On Songwriting

Hello, friends!

I’ve tasked a student of mine with creating a notebook full of ideas that could become seeds of poems. I am starting my notebook today, and the first line I want to stock it with is from the Owl City song “Dreams & Disasters”:

“Think of the sun and the sound of it risin'”.

Owl City, “Dreams and Disasters”

I like this line because the sun doesn’t make a sound as it rises, of course, but it captures instead a different feeling. I tend to like lyrics and lines much like this one that aren’t literal, but instead relate back to mythology, the Bible, and the fanciful. Oftentimes I find those more clever and meaningful. I like the way those phrases can turn.

After I listen to a song a lot or read too much of a certain author, I start to imitate their writing style. I was listening to “You Make Me Smile” by Blue October (below)


when this spilled out:

“Something As Soft”

This is “Something As Soft”, and you might recognize some similarities to “You Make Me Smile” in lyrics and tone. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It was not a single listen that caused this to spill out, I listened to it maybe 20 times over the course of writing the lyrics.

I have wanted to write an album around this song and others that I recorded that night, but I think I’m afraid to start. I wonder if my sad or even sad-ish songs help people, and that is what has stopped me from recording this type of thing in earnest. I think it’s one of those things where I was told enough times that they didn’t help that I decided to believe the naysayers. I was also annoyed that they didn’t make people get up and dance like I wanted them to and instead made them sleep and relax. I wanted to change my sound and in the process killed it.

I want to record an album again. I want to be able to write an album that sounds like me in the way that Mago did. I get the feeling that it will be raw, but full of joy this time. If this happens, it will have plenty of weird chords and time signatures. I had a producer once record a tiny album with me and we talked about sounding like Radiohead and he said that at some point people might be wondering if Thom Yorke was writing my lyrics. I want to fall somewhere between Hozier and Radiohead, one instrument at a time.

More later, y’all!

Mago

PS., here’s a Gratitude List:

  1. My instruments
  2. My husband
  3. Alaska
  4. COFFEE
  5. Good food in the fridge
  6. That I have a lesson today
  7. Grocery sacks so that I can carry all the groceries in in ONE TRIP
  8. Friends who care
  9. That it’s my birthday week
  10. Rain that makes Alaska green
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Your Empire

Hey, all! I’m double dipping today. I’d like to talk about a poem that is very special to me. It’s called “Your Empire”. I wrote it two years ago. It opens like so:

you are more than a princess, darling girl -you are a queen – an empress

and you are loved more than you know

there will be times when you’ll be 

punched in the gut

kicked in the ribs

tossed aside

but your true wisdom comes in

knowing whether to form a fist or

extend your hand…

First lines of “Your Empire”, written 3/6/17

I love this poem because it’s what I wish I could have believed about myself at that time and what I don’t want anyone to forget, no matter their gender or age.

I owe the empire theme to my obsession with the Byzantine Empire, which is still an obsession of mine, hence my blog title. My favorite historical character of all time is the Byzantine Empress Theodora. Someone once said I was like her, and that was probably the biggest compliment I have ever received. This poem is me telling anyone who needs it that they are noble and deserving of that title. That includes myself. It continues:

…because some battles that need to be fought

are ignored

and some battles that are fought

need to be ignored

and a true empress – like you – knows which is which

and what to do. 

“where is my empire?”

you may ask.

I will place my hand over my heart

and say, “darling, every time you are knocked

over and you stand up again, think of that as a conquest.”

“Your Empire”

At this time in my life, I was in Idaho college and I needed some encouragement. The environment was becoming toxic to me and I wanted to feel okay again. This was one of the ways I helped myself. I also sent this and other poems to friends who seemed to be in need of them. This one is by far my favorite of the bunch.

I definitely need to listen to myself in the lines about conquest. I don’t take my own advice well enough. It’s true, I am conquering. I am ruling. I am becoming more and more involved in my own life. That’s important. A ruler wouldn’t let things just…happen to them, would they? No, they wouldn’t.

Planning is hard for me, though. It’s hard for me to get up and say, “I’m gonna do XYZ today”, even when I am happy. I tend to let the day just pass without making plans. It’s important to remember that part of owning my life and empire is to plan for the future.

With my tutoring, I don’t schedule very far in advance since I’m a hired gun that gets requests usually only a few hours before the student wants to meet. I’m surprised nobody has wanted to meet in the middle of the night yet! As a result, my days are fairly open. I have my to do lists, but I need to make an actual schedule.

Part of me thinks, “Oh, but it’s a struggle to get out of bed early!” Then there’s another part that’s like, “Fortify yourself, dammit. You won’t get anywhere with that attitude. Do you want to build your empire, or not?”

Okay, okay. I’m gonna fortify myself. Let’s continue with the poem.

every good thing you do, every struggle that you

overcome, every person you make smile –

oh, my dear, those are conquests. and in the end,

the biggest conquest you can make

is learning to love yourself

and others even though they –

and their empires – are imperfect.

I am learning that hard things are essential for growth and that I can’t quit if I want to make it in life, in anything. I can’t quit on myself, either. Like the last lines of the poem say, “the biggest conquest you can make is learning to love yourself and others even though they – and their empires – are imperfect.” Self sabotage gets me nowhere. Learning to love myself is important. It’s an important step towards progress. It will require much self-fortification. It takes strength to love oneself, I am finding. Also, I feel so much happier after being off social media all day. 10/10 so far, will continue.

Update: I have actually composed music today! Yes!

Would you like for me to write YOU a song, poem, or even an album? Got a special occasion coming up? I’m on WhatsApp, so if you shoot me a message there, we can start a conversation!

Love,

Meg

Candy for trees

I believe it was 2012 when we were gathered around the dinner table and someone made the comment that rain is like candy for trees.

That phrase has stuck with me through the years. I immediately added it to my list of potential band names and made the occasional instrumental track with candyfortrees as the band name on my mom’s iPad. Here’s one:

I had been listening to too much of the xx and the Naked and Famous at the time. I love that song to this day. Here’s another:

I put the name on the back burner in order to do things under my own name for a bit. I tried my hand at composing again a few more times, but I was lost without the iPad and the composition program I was using. I just couldn’t seem to do melodies well enough. I stuck to writing melodies with my voice over chords with not much additional instrumentation.

I recorded eight albums in this manner, all of which have been released in some way, most via my Bandcamp page. One time I wrote a song called “Saginaw” with my composition program, named for the town in which my future husband was living close to. It takes the cake for the most angsty song I have ever written, given the circumstances and mood I was in. I was bashing myself for feeling affection, which is angst if I’ve ever seen it.

All was well in the end, and I’ve recently started writing scores again for actual instruments to play under the Candy for Trees name. One of them on the first extended play is “Saginaw” itself.

This really struck a chord with me:

The opening chord of “Saginaw”.

I amuse myself.

Saginaw is piano only, but the later parts of the EP lead me to believe that if I were a god, I would be a troublemaker. Here’s page one of Feud in C# Major, part two:

Part Two, page 1.

The working title of this piece was “Cluster 2”, which I later changed to the full Feud title. It’s written in C sharp in 7/4 time. My husband looked the sheet music over, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “it’s not that difficult”. He later listened to the full piece and called it “enjoyable”. That makes me happy.

More tomorrow, including a sneak peek at my art diary…

Until next post,

Meg

Coming up

I feel manic and depressed at the same time. Depressed because worry and sadness kept me asleep until 1:30 PM and I’m just now moving around. Manic because I want to sit in the basement and compose all of the music. I’m listening to a Handel piece for viola for inspiration.

I kinda bought my husband a viola to practice on because he talks sometimes about he’s wanted one for awhile. And by “kinda”, I mean “I did, and it’s blue”. I figured it was the least I could do.

So now there’s barely anything from stopping me from composing a bit for him. Simple pieces. Nothing in 5/4, -cough, cough-, or other stunts that I usually pull. I want us to do duets eventually, if he’s down for that.

Nothing stopping me from composing except for my own brain.

I am a human of very few definable goals. I’ve been beating myself up for not having any and instead feeling hopeless, but all of the goals I set feel too lofty. Maybe it’s because I don’t work as hard for them as I should. My husband says they aren’t lofty so long as I work towards them consistently, but so far the only goal I really have is to have a kid or kids with my husband and raise them well with him. I was staring at the ceiling last night and this thought popped into my head – even if you can stay alive for nothing else, stay alive for your future family. They won’t exist without you.

I want to stay alive for them. That I can do. How do I thrive for them and not implode when they come along? I’ll get back to you on that.

More tomorrow.

Until next post,

Meg

The best instruments ever

Hello, fine friends! I’m here today to talk about musical composition and how it affects my life. Before we begin, though, here are some tracks for your listening pleasure.

The first, “Your Mind is the Plane”, was recorded in my dorm room with Stephen, my concert uke.

The second, “Five”, was recorded with my beautiful baritone uke, Berri, whose name is a Basque language pun.

The third was recorded on piano in my favorite environment ever, a three story concrete atrium. This is a cover of Civil Twilight’s “Letters from the Sky”. Here they are.

It took awhile to pick which songs to share, but these are some of my all time favorites. “Five” is a nod to my husband. It’s one of his favorite songs of mine. Places, my eighth album, is about us.

Each of these songs represents a different musical language for me. Piano is my first instrumental “language”. It came almost as naturally as singing, and while it took years to get where I am, it flows more easily.

Learning Stephen took far longer, partially because I had to learn uke upside down due to a stroke I had when I was a baby. After a long while, it finally clicked and I was jamming hard the point that my thumbs were bleeding at times.

I picked Berri up in Rexburg, and she was probably the easiest to learn due to my time with Stephen. I’m still learning all three, and it’s frustrating because I have very limited use of my left hand, but I am getting there.

The coolest part about composing and performing for long periods of time is that the songs evolve and sometimes hop from instrument to instrument. Another favorite of mine, “My Island”, started like this:

and is currently sounding something like this:

I also have a bass, but I haven’t done much work with her yet. I primarily sing with my instruments and I want to learn to sing with her, too, but I’m not the best at practicing regularly. I plan on moving her downstairs close to my writing spot.

Music is one of the best forms of worship I have. I feel close to the spiritual when everything connects, and it’s a glorious time. I think things started to connect when I started to know my songs forward and backward and began to record these semi spontaneous moments where I just sat down and captured things perfectly in one take. “Letters from the Sky” is one such example. They don’t happen often, but when they do, they are pure magic. I can’t force music, ever.

My best albums take shape late at night and are powered by Mountain Dew. Mago, Primrose Path, and stay are great examples. I don’t think I’ve talked about stay yet. Anyway, I wish I had a piano here, but Stephen, Berri, and Athena (the bass) are a great crew to have. I need Dew, stat!

I hope you enjoyed this musical extravaganza!

Until next post,

Meg

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