Songweaving on retreat

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: my creativity well needs refilling on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on producing all the time — more words, more efficiency, more discipline, more more more. It’s easy to forget to stop and reflect and breathe in life, embrace experiences, learn new things. It’s easy to drain that creativity well dry.

This was one of the reasons I joined the SoulSong community choir just over a year and half ago. I wanted an activity to fuel my creative fires and keep them crackling.

Yet (and I think I’ve said this elsewhere too) I rather underestimated the level of joy and inspiration found in singing and making music with others. And I completely underestimated the new community discovered among the SoulSong family.

I’ve just spent the weekend on a two-day singing retreat with SoulSong — an annual tradition for the choir, but the first for me. Normally I’m heading off for weekend writing retreats, often with fellow writers; but again such weekends are all about producing.

It was fabulous to experience the reverse — a weekend all about feeding the muse.

It was a relaxed weekend at an old house called Amberley, with lots of group singing and talking and other activities designed to harness and foster creativity. One of the traditions (and highlights) is the Saturday night concert, which is when SoulSongsters perform to each other, either individually or in groups.

There’s a lot of talent among SoulSong members, with more than a few instrumentalists to accompany each other singing, and more than enough eager backing vocalists. Oh, the harmonies! The result was an amazing concert that was almost as good as a gig at the Port Fairy folk festival… I believe there were nearly 30 acts over the evening, with most people on stage at least once.

There were so many fabulous performances, but particularly memorable for me was a rendition of Wailin’ Jennys’ song, Beautiful Dawn, complete with three-part harmonies and instrumentation. Brilliant stuff. (Canadian band, The Wailin’ Jennys are one of my favourite folk bands evah.)

I was totally wishing I was up there on that stage with them. How do I get to be a part of that?

Performing in small groups was not something I ever anticipated when I joined SoulSong last year. I wrote a little about this back in April (Songweaving solo and not solo); but since that post I have sung (not solo) in front of a small SoulSong audience on three occasions.

Before this past weekend, the choir has held a couple of ‘soirees’ which run similarly to the Amberley concert. And then there was Saturday’s concert, at which I sang “The ballad of the shape of things” (as part of a trio), a duet of Jewell’s ‘Foolish Games’, and backing vocals for “Tell him” by The Extremes. Oh yeah, and it was my first time singing with a microphone, which was a revelatory experience. Fun!

After the concert there was informal group singing with guitars and songbooks and wine and chocolate. More fun.

Sunday’s activities included a songwriting workshop. Now… songwriting is not something I’ve ever had any interest in either (like singing solo). I had never even considered it. But there’s a definite movement within SoulSong towards song composition, and the group holds periodic ‘open mic’ nights for performing original works only. The original songs I’ve seen so far have been amazing. Nonetheless, I’ve been holding out on the whole songwriting thing. (Like I need anything else to focus on.)

But the workshop was interesting. I don’t usually fare very well in workshop environments, because my mind freezes and I can’t think and the pressure to produce something in a timeframe freaks me out.

But, on Sunday, once I hit upon the angle I wanted to pursue, I completed some of the songwriting activities with moderate success.

Because I had a wild idea.

I decided that IF I wrote a song, it would be a story ballad in the traditional folk style. For one thing, they don’t need elaborate melodies, and I think the style of singing suits my voice. Also, I really like listening to them.

And then I thought I could write a ballad that reflected the story of the novel I’m working on… Cool, huh? Totally fits with the fact I’m writing fantasy, aaaaand it would be a cool marketing thing. (You, know… down the track when I have something to market. The song could provide the backdrop for the book trailer. Buy the book, download the song! Yeah, okay, I’m getting ahead of myself…)

It’s just a wild idea at this stage, but it’s Monday already and I haven’t yet abandoned it… heh. Will keep you posted.

There you go. Inspiration strikes in unexpected ways!

To finish off, here is some inspiration for you. I give you the Wailin’ Jennys singing Beautiful Dawn. Gorgeous.

7 comments

  1. Ellen, I love this post! What a great way to fill your creative well. Reminds me of how beneficial it can be to our writing to express ourselves in other ways. That’s very cool about the potential songwriting, too. Love your new picture/blog look!

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    1. Do the singing class! But better still, find a choir. There is nothing quite like making and sharing music with others.

      Yes, the book ballad and trailer should be quite something if it gets off the ground!! bahaha

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  2. Sounds like a pretty great way to spend a weekend. Recharging the creative well is definitely important. When we’re “all output, all the time,” eventually the well will run dry. And while my younger self would probably disagree, it’s probably also a good thing to sometimes fill the well with stuff that comes from outside our usual tastes or comfort zone. I used to be really bad about spurning things that didn’t conform to my usual tastes, but I like to think I’m a little bit better about that nowadays ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. That’s a really good point, Mike. It is good to be stretched beyond our comfort zone, especially if it’s an unknown quantity. There’s something to be learnt from every experience. And when you’re a writer, it’s all grist for the mill!

      Are you implying a singing retreat would be outside your comfort zone? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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