
Will buy a remedy like yours

But life always seems to stray
From the best of plans we lay
And walls buckles from the strain
Of a ruse you can’t sustain
Not even one more day

Chorus: 
‘Cause the Fates of Time are spinning
Measuring and trimming
The days, the hours, the time
You’ve left to find
The thread of meaning in your life

One day you catch a glimpse
Of a happiness you’ve missed
It’s a passion in your soul
That won’t bend to your control

So embrace uncertainty
You have all the strength you need
Take the leap, it’s not too late
To become yourself, don’t wait
Not even one more day

‘Cause the Fates of Time are spinning
Measuring and trimming
The days, the hours, the time
You’ve left to find
The thread of meaning in your life                                            

words and music by Penny R Pierce
copyright 2016 all rights reserved

 

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