Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for November 21st, 2010

Great finds at a songwriting workshop 3

Posted on November 21, 2010 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 21, 2010 12:00 AM

I am writing from Dumaguete where I have spent practically all my waking moments this week with young songwriters and my not-so-young colleagues who have gathered here at the Bahura Resort and Spa to conduct a workshop. It’s been quite a week.

Our wonderful benefactor, Jun Sy’s Taos-Puso Foundation, has picked up the tab for the entire project. 7101-Music Nation, the music arm of the foundation, thought of this unique workshop they call ‘”The 1st Elements National Songwriting Camp” that has brought young guns and accomplished mentors together to learn, enjoy each other’s company and be inspired.

There are 60 young songwriters who came from all over the Philippines, and two Fil-Ams. All were chosen after auditioning an original composition online before a screening committee. Aside from Ryan Cayabyab and myself, the mentors are Louie Ocampo, Jonathan Manalo, Noel Cabangon, Gary Valenciano, Gary Granada, Angelie Valenciano, JV Colayco, Ricky Ilacad, Quark Henares, Debbie Gaite, Jimmy Antiporda, Chito Miranda, Ebe Dancel, Gabby Alipe, Joey Ayala, Joey Benin, Yael Yuzon, Jungee Marcelo, Trina Belamide, Top Suzara and many others who talked about various aspects of songwriting. The topics included the history of the Kundiman, the birth of OPM, the elements of songs, the making of song videos, the legal aspects of commercial writing, electronic and digital media, and a whole lot more.

It has been a continuously fun and inspiring experience for everyone since the first day of the workshop. In fact, the camaraderie started immediately after our first dinner on the beach on Monday night when people spontaneously broke into dancing and partying accompanied by a percussion band. And the sessions had not even started yet.

When we got to the sessions the next day, things got even more exciting. The creative energy charged the room; the sharing of insights, the performances, the sincere interaction between people in the same profession just blew everyone away.

Artists can be fun, but they can also be perplexing. They can be magical and yet cynical, cerebral yet emotional, and quite moody. They can be light and funny, but can turn serious in a snap. They can be both generous and selfish. But I saw none of this duality playing out in this workshop, at least, not in any big or disruptive way. There were no oversized egos running amuck, not even disagreements that could tear the conference apart.

Many times, we found ourselves close to tears listening to each other’s songs. There is something so plaintively simple yet disarming about listening to composers sing their material in acoustic form. Songs that are usually heard in commercial CD form were presented in their naked rawness, devoid of the glitzy perfect sound of a full orchestra and great singers, accompanied only by a solo guitar or a piano. The sparseness was pure delight. I was watching something so natural presented in its basic truthfulness. Nothing added, no frills, no distractions, non-fat and sugar-free. No embellishments whatsoever.

In the presence of such magnificent talent, I found myself simply saying “thank you” for these moments of abundance.

It was like tapping into the very source of a power that, although high voltage by nature, embraces you without hurting you. Instead of a lightning flash that turns you into toast, it is a loving light that heals. And these artful emotional expressions culled from personal experience and often conceived, midwifed and paid for by their creators dearly, with pain and rejection, were performed unabashedly with full gusto and equally received with intense appreciation and gratitude.

In one exercise, the participants were told to collaborate with four other people and create a song in the genres assigned to them. They drew lots choosing among the categories of love songs, novelty, inspirational and nationalistic. They had less than 24 hours to write the melody and lyrics and rehearse to present a decent performance. Now, one thing I know is that it is difficult and thus rare for songwriters to work together in groups of more than two. A song is a living thing and it is takes extraordinary patience for a songwriter to get into primal creative mode while having to listen to other people’s take on how it should be done.

In a similar type of workshop I attended about 20 years ago at the Sundance Ranch in Utah where artists from all over the world were instructed to work together in groups, one artist expressed his exasperation by declaring, quite succinctly, “An ‘artist committee’ is a contradiction in terms!”

But things turned out differently in the Dumaguete workshop. Disparate people versed in different genres just naturally “volted in” and got the job done with a minimum of tension, while having lots of fun in the process. The final outcomes were pure ear candy. It was wonderful to hear great songs coming from group effort.

At mealtimes and during free periods, it was exhilarating to see the Manila artists, though more “polished,” more self-conscious and more famous, easily bonding with their fellow songwriters from other parts of the country.

But what amazed me no end was how many of these young artists had al-ready pretty much defined their sounds even before being signed by record labels. Their work sounded like it was created by people who do not listen to the radio or watch shows on the mainstream media like ABS-CBN. I mean this in a good way. Their music is not derivative of anything that has been playing on radio in the past 10 years, so different from the work of the commercial artists who have dominated the airways. Their music reflects the culture instead of subverting it, the way cutting-edge artists do.

Could it be that there are among this intrepid motley crew, “organic” artists like Bob Dylan or the Beatles were in their milieu, who will set the pace of culture instead of chasing existing trends? What an exciting thought.

Songwriting, in the entire scheme of all things cultural in the Philippines, is a hand we Filipinos have yet to play really well. Whereas in other more culturally enlightened countries, songwriters and composers are appreciated enough to be given their rightful material rewards, here, artists are just starting to get some recognition. I was already around when music originators were paid as low as P250 for compositions that they signed away completely and absolutely, never to receive any royalties from the work ever again. Many of the songwriters who wrote the soundtrack of our Filipino life and times have remained poor or died penniless despite their valuable contributions to our culture.

It is quite encouraging that things are getting better for songwriters. We now earn royalties in a more regular and systematic way through a collection organization called Filscap. Composers are starting to reap benefits that their predecessors never enjoyed. This is one reason I feel less guilty about inspiring young musicians to pursue their hearts’ passion, compared to how I felt years ago when things seemed dire and hopeless.

We have shown the world that we have some of the best singers on the planet. Everywhere you go, you will find Filipino bands playing in top clubs and they are generally considered to be very good. Perhaps it’s time to show that we have something more to contribute to world culture, apart from our musicians. I believe we have come of age and we should now be playing and singing our own songs, not only in our country but elsewhere in the world.

I just know that among these 60 songwriters, there are those whose songs you will someday hear being sung in places outside the Philippines. They are original and creative enough to make songs that will click with an international audience, the way other artists in other countries have made their music appreciated by the world.

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1) Basic Photography Class on Saturday, Nov. 27, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com.

2) Songwriting Class: Learn the rudiments of songwriting. Learn what makes a good song. And yes, actually write songs during the workshop and after. Dec. 4 and 5, 1 to 6 p.m. Student must play guitar or piano. Fee: P5,000. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com.

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