I wrote my first song after leaving home.
At eighteen, I’d moved out of my house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and landed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a college freshman. It was my first time living away from home.
Feeling the loneliness of being a 5-hour drive from all that was familiar, I wrote a song for my boyfriend called, “Baby, I’m Missing You.” That’s all I remember of my first song but I’m certain it was not very good.
However, this creativity had awakened something new in me. I sensed songwriting was a door to discovering more of myself, healing deep hurts, and dealing with some confusing emotions. Maybe the creative life was for me!
Little did I know how far I would have to go to become a true artist.
We have to start somewhere. Singing was my beginning. First in elementary schooI then all the way through high school, I sang other people’s songs. I still remember my first solo in a choral Christmas concert. I got to step out and sing a short verse of Wintertime Aglow. The local TV station aired it which thrilled my mom. That performance had a huge impact on my 15-year-old self. What else would I be brave enough to try?
I sang my heart out in every high school talent show that came my way after that. Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar inspired me to belt out many a rock ballad for my peers. I was always mimicking the singer’s inflections, matching the song’s sentiment without really comprehending its message. In one show I sang “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” by Linda Ronstadt. The chorus went like this:
Someone to lay down beside me
Even though it’s not real
Just someone to lay down beside me
You’re the story of my life
Thankfully, it was not the story of my life. The message went over my head but tapped into my heart’s desire. I wanted to sing out my sadness with passion.
The Singer and the Songwriter
That first semester in college, with all its disruptive changes and challenges, I decided to give my feelings a voice. With a borrowed a guitar, I plunked out the 3 chords I knew. I created a melody and lyrics to match my loneliness. And to fit my writing style.
Well, my emerging style.
Just as my vocal style wanted to amalgamate all of the singers from the ’70’s and ’80’s whom I wished I could be, my writing style wanted to combine Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Ian to create the perfect blend.
In the end, though, I had to be me. My songwriting morphed into a vehicle for my limited vocal power and the message and emotions I had to communicate.
At Berklee College of Music I began writing in earnest. I had transferred to this college in Boston because I wanted to move beyond the classical voice training from my first college. Now I could work on becoming a singer-songwriter. Berklee was perfect because it was all about the pop and jazz!
My songwriting and theory teachers taught me so much. I studied jazz harmony, ear training, voice, and performance. Also, I got involved in ensembles, gained recording studio experience, and performed in some shows on Berklee’s big stage.
My singing and songwriting improved as did my performance chops. Probably, I wouldn’t want to record any of those early songs I wrote. But they are still a part of my bigger story.
Scott Dente and I had met at Berklee during my second semester. We became an item soon after and have collaborated on music ever since. After graduation and marriage, we loaded up the truck and headed to Tennessee. Nashville, that is.
As Out of the Grey, we got to make 7 studio records. After that, he and I worked on my solo projects and several outside collaborations. Throughout the decades of our musical marriage, we always had to make the time to write. We called it scheduled creativity.
In fact, we’re doing it that way still. He works on new music constantly with his production company called Global Genius. He has a lot on his plate and maps the days for creative space.
Creativity has never been easy for me. I can’t just drop everything when a bright idea strikes. Mostly, I like to schedule my creativity and hope for inspiration to show up. She usually does. If not, I come back again and again until I get my writing up to snuff.
Tools For Creativity
Recently, I put together a few songwriting tools for my songwriting students. The Singer and the Songwriter is a handbook and workbook for singer-songwriters. It’s based on my training and experience.
I put in some teaching elements as well as exercises, prompts, and reminders to help writers to get creative.
- I mapped out 10 steps to keep your flow of creativity going so you can start–and finish–your song.
- I created a section for developing your lyrics by using figurative language.
- I included a section on basic music theory and harmony so you know what chord patterns work well and how to write a good melody.
- My vocal technique section teaches you how to gain strength and range while releasing vocal tension.
The other tool is my Creativity Journal which has lots of space for getting creative with emotions, images, and lyrics. Using samples of some of my lyrics, this journal inspires writers of all kinds to create a flow of imagination and artistry. (If you want to get creative using an autographed Songwriter Handbook, you can find it here and I’ll also write you a nice note!)
Also, I created my 10 Tips for Better Songwriting on this site.
The Bigger Story
Looking back, I see how far along the road I had to go to hone my artistic expression.
At the end of the day, the joy, the sorrow, and the chaos of life drive us to draw some creative conclusions about what’s going on.
When I sing,”Walk By Faith,” it’s because I can’t see straight in the broad daylight. I’m looking for a way to live in the big picture without having all of the answers.
When my son sings, “Hallelujah,” I lift my hands and agree that I don’t know why I’m alive. Sometimes I don’t have to wonder why.
“Oh hallelujah, I am alive
Yeah and I don’t know why, why
No I don’t know
I don’t have to wonder”
When You Create….
We all get creative in some way. Trying to put our lives into perspective, we write, draw, paint, or play.
- Who did you sing along with as a teenager?
- What artists have impacted your story?
- When did you create your first song, story, poem, or painting?
- Have you tried getting creative lately?
10 thoughts on “Finding Life in Creativity”
I sang along with Petra and Rich Mullins as a teenager, and it would be hard to overestimate the way Bob Hartman and Rich shaped how I experience Christianity. Oh, and of course, I sang along to lots of Out of the Grey songs in college and beyond!
After over 20 years of having it sit in my closet, I picked up my flute last year and started playing in weekly worship services at church. Wish I hadn’t waited 20 years. I haven’t tried getting creative lately, but I need too. Thanks for the encouragement / reminder!
Yes, I love that you sang with Petra! And that you’re back to music with your flute!
Thanks for sharing this evolution of your singing and songwriting. I have to lovingly disagree with your comment on your “limited vocal power”. Examples… “See Inside” or “6.1”, to name only two great examples of your beautiful, powerful voice. Maybe you are referring to your early days of singing. 🙂
The Singer and the Songwriter is a great workbook! So many great tools and tips!
Thanks for the reminder that there are ways to enhance creativity. I tend to jump right in because time is limited, but I would probably get better results to take time to spark creativity first.
Thanks, Diane. I guess I remember more of my limitations and forget some of my “power. Thanks for the reminders 🙂
I love it Christine! So many of your words resonated and intertwined with my musical story. Mine started as a young child as I guess I sang everywhere and neighbors new when I was near. My earliest tho was singing in the youth choir with my little white robes that I loved so dearly. I sang to the songs you mentioned, mine were the Eagles, Fogelberg, Doobie Bros, JTaylor to name a few. And I belted it not knowing what I was singing! It hurt when I became saved as I LIVED those songs but had to let them go. Music was always in my DNA and had opportunities fall in my lap. I also loved instruments. Then life happened and I was pulled away into the social scene. And I paid dearly for it but it was always in my heart. I loved music theory, it just flowed. But I kept being disrupted into other worldly pursuits and Those opportunities slowly went away. But I was always the living room singer at any time. And I loved harmonizing. Fast forward to 30 when I had a painful disruption and Jesus filled my soul. I found worship music and I was on fire to do it but rejections were consistent and oh so painful. But God planted that gift and as always it was my intimate communion with Him. In came Out of the Grey along with Susan Ashton, Kim Hill, Margaret Becker and Michael Card. I just knew I wanted to do that. God gave me a guitar and that sealed the deal for me but again my other gift, art, also came knocking. More warfare. I, for the first time, started writing lyrics and it was fun! I never thought to do it before. But sadly no encouragement came anymore. It breaks my heart as I know I did it to myself. I have great memories, when I sang a big band solo with a orchestra, singing in a band, recording in a studio and many living room jams. I finally realized I don’t want to be famous I just want to jam. I even sang ‘Dear Maryanne’ at an event and it was so much fun. I’ve evolved with you two and have enjoyed not only the amazing music of your husband but your wonderful lyrics. Since becoming saved I read all lyrics. I was doing the Sacred Romance when you guys were and it was so great to listen to your music then. I am now quite in my art but my music is in hiding. I got hurt quite bad by worship leaders when trying out for bands, realizing I’m now a bit too old. So weird. So wrong. Love you Bonnie Raitt!! Thanks Christine for your gifts and may they grow deeper and wiser!!!
Wendi, thanks for telling your story and evolving with us all of these years. I hope you get to keep jamming and get creative where you are right now!
Thanks! I’m interested in the part about strengthening the voice. I’ve always thought you had a nice strong high range. It is the area of my voice that I struggle with, the passagio and just beyond. I like the tone of my voice which lends itself to a jazzy pop sound, but am very gun-shy about my range around A5 and up through the next 4 notes or so. Were you able to effectively strengthen your voice? I’d love to hear about it! :))
That mixed voice area/ passagio is tough to strengthen for some. I still struggle with it but the vocal training I did and talk about in the book have helped a lot! I think we all have weak areas that we can improve but also learn to work around!
I am enlightened to learn the history about how you had early recognition to be a singer-songwriter, your path in that direction, and finally your success in the world market of music. I am studying the songwriting portion of the “The Singer and the Songwriter” for ways to improve my recent late-blooming perception to be a songwriter. The section that I have found most useful is how you sketch songs from a formidable trunk to a gathering of branches. It is clearly evident that you branch so well with grace in your songs. Scheduling time devoted to songwriting is my next goal.
Most of my career was in the actuarial science of costing employer pension plans, which required creative shaping of intricate computer programs, the trunk being the total cost of each plan and the main branches being active employees, terminated employees with future benefit entitlements, and retirees. Actual and estimated pensions were projected for them to start at each possible retirement age and the lengths of these branches were their life expectancies.
I now write poetry, mostly haiku, and song lyrics which I call mathemusical in this formative manner. My most recent (double) haiku poem, inspired by a visit to Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, is as follows:
along the bower
with fig branches flowering
years gone by now are
sending the vines towering
God’s teeming power
I love this poem and your mathemusical approach the creative process!