Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Following muses: Keeping At It

The night I got into New York, I played at Café Vivaldi with Alyson Greenfield, a show attended by our mutual friends and fellow songwriters Jennifer Richman and Allison Tartalia. Jennifer, Allison and I had once shared shows and lodging during SXSW in Austin. A few blocks away, another songwriter friend who’d shared one of those Austin gigs, Nashville artist Jenn Franklin was playing at the Bitter End. After our shows we met up for dinner: it was the first time in four years we’d been in the same place together so multiple Cds, tours and adventures later, we had plenty of notes to compare. Allison was teaching music to kids first thing in the morning; Jenn & her tour mate Marie McGilvray were hitting the road back for Tennessee on the back end of their '900 Mockingbirds Tour.' Jennifer was in the midst of preproduction for her next Cd. Despite many distractions, it was heartening to see that this many years later we were still working at our craft.

Jennifer was also continuing her work teaching and lecturing about Autism and the benefits of music in mental health rehabilitation. She teaches at a center where people are coping with or recovering from mental illness including schizophrenia in upper Manhattan. Many of her students, she said, were talented musicians.

A week after our unofficial SXSW reunion, Jennifer invited me up to talk to her music students at the Inwood Clinic. As we made introductions, it quickly became clear that the students would teach me as much or more than I had to say. As the room was filled with guitars and percussion instruments and class soon turned into a song share. The students had written songs together and apart, and a stack of lyric-filled papers was at the ready. A jam and a discussion of process soon entailed. Everyone in the room played, drummed or sang. One student couldn’t remember the first two weeks of his time at the center, but he remembered Jennifer was the first person he met. Since that time he’d amassed a realm of songs and had gotten deeper into his guitar work. In all honesty, the conversation and his process wasn't really different than any of my many other music-related meetings during the week. While there are plenty of slippery aspects to music, the students process was yet more proof that act of creating it and the solace it could provide, was worth the ride.

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