Making Pretend

performing pretending

I grew up pretending and performing.

As a little girl, I made pretend by trying on my grandmother’s old dresses. These garments from her younger days made me feel older and beautiful. Even though most of the fabric draped disproportionately on my frame and settled in piles on the floor, I would still stand on tiptoe admiring myself in the mirror, hoping to someday grow into her clothes.

In high school, I overcame adolescent insecurity by trying out for all sorts of roles too big for me: cheerleading, plays, talent shows, marching band, and other popularity contests. I got good at exuding confidence 3 sizes bigger than I felt. Making pretend on many stages, I began to grow into the parts I played.

I arrived at music college largely self-assured and full of ambition. My singing and performing talents increased with the training and the experience that came with the classes and the shows we put on.

For my new acquaintances, I also played the good little girl from Small Town, USA, who’d had a great childhood and didn’t have a care in the world. I didn’t know I was kidding myself. Thankfully, my act did not fool everyone and some new friends began to tug at the loose threads of my story.

Making Believe

I call it coming out of denial.

The costumes I had grown into began to fray in my twenties. I was bearing false witness against myself, refusing to look deep and admit to the small and broken parts of my character. For sure, the story I lived in high school was the one that kept me tethered in my fragmented family life. My dad’s alcoholism and my parents’ divorce had been a devastating part of my growing up.

New college friends helped me to recognize this as they began questioning my happy narrative. The “me” I wore on my sleeve was actually a plastic jacket everyone could see right through. Other hard truths and feelings about childhood and about myself began emerging.  I started to shed some of the dress-up and become more grown-up than I had ever been.

Keeping Up Appearances

I have been a singer, songwriter and performer for several decades and have learned to put on the person I want to be when I take the stage. There is a lot to be said for keeping up appearances when putting on a show. The audience expects competence and engagement so I make eye-contact even when my self-confidence is flagging and my voice feels weak. Sometimes the best advice is  ‘fake it ’til you make it.’

However, the pretense can get out of hand and we can lose our true selves by hiding behind ‘false selves,’ projections of what we want others to believe about us. We also grow out of some of our roles and can confidently let them go. I am now 53 years old and recognize that I must let go at last some of my personae from the past. There’s a thrill and a qualm in moving on.

Making Metaphors

My story might go something like this:

In the afternoon of my life, I decided to disband my circle of loyal ladies. I was in no rush, wanting to slowly let go of my cadre of steady companions. But go they must.

So I stood to face each one in turn. I thanked Competence for her good service, shook her hand and let her go, surprised by the weakness I felt without her by my side.

Control was the next one to step forward. She’d kept me in a lovely blind spot for many good years. But now her veil was lifted and must list to the wind, leaving me quite vulnerable. Goodbye, my dear friend.

Her closest kin, Self-control, came out of the shadows and reminded me that she was more a phantom than a friend over the years. We waved as she slipped down the road behind me.

I looked ahead, greeting Beauty and Talent, my leading ladies. They’d always preceded me on the road and now they too must say goodbye. I thanked them for their good service and moved past them, grieving the journey ahead without them. Who else is here, I asked, that I must bid farewell?

Miss Good Health and Mrs. Good Mother have been quite faithful friends. Yet even they must take their place in the line behind me. They kissed my hands with tears in their eyes and bowed into the background.

The path ahead looks desolate. A lonely place. Space has been made for a Truer Companion. I stand on tiptoe to see who might be strolling down the road towards me.

 

I have been making music with my husband Scott since we met at Berklee College of Music in 1985. Known as Out of the Grey, we spent many years in the studio and on the road, making music and raising our 3 children. Read more of my story in my book, Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and Song.

Hear our latest CD, A Little Light Left

Follow me on MEDIUM.com / Christine Dente

5 New Songs: Closer to Free!

finding freedom change

New Music Means Room to Grow

I am always so excited to be in the process of recording new music. Unrecorded songs seem small and shapeless in their infancy. When I handed these 5 new songs of mine, just tiny demo recordings on my phone, to my producer, I recalled ttall treehis process from years gone by.

Every record that Scott and I worked on together, whether as Out of the Grey or my solo projects, began in this way. Baby songs ready to be born and begin to grow up. What fun when players and producers and engineers join the mix. It was exciting to see what my babies would grow up to be. They just need some extra love and attention to make them grow.

Perils of Vulnerability and Creativity

Songwriting is fraught with the perils of vulnerability and creativity. The hardest part of the process is the initial sharing what I’ve done with others. Others who have their opinions and judgements and their own creative ideas. In song meetings with the record labels, I felt like I was lining up my children for scrutiny. Do you like this one? Isn’t this other one amazing? No, you want to move on to the next one already? The producer would then have his say on how best to dress the chosen ones before launching them into the world. It was exciting and exhausting too. I have a chapter in my book Lifelines all about the recording process.

New Music With a New Producer

This time the situation is a bit different. I do not have a record label. What I do have is a new producer with lots of new ideas.
I know him as Julian Dente.

julian dente YOUTHHe is my firstborn and he grew up in the studio, on the road, and at home making music. These days he’s a young man recording his own new songs and adding brilliant touches of creativity to the world.

I decided to hire him before he gets too busy to work with me. He co-wrote and produced 3 songs on the most recent Out of the Grey recording called A Little Light Left. I love his sonic style and I think you will too. The tracks are done and the music is exclusively digital. You can download them here or find all 5 on Spotify and Google music.

~Christine

 

P.S. Julian definitely has his opinions and judgements and suggestions for making my songs better. How can I stop being Mom and let him tell me what to do for once? This is getting a bit tricky!

 

 

“The Only Moment”: The Story Behind the Song

Out of the Grey CD cover

Muggy Mid-July State of Mind

Oh, my muggy mid-July state of mind!  Can’t seem to focus my thoughts on anything productive. The air is heavy on my shoulders and drapes itself in a shiny layer onto my skin. I feel stuck and can’t find the energy to make a move. My musings take a turn for the worse as my wondering and worrying settle in.  To be sure, I do like the moist warmth of summer with my bare feet on a mossy lawn, wearing shorts and t-shirts all day long. But this mid-summer ennui muddles my head. I am not bored exactly.  “Bored” is a four-letter word in our house. I am just at a still point in my experience of time and meaning. It reminds me of a another July from years gone by:

 

Was wishing my head was as clear as this midnight sky

Spread across my muggy mid-July state of mind

Was wanting my heart to be free like this summer breeze

Singing through your fingers on the guitar strings…

 

Under the Weather

In my family, we often blame bodily afflictions and bad moods on the weather patterns. Feeling head-achey today? Could be a low-pressure system coming in. Feeling lethargic or sad? Maybe all of this rain is getting to you, stirring up mildew and mold allergies. Honestlythe seasons affect the way I see the world. I would not be surprised if the sultry atmosphere literally clouds my vision and clogs up my body and soul.  Maybe mid-July is a natural time for looking back over my shoulder, wondering where spring has gone and for stretching my neck ahead, worrying about fall coming on:

 

But I’m looking back, wondering where the time we spent went

I’m looking ahead, worrying about time that hasn’t been yet

 

The Only Moment

I wrote this lyric many a mid-summer’s night ago. Like a dream, 27 years have passed since that moment in my life. Before kids and current concerns, I was young and wrestling with my experience of time and meaning. Some things never change.  Scott and I were sitting on that tiny slab of patio behind our one-bedroom apartment in Nashville. We were newlyweds and newly-moved, wondering what was to come as we worked on our music together. I remember that particular July night in which Scott was relaxed and playing his guitar while I was anxious and struggling to be in the moment.  We were about to record our first CD and make our way in the music world. As usual, my heart was off kilter, tilting backwards in wonder at the time gone by and also leaning forward in worry about what was to come.  However, I knew where I wanted my head and heart to be:

 

The only moment I can see is here as clear as your love for me

The only moment I should be living is this one we’re in, this one

 

Back-Patio Peace

In this moment in 2017, another summer swelters and Scott and I sit on the back patio of our home with so much to be grateful for. The kids and the music have come and gone in sweet succession.  I can look back and ahead with lots of evidence against speculation and fretting. Some things do change and I realize I am saturated in back-patio peace. In spite of the weather, my head and heart are clear. As I revel in the pleasure of where we are, I can treasure the time–this time– and let the music and the days take my heart where they will. I can’t live the moments all at once. The only moment in which I can live is this one we’re in, this one.

If you’d like to hear the song and the rest of the lyric, it’s on the Out of the Grey CD in iTunes. For more stories behind the songs, check out my book, Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and song.

10 Unusual Tips for Being a Better Songwriter

piano/ organ in amber glow

Joy wells up and floods my chest whenever I hear the intro to Steely Dan’s song, “Aja.”

Back when I was a student at Berklee College of Music, Steely Dan became one of my favorite bands with their perfect mix of pop and jazz.

Once, in songwriting class, my teacher Pat Pattison drew attention to the lyric from another song of theirs titled, “Deacon Blues”:

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel

To the young wanna-be songwriters in that classroom, that ambiguous line about dying behind the wheel was a puzzle and a revelation. Does the singer mean literally dying because he’s drinking and driving? Or is it metaphorical for being in control all the way to the day he dies? Or both?

Steely Dan’s lyrical and harmonic complexities sparked my desire to write songs with depth. I wanted my audience to discover a new layer with every listen. For those like me who are still students of songwriting, I offer these:

10 Tips For Better Songwriting

1) Listen before you write.

You can’t write a good song without hearing a great one first. I can barely begin to write if I haven’t heard some inspiring music. I like to set the bar high and get my creativity pumping with something by Billy Joel or Joni Mitchell.

Or a song from my teenage days that connects on a hidden plane. Joe Walsh’s “Indian Summer” gets me every time. I find myself back on our family boat, cruising the Susquehanna River near Pequea, Pennsylvania. It’s September and I’m 13 years old. The longing and loss of innocence and freedom wash over me like the wake of a waterskiing fall. I’m ready to write that song now.

2) Write every day.

Yes, schedule your muse and expect her to show up. She might be groggy. Feed her some coffee and get to work.

Let all of your jewels and your drivel out in the privacy of your writing room. You are practicing a habit. Later, you can pick and choose which ideas get to go outside and play. The rest of them will be your sad and sappy little secrets.

Consider it your job to produce Quantity.

Quality will emerge in spits and spurts. Sometimes pieces of one song actually belong to pieces of another song. Puzzle it together.

3) Spill your guts.

Pour your heart out and let emotions lead the way. If your heart and gut are connected to your song subject, you’ll be able to go with the flow for a long time. Stay slippery and don’t let the inspiration dry up before you’ve caught and landed all of your choicest ideas. I have a few exercises for doing just that in my Singer/Songwriter Handbook.

4) Start with a title.

Have you written some pithy lines and ideas in a notebook somewhere? Do you have a few titles that make you want to sing? Start with one of these and see where they lead. “He is Not Silent” is one of my songs inspired by a book titled, He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer. I got all fired up while reading so I headed straight for my piano, pencil in hand. I borrowed ideas like “we are not quiet, we are not listening” and came up with the chorus first. My creative burst followed closely on the heels of an inspiring title. Catch any thread you can and don’t let go!

5) Tell the truth.

Honesty is appealing, like the song with that title by Billy Joel. We’re all human and we love vulnerability in others (even though we hate to reveal it in ourselves). Show some brokenness, a chink in your armor. The Chainsmokers have a cool song called “Honest.” They sing the truth about life on the road and on the radio. Their candor draws me in to their artistry.

Read my short blog here about vulnerability in songwriting and recording new music.

6) Play with plagiarism.

What am I saying? Plagiarism is a dirty word. Don’t do it!                                                                                                             But, hey, we are all imitators. None of us comes up with a completely new song idea.

All creativity is derivative except the original Creator’s stuff. Everybody copies His work. So celebrate your influences.

Borrow–don’t steal– a few ideas from a good song you like. Then get to work making it your own and making sure there’s no direct copying.You know what happens when you infringe on a copyright, right? Write!

7) Be relatable and relevant.

No one gets a pass in this life. Hard is part of living. If you’re like me and you struggle with faith in God every day, then say so.

If you want to write a song about living with pain, go for it, but I might beat you to it.

If you want to sing about how staying in love is not easy then write that song. I did just that in “To Keep Love Alive.”

Teens love Taylor Swift because her music is relatable and relevant to their lives, like in the song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

8) Run with scissors.

Take some risks. But only if you’ve got a point.

Controversy for the sake of drawing attention and outrage is not legitimate artistic expression.

However, there will always be blurred lines. From Randy Newman’s “Short People” to Madonna’s “Papa, Don’t Preach,”artists often try to shine a light on an important topic. Certainly, we write at our own risk. Everyone in the crowd won’t be jumping up and down. But some may be getting the message for a change.

9) Make every word count.

Should I use “the” or “and” in this line? It is a solid question when writing a pop song. The nuance of such little words affects the song’s meaning.

Also, pop music doesn’t give you time to spread your ideas out. They’ve got to be short, sweet and carry a lot of meaning. Like poetry, each word can have a well of eloquence beneath it if you take the time to dig in.

10) Hunt and Kill your throwaway lines.

Admit it, you’ve held on for dear life to some crappy lyrics.

You wrote them on the fly and they fit. They came so easy. They made a great rhyme. They’re so clever you can’t bear to snuff them out.

But they’re so predictable, so done already. Get more creative!

Much of modern worship music, for example, has lots of cliche´and little imagination. Many mainstream pop songs, too. Boring.

They can be placeholders but eventually erase you must. Hire someone or cover your eyes and take a stab.

Kill those darlings because you know they’re just no good.

11) Bonus Tip: Be an Expanding HuMan.

Learn to work in a new way, try something you’ve never done in your songwriting.

Sit at the piano instead of with a guitar. Find a co-writer. Learn a few new chords, would ya?

You are not gazing through the glass anymore.You’ve bought the dream.

Remember, songwriting is the privilege of sharing the things we know and love with those of our kind.

 

PS If you want more Tips and Tricks and Techniques and lots of exercises to improve your songwriting (and singing), check out my book: The Singer and the Songwriter Handbook and Workbook on Amazon or my store.

PPS If you want other posts like these, sign up for my newsletter on the right side of this page and I’ll let you know when my next blog posts. CHEERS!

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