Archive for the ‘Songwriting Craft’ Category

Support My Own Two Hands – the Annual Fundraiser for the Americana Project in Sisters, OR

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

John on the mic at his venue in Sisters. One of his favorite bands, Weinland from Portland was playing that night and he knows a few songs by heart.

There is something special about kids that are born and raised in Sisters, Oregon. I’ve experienced this first hand many times. The most recent occasion was while I was playing a gig at one of my favorite venues of all time, The Barn off Three Creeks Road in Sisters and was first approached by eighteen-year-old John, one of the owners of the venue. He was warm, hospitable, confident and totally present. He is a fellow singer/songwriter and a senior at Sisters High School – an almost alumni of the Americana Project, the educational arm of the Sisters Folk Fest. The Project was was established to foster a passion for the arts among the youth of Central Oregon. As a student in the program, John learned everything from how to play the guitar, to songwriting skills, to how to appreciate music of all genres. Many other students of the Project were there in the audience that night, and it lives down in my memory as one of the best shows I ever played, specifically because of how attentive and appreciative these high school kids were during the performance. They hung on to every word, and surrounded me after the show, offering accolades and sharing stories from their own songwriting process.

Brad Tisdel on the mic with the students of the American Project.

This weekend in Sisters, ww all have a chance to support the wonderful work of the Americana Project. There are performances, a community art stroll, a parade, and the finale fundraiser at the Ponderosa Forge & Ironworks. Read on for more info about this awesome event:

The 2011 My Own Two Hands Celebration is an annual fundraiser for the Americana Project, the educational outreach of the Sisters Folk Festival. The event encompasses a full-weekend of activities on April 15th and 16th including a  Community Parade, the Community Art Stroll and Performing Arts Evening , and the Art Auction and Party.

My Own Two Hands celebrates how one individual can change their community for the better using their skills in a positive way. It also helps to support the mission statement of the Sisters Folk Festival to expand community involvement in the arts.

Brad Tisdel is the executive director of the SSF and the Americana Project. He is also an amazing singer songwriter and is looking all kinds of blissed out in this shot.

“It is amazing to see so many people from different parts of the community come together in support of music and visual arts through the Americana Project,” said Brad Tisdel, executive director of the Sisters Folk Festival. “It is a testament to the meaningful impact that music, the arts and community create in people’s lives.”

One of the core elements of the My Own Two Hands fundraiser is the Common Canvas Project. Every year a different theme is chosen, and visual artists from the community and beyond are invited to create pieces, which will be featured in the community art stroll and auctioned off as part of the final fundraising event on Saturday night.

This year’s theme is “In the Current.”

“We like to keep the theme open-ended,” said Katy Yoder, development director of the Sisters Folk Festival. “It can mean whatever the artists want it to mean. So far this year we’ve had donations ranging from water themes, to air currents, to an actual current, as in the berry.”

Common Canvas is not just for professional artists, however. On the Community Art Day (March 12th this year) members of the community were invited to Sisters Middle School to create art around the theme to be worn or displayed during the community parade, which will take place this year on April 15 from 4 – 4:30 p.m. and run down Hood Street. The Sisters Chamber of Commerce is still accepting applications for the parade.

One interpretation of the theme. Fish!

Shortly after the parade, the Community Art Stroll begins, where over 40 Sisters businesses keep their doors open late, displaying all the donated works from artists, the Common Canvas pieces, and featuring performances by over 20 local musicians. The festivities then move Bronco Billy’s for the Performing Arts Evening, featuring performances by students of the Americana Project as well as the SHS jazz band and choir.

“The Performing Arts night is a real showcase of how the kids in this community have gotten better and better over the ten years of the Americana Project,” Tisdel said. “Younger kids are inspired which gives them goals and creates opportunities for youth mentoring.”

The finale of the weekend’s activities is the Art Auction on Saturday, April 16th at the Ponderosa Forge & Ironworks from 6 – 9 p.m. This event features both a live and silent auction and there are limited tickets available. If you would like to buy tickets, please call the Sisters Folk Festival office at 541.549.4979. Those who cannot make the event are welcome to donate to the American Project on the Sisters Folk Festival website or by calling the office.

“There is an amazing multi-generational aspect to these events,” said Tisdel. “Everyone from elementary school kids marching in the parade, to wise and talented artists donating pieces for the auction; it is really unique in that the community support extends far beyond people with kids in school.”

All monies collected at the auction support the Americana Project. Although the Americana Project is best known for its innovative songwriting and folk music history classes in Sisters High School, its reach goes far beyond these classes and supports many different aspects of music and art curriculum in the Sisters School District. The program awards scholarships for students in the visual and performing arts, provides national, regional and local guest arts and mentors in the classroom, gives an annual gift to the Sisters High School art, choir and music departments and supports both the Sisters Middle and Elementary School music and arts programming.

“I like to think of the Americana Project as more of a movement than a program,” Tisdel said. “It’s a central point in the development of young people in this community, and there is a certain magic in seeing so much community support for a cause that is all about creativity and self-expression.”

How to practice guitar

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I recently went to Portland to start recording for my next album and learned quite a bit about the ways in which I can refine my playing for both recording and performing. Although I probably practice on average seven hours a week (between band rehearsals etc.) there is a difference between running through a bunch of strummers you already know, and really putting the effort into learning a new skill or style or difficult picking pattern.

For me, my originals that posed a challenge were the ones with complicated picking patterns and variant chord shapes.

I had only four days to get my parts as close to perfect before returning to Portland to record, so I had to do my research on the most efficient way to use this time. Surprisingly, you are not supposed to just sit in a room for hours on end, playing the same part over and over.

Here is some of the advice I used:

1. Practice only fifteen minutes at a time, with fifteen minute breaks in between.

2. Practice to a metronome, but have it run much slower than the speed of the song at first. This helps to “tighten up” the more difficult parts and bring attention to places in the progression that are throwing off the tempo.

3. Sing the notes you want to play and visualize playing them.

4. Record yourself and listen back with the metronome track on.

I was also having some issues with buzzing on strings that I knew was related to the fact that I wasn’t pressing hard enough on the 5th string, for instance when I was holding down a Bm. Doug suggested that I buy thicker strings which would improve my hand strength.

Rogue River, House of Snow and new tunings

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

As songwriters it is easy to get stuck in ruts playing major and minor chords low on the neck of the guitar. Sometimes I feel like everything I come up with sounds like a song I’ve heard before or else one that I’ve already written. One way to free yourself from this is to try new tunings and the accompanying chord shapes that you experiment with. Suddenly the strings will have different relationships with each other and new melodies will present themselves.

Try this tuning DADF#BE: that is starting with the lowest string as a D and so on.

Here is a song I wrote this week using this tuning. It is not in finished form and for some reason only recorded in mono (right speaker) but I liked the take enough to publish it on YouTube. I’ve been getting into the habit of putting new songs on YouTube because you can’t share music files on sites like Facebook, but you can share links, and people seem more likely to click on something with a visual element. I just posted this yesterday, and already there has been nearly 40 views!

I set the song to photographs of the Rogue River here in Oregon. Some of the photos are mine taken from a trip we took this August down the Wild and Scenic section after obtaining some last minute permits.

A girl named Moon Walker from Missoula, MT, took the live shots of me playing at the Top Hat with the Portland Cello Project.

Still trying to decide if this is going to make it on to the album I’m recording pretty soon here. Here are the lyrics:

House of Snow

You took pictures of the sky at night
Winking eyes were streaks of light
By a northern riverside
Moonlight over river wide
Spring comes rushing through
Everytime that I’m with you
Floating down the Rogue
A world of green and gold

I have been seeing only winter scenes
Snow on late night TV screens
Tire tracks of our routines
Your arms around me in my dreams
Build us a house of snow
And promise not to go
Till it flies up in the breeze
Or melts into spring’s streams

We have sewn together lonely pasts
And finally smashed the hour glass
Sealed our lips about the war
That once was worth dying for
Won’t you lay me down
Lay with me on this cold ground
Under canvas eaves
And a thousand tiny moon beams

Build us a house of snow
And promise not to go.

Esprit d’escalier, and accepting imperfection

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Marcel Duchamp's Staircase

Project #4 – Set a deadline

I’ve been meditating on this French expression a lot lately both in thinking about it in terms of creating music and in my recent interactions with people. It literally means “staircase wit,” or thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it.

How many times have I recycled conversations from the last month with a hundred different responses to some slight, some derisive comment, some pejorative jest. We all know we shouldn’t waste our time meditating on the past, but yet there is something seductive about this particular indulgence: reinventing situations that did not go how we wanted them to and somehow making them right in our minds.

But this is a paralyzing process, no matter how satisfying.

I recently set out to record a Christmas album. Thanksgiving came and gone, and I knew in order to get any kind of mileage out of it, I had to crank it out and not look back. Both guitar and vocal tracks were often “one take wonders” and we recorded the cello in one night and mixed the entire thing in less than two hours.

On Friday, I put fifty copies in the mail to my mom who funded the project, and uploaded it on iTunes and other digital media outlets. I took action knowing there were imperfections, I sent out my baby with a whole list of things that I would have fixed if I had time.

And that is the beauty of setting deadlines. Whatever corrections or tweaks or witty remarks you think of on the stairs of the post office once your project is in the mail, well, it doesn’t matter. In a lot of cases it is your perfectionism that is holding you back, along with the fear of creating something and sending it out to the world where it will be judged. The fact is, we could fix and tweak and work on something infinitely, just as we could have those fictional witty conversations in our heads for the rest of our lives.

If you are a person who has perfectionist tendencies, try an experiment of giving yourself a deadline and see what happens. There is a great program called Record Production Month that starts in February. It was created by The Wire in Portsmouth, NH. Musicians are given one month to create a 10-song album. You can but some serious masterpieces have come out of this experiment.

Built to Spill cover – The Weather – performed at McMenamins OSF

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Built to Spill played in Bend at the Domino Wednesday, November 10, 2010. This is one of my favorite bands and Doug Martsch has inspired me as a songwriter and a musician. You can read my review of the Built to Spill show in Bend OR here.

I covered the song “The Weather” at McMenamins Old St. Francis School the night after the BTS show and tried to get the audience to guess the band… but I suppose this song is a little more obscure than I thought : ) “The Weather” was the direct inspiration for my song “Outside” which is the first track on Closed for the Season.

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Inspiration in unexpected places: The Great Eastern Garbage Patch

I consider myself an obsessive environmentalist, but I’ve had a hard time in the past harnessing this passion into songs. They always come out too topical or forced. And then I read the story of Captain Charles Moore and his plight to raise awareness about a swirling gyre of plastic waste twice the size of Texas suspended in the Pacific Ocean. It sounds a little twisted, but I wanted to create something beautiful out of something so overwhelming and ugly. And so I wrote the song “Doldrums,” which you can hear below and read the lyrics.

I have to thank both Susan Casey for her article, “Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic… Are We?” and photographer Ben Moon for the visual element that he added to Micah Wolf’s song “One by One.”

I’d also like to thank David de Rothschild and the Plastiki expedition for their remarkable journey across the Pacific ocean in a catamaran made from 12,500 plastic bottles. Not only was their adventure an incredible awareness raiser, but a testament to the strength of human ingenuity in the face of an overwhelming global dilemma.

Here is the final version of the recording of Doldrums with the lyrics below:

Laurel Brauns – Doldrums (3) by Laurel Brauns


by Laurel Brauns

The sailors call it the doldrums

Cuz there’s no wind here

Just a whole new trash frontier

Water blue as a jem stone

Filled with colors

The sea has never known

I want to take it back

All the dirty things I’ve done to you

Please let me trace my tracks

And wake up in the sapphire blue

North Pacific suspended in a gyre

Vast trove of treasures

We once desired

All our secrets are on display now

By a leviathan

We can’t throw away now

I want to take it back

All those dirty things I’ve done to you

Please let me trace my tracks

And wake up in the sapphire blue

You have secrets and you have treasures

The size we’ll never know

We’ll never know dear.

More about Captain Charles Moore:

In the summer of 1997, Captain Charles Moore and the crew of the Alguita (a fifty-foot aluminum-hulled catamaran) sailed through an area that scientists now refer to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch,” a swirling vortex of floating trash in the North Pacific twice the size of Texas.

Moore has since made it his life’s mission to raise awareness about plastic debris and pollution in the ocean. He first founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to study the effects of pollution on marine life. In 2008, the foundation organized the JUNK raft project. A raft was built from parts of an old Cessna and pontoons filled with 15,000 old plastic bottles. The raft soon set sail across the Pacific Ocean to bring attention to all the trash trapped in the North Pacific Gyre.

This area of the sea contains six times as much plastic as plankton. Some plastic pieces are so miniscule they are barely detectable to the human eye. The most frightening thing about this discovery is that as plastic becomes smaller and more widespread, it has a greater chance of ending up inside our bodies, where it has the potential to disrupt gene activity.