Under the Hat: Music as Reflection
The Gift of Songwriting
One of the greatest things about being a songwriter is freedom. While there are countless opinions on what constitutes a great song, at the end of the day there are no rules whatsoever.
From a musical perspective, any genre is fair game. Want to write a ska song today and a bluegrass tune tomorrow? Go ahead. How about a ten minute classical inspired epic, followed by a ten second snippet? That’s fine too.
It’s likely that the music you write will be a reflection of the mood you’re in. For example, if you’re happy chances are you’ll pick a faster tempo than if you’re sad. If you’re feeling silly, the lyrics you write will surely be different than if you’re feeling down. The sky’s also the limit when it comes to topics: pretty much anything that you find interesting can become the subject of a new song.
In that respect, songwriting is a great mirror to our emotional state. While many people journal, songwriters tend to document their feelings through a combination of words and music. Some examples of this approach would include Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Ani DiFranco, Other songwriters choose to invent characters and scenarios that aren’t necessarily related to their own personal experience. For artists like Tom Waits, Donald Fagen and Bjork, songwriting provides a vehicle to explore alternate realities.
I released two albums this year: the first, Los Animales, was a collection of original bilingual songs about animals which incorporated a range of Latin styles (salsa, tejano, jazz, tropical). While all the songs are related to animals in one way or another, some of them are more narrative (“La Rana”), while others are more fanciful (“El León y La Luna). Still others are more about dancing and energy (“Baila Como Las Hormigas” or going to sleep after a long and happy day “Buenas Noches”).
The second album incorporates English, Spanish, Hebrew and Yiddish and is called The Mitzvah Bus. For that album, I wrote a couple of holiday songs (“Latkes for Breakfast” and “Hannukah”) as well as songs about friendship (“Hola Shalom”), body parts (“Tokhes”) and food (“Matzah on my Mind” and “Challah-lalala”).
Both albums employ a wide range of musical styles, which added to the fun in terms of producing the music in the studio. Every song called for different instrumentation and demanded I take a different approach as an engineer and mixer…but we’ll save that for a different post!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A 2015 Latin Grammy Award winner, two time Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner, Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children. Calling western Massachusetts, Mister G is one of the leading figures in the children’s music world. www.mistergsongs.com.