Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reach for the Sky: Is any topic too ridiculous for a song?

So here's my predicament for this week: I have to write a song about Buzz Lightyear for my next master class. Think I'm kidding? Well, I am absolutely, positively, 100% serious.

I guess I should give you guys a little background. Aside from being a singer/songwriter and trying to actually make it in the music industry, I also study songwriting at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College. SUNY Purchase is a wonderfully artsy place full of inspiration and people who are not afraid to express themselves. Sometimes people's sense of expression can be a little alarming, but hey, whatever floats your boat. 

Anyway, I take a master class in composition and my professor likes to give assignments. My particular weakness in songwriting is writing to a topic, so naturally my assignment for the week would be to write to a topic. That's all fine and dandy. I don't mind a challenge, even if I complain about how unfair it is the entire time. However, only at Purchase College would I be forced to write about something so quirky and utterly ridiculous: Buzz freaking Lightyear. 

Don't get me wrong - I adore Buzz. This all started because a girl in my class was carrying something (though I can't remember what) with Buzz Lightyear on it, and I just so happened to express how much I love Buzz. Little did I know that I was digging my own grave, because suddenly my professor's face lit up with excitement and he said "Yes! That's your assignment for next week. You're going to write a song about Buzz Lightyear!"

So here I am, completely clueless about how I'm supposed to start this song. I guess I'll just have to do a little Toy Story research (i.e. watch the movies a few million times) before I figure out how I'm going to do this. By Thursday. Wish me luck - I'll need it!

Reach for the Sky!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Introduction: Inspiration, Ideas, and Experiences

I think the question of the day is, why would someone who writes songs also need to have a blog? Considering that I'm always working on a song of some kind, you'd think that I wouldn't need to express myself any further.

Let's think about this. In life, do we ever really get to say everything that we want to say? Usually not. There's always just a little more to say than what has already been said. What I'm starting to understand more than ever is that a song is only a 3-minute representation of the actual life events that surround it. So from an outside point of view, I'm forced to leave out a lot of details. This seems unfortunate in a lot of ways, but I'll tell you why it's not. It is often these unsaid details that make a song beautiful. Just because you didn't hear me mention what I ate for breakfast that day, or that annoying thing my ex used to do, doesn't mean that I didn't express these things in some way. Context is everything, and this makes writing very subliminal. So does performance. If you wonder why I pound my fingers down on the keyboard during that chorus, or why I always look like I'm dreaming when I sing that verse, it's because of the context. You might not know why I'm singing the words that I'm singing, but I do. And if you asked me to, I could look back and describe to you in detail all of the 7 million things that were going on in my life at the time when I wrote that song. 

I suppose now would be the time to introduce myself. My name is Leila, and Eric Clapton spelled my name wrong. I guess he's awesome for writing a song with my name in it to begin with - I mean, L-A-Y-L-A would be the most obvious spelling. But hey, I like to think my way is better.

Like Sir Eric, I write music. I think it's safe to assume that you've realized this by now, but there's no harm in stating the obvious. I've been writing music since I was eleven. Technically I used to make up songs in the shower when I was in elementary school, but I suppose those don't count since I never actually wrote them down. All of those little songs were about ridiculous things like Elmer's glue and Crayola crayons - I guess as a child I would either be considered weird or cute, depending on your standards. 

Despite all the songwriting speeches I've been giving you, I really started out as a singer. Singing was probably my first love, and I still love it more than anything. A lot of singer/songwriters don't put a lot of stock in the "singing" part of their title, but this is one of the most important parts of my music. I take the singing part just as seriously as the writing part, because as I briefly mentioned before, performance has a lot to do with the way a song is perceived. That being said, I write my songs to suit my voice. This could  be a slight problem if I ever have to write for another artist, but I'm not sure I would ever want to do that.  If context is everything, I probably couldn't handle giving my song to another singer that didn't live through the specific experiences that I did while I was writing the song. This may seem amateur, but I suppose there's a little bit of childish pride in all of us. At this point in my life, I'm just not ready to let go.

The piano was my second love. Don't get me wrong - I didn't treat it very well, and I neglected it pretty often in many ways. I rarely ever practiced in the traditional sense of practicing, and this is probably why I don't sight-read or do any of those things that crazy pianists do. As soon as I figured out that I could use the piano to accompany my singing, I began to write songs. And that was pretty much it for me. Of course I was still playing piano all the time, but let's just say that scales and Bach inventions unfortunately took a backseat after that.

For now, that's all you really need to know about me. I'll try not to pour my heart out too quickly, and I'll try even harder not to give away all the background of every song I write. My only hope is that you can reflect on your own experiences as you listen. 

With love from a humble singer/songwriter,