Finding Life in Creativity

finding life in creativity

Creativity 101

I wrote my first song after leaving home. creativity

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.

Secondary Education

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.

creativityWell, 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.   

Creativity 201

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.  

Scheduled Creativity

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   

creativity
A Handbook and A Workbook

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
Hallelujah
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?

The Art of Compromise or The Compromise of Art

art of compromise

Gravity and Relativity

Out of the Grey lite. That’s what my husband Scott and I call Gravity, our fourth record. Actually, a fan came up to our CD table after a concert one night in 1995 and bestowed that description.

“I love all of your albums up to this point but this new one is more like Out of the Grey lite.”

Yikes! He was right.

Before recording Gravity, we’d written our ten songs and were ready to head into the studio. Monday morning, 10 AM downbeat. However, the Thursday before our scheduled session, the record label decided we didn’t have enough ‘radio-friendly’ songs.

What?

Scott and I dug in our heels for a short minute then went with the pressure to play the game. Over that weekend, we scrambled to write a few new songs with more pop appeal. Our producer, Charlie Peacock, helped us win approval by co-writing the songs, “When Love Comes to Life” and “Hope In Sight.”

Half of the songs and a lot of the production came out lacking what we thought of as Out of the Grey artistry. We did get some radio play, though.

At the end of the day, did we practice the art of compromise or did we compromise our art?

A Play on a Play

art of compromiseHave you seen the film, Bullets Over Broadway?

You could call it a play on a play. The story examines artistic integrity and how far an artist will go to protect and defend it—or lose it. It poses a question about the sometimes-dirty word compromise, asking if it has its place or if it is always reprehensible.

At the beginning of this 1994 release, David, a young playwright, tries to gather funds and cast members to perform his beloved work of art. Time constraints, human foibles, and money woes assail his stance on artistic integrity. At first, David stands his ground, refusing to give up control over his writing and his role as director. Nevertheless, when an underworld thug with the funds for production materializes and seems a godsend, David compromises. The catch of the money deal is that the gangster’s talentless girlfriend must play a small part.

After David softens his stance regarding talent and economics, taking the production money plus the girl, his agent leads him into other small compromises. As the play unfolds and rehearsals progress, David’s artistic integrity slips so far that he rewrites dialog at the behest of the manipulative lead actress. However, the playwright’s climactic sin is letting the goon who babysits the talentless young actress make changes in lines, scenes, and the plot. David recognizes that this mobster hitman is more talented than he. In the end, David is not an artist who is willing to stand by his original work.

This play about a play never reveals what the playwright’s play was actually about. We get the gist, though, that more drama, sex scandals, and realism are what the people want. Are the characters speaking our language? Does the plot mirror our own struggles? Have we left off the lofty and abstract so that the crowd can get the message point blank? Bullets fly at movie’s end when the story descends into an action-filled thriller.

Popular Art

The population at large loves what it can enjoy and comprehend without extra effort. As a pop music snob, I pooh-pooh much of the stuff that seems all fluff. I prefer a more complicated theme than, say, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” Having said that, I’m aware that other types of music-lovers wouldn’t call pop music ‘art’ at all.

To be sure, inside a fine art gallery, I might lift my eyebrows at the abstract and inaccessible. Impatient and ignorant, I don’t take the time to find the deeper meaning, moving further along the wall in search of served-up messages. When it comes to Art, I dig in my heels in relative places, drawing my own particular lines in the sand.

For example, I have written some artistically obscure songs like, “Becoming,” not caring whether anyone heard them or at least not worried that some might miss its message. However, I have certainly written songs with radio play in mind. Economic forces drove my compromise in the form of pressure from the record company and the mortgage company. One argument for concession goes something like this: if some of my art compromises its beauty for popularity sake, it will expose my more artistic pieces to a wider audience.

Mass Appeal

Many an Out of the Grey fan found us first on the radio. Before Gravity, our popularity had been growing. A lot of people told us they liked our fresh, left-of-center sound. Record sales were adding up and we wanted to capitalize on the momentum. It’s an old story.

art of compromise

The pressure to compromise can sideline even the best of intentions. When something good gets more popular, getting more becomes the modus operandi. For example, in the 1990s, Starbucks was just a cool cafe on the west coast. Scott and I had to mail-order their exotic blends and dark roasts. Nowadays, there’s a Starbucks on every corner, the McDonald’s of coffee some say. Compromising quality for quantity some complain.

However, mass-appeal has its appeal. It allows me to find a cheap knock-off of the expensive version of something or other I could otherwise not afford to purchase. As Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada about the origin of the color of her cheap cerulean blue sweater, so I should take a lesson and remember that design is a gift with a steep price.

Mob Mentality

I am an artistic snob when I care to be and part of the mob when I don’t. If I don’t sink my toes into certain artistic fields of expression, I am tempted to pass by quickly with a quick judgment. I may think you are crazy if you only buy a carefully curated olive oil while you may drop your jaw at me for spending so much time choosing between “a” or “the” in a song lyric. You may secretly judge my mall clothes as fashion mongrels while I am arguing internally that you can’t possibly enjoy the ‘music’ of Florida Georgia Line.

art of compromise

From Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling to Feodor Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens, with so many in between, who decides what is good art or bad, high quality or low? Certainly, mass appeal isn’t a consistent measuring stick because watered-down art proliferates even as the cream rises to the top.

Relative Obscurity

Positively speaking, compromise is a humbled move toward peace. It need not always be an act of artistic cowardice.

What’s my point? Humility, I guess. If pride in my fine taste stiffens my stance in one corner of the rug, someone will surely pull it out from under my feet with revelations of what I am missing. More than likely, what appeals to you has merits I haven’t investigated. Maybe you love every song and sound on Gravity. I’m glad if you do!

In keeping my knees unlocked and soft, I can walk your way and experience the view from your side of the room. You can show me what I’ve missed in Picasso and I can point out the genius of Sting. We can meet at Starbucks, maybe stop to shop at the mall, and go from there.

Out of the Grey’s fan base fell off sharply after the release of Gravity. Our follow-up, See Inside, never found the listeners we thought it deserved. Scott and I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we’d held our ground on how we wanted to shape our sound. The question will remain: does gravity suck or is it just a natural force that no artist can escape? The answer lies in the ears of the beholder. The rest is left to relative obscurity.

Happy with Your Lot in Life?

living with your lot in life

Every spring, people get an itch for something new, something different. Many people move to new homes in this season, looking for a different situation or a change of view. They are imagining a better lot in life.

This spring, I have an itch for updating, remodeling, and just cleaning out the house I have. Yet, I am starting to look around, too. I’m noticing all the for sale signs and wondering, “is there something out there that could be better than what I have?”

Turn-Arounders

As a kid, I lived in several rented and temporary homes. No matter how many times we moved, Mom always kept my sister and brother and me in the same school district. But I didn’t like the impermanence of the shifting address, the change of neighbors. I wanted to settle in and stay for awhile.

These days, I live in a house of my own at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small suburban neighborhood. Cul-de-sac literally means “bottom of a sack.” The name says it all. In a cul-de-sac you can’t just drive through. It’s a dead end of sorts for those who don’t live there. My family and I call them the turn-arounders, the cars that come in to find they must follow the circle around to get back out to where they meant to go.

Not me. I belong here and I like being at the bottom of the bag where I can see who is coming and who is going, where I can watch the kids play and the neighbors can have an eye out too.

Permanent People

There are nine homes gathered around our little circle of macadam. Almost half of these have had the same families in them for as long as my family has lived in ours. Scott and I and our three children moved to this house in December of 1995. That same week, a Christmas card from some neighbors in the same circle appeared in our mailbox. Robert and Linda live three doors down and around. Amazingly, they had been in the cul-de-sac for many years before welcoming us and they still call it home these 24 years later.

Also, Joe and Amy to our left and Austin and Diane next to them have been here longer than we have. These four families, including ours, have grown up together. We watched each other’s daughters and sons grow up and go on to adulthood. We didn’t pick each other as neighbors, but we’re happy with the lot we got.

Camels and Change

When we moved to Nashville in 1988, Scott and I decided to live in the suburbs. Having both grown up in suburbia, he in River Vale, New Jersey and I in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we imagined that living downtown would be expensive or unsafe and that living rurally would be inconvenient. Thus, when we were ready to leave our suburban apartment and buy a home, we settled on a nearby little neighborhood still under construction. We loved the lot we got and the area was spacious and safe.

At the time, the neighborhood was perched on the edges of development. It bordered farms and woods in an unincorporated little town. Not surprisingly, in the 20+ years since then, new towns and houses have sprouted up around us. Now, the traffic growls along the main road for most of the day. It rumbles in the background of our backyard into the evening.

 It wasn’t always that way. The birds and bugs used to be the loudest performers in our backyard haven beneath the trees. These days, I sometimes strain to hear them above a muffler’s roar or a siren’s wail. With city growth comes the inevitable sprawl. We are certainly part of the problem as our neighborhood was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Convenient and Clean

Nevertheless, our subdivision is still a splendid place to live. Our kids say it was a great place to grow up. Friends were a sidewalk skip away and the nearby neighborhood pool was uncrowded and clean. Community in the front yard and privacy in the back. Grocery stores just a quick drive down the road and a homeowner’s association to keep our property values up to snuff.

Scott and I also found our Nashville suburbia to be the perfect place for making our music. We did all of our recording in local studios. Our first two records came to life in a nearby strip mall studio and the next several emerged from the Art House studio which was only a 5-minute drive from home. Nowadays, our own home studio is as convenient as it gets.

Back in the 1990’s, when we were touring a lot, we would board our tour buses in nearby grocery store parking lots. Our record label was only a town away. Managers and booking agents were close by, too. The airport is a quick 25 minutes on a light traffic day. What more could we want?

Country Cousins

My sister, her husband, and their seven children started out on the outskirts of Nashville near us. Now, they live far out in the country, closer to the border of Alabama than to Nashville. They asserted their aversion to homeowners’ associations and close neighbors early on after their move from Pennsylvania to our neck of the woods. Twenty years later, they have a home on a lovely hill surrounded by their twenty-nine acres. Although their church and community are quite close, their nearest neighbors are tucked out of sight and their closest grocery store requires a twenty-five minute drive.

They certainly have their freedom from associations. What Scott and I sometimes get are nosey board-member neighbors reporting  that our moldy siding and paint-peeled eaves aren’t up to neighborhood covenants. Or we get letters threatening fines for unruly lawns and other debatable infractions. At its worst, our homeowners association has been a small cabal of localized tyranny.

There are more reasons to envy others’ rural isolation. If I lived at the end of a dirt road, I could go out to get my mail in my underwear — if I wanted to. Additionally, it would be nice to not have that middle-of-the-night barking of the next-door dog, consistent and persistent these many years. There was one early morning, around 3 AM, that I actually went from my bed to the dog owner’s door in my underwear, half-asleep as I was from the disruption.

“Please stop letting your dog run around and bark in the cul-de-sac every night at this time. We are trying to sleep here!” She was shocked—by the accusation or the underwear? Both, I suppose. The barking stopped but only for a short time.

City Friends

Those we know who live in cities have a more eclectic community experience. Their neighbors are much more diverse. Our New York City family brushes shoulders with people from an amazing array of cultures and countries. I have family and friends who live in East Nashville and South Nashville neighborhoods who experience a lot of economic, racial and cultural diversity. With some intentionality, they get to know people who look, think, and live differently than they do. They also hear the occasional gun shots and keep their kids inside at night.

In my song, “Cul-de-sac Cathy,” I sing that all of my neighbors are somewhat like me. For the most part it’s true: we stay within a certain income range and have a lot of the same choices of schools and provisions for our kids. I did have an Afghani friend in the neighborhood for a while before she and her family moved away. I enjoyed learning about her views of Islam and America and family life. Mostly, though, I interact with people I can relate to. Seems to be a human propensity. Something about birds of a feather….

American Dreams

What am I trying to get at in my song and in this article?

I am reminding myself to be happy with my lot in life!

Perhaps I imagine judgements from city and country friends alike. These projections drive me to ask myself:

“Who are you to choose convenience and safety? Do you recognize the privilege in your choices?”

  • Do I have a right to affluence and permanence?
  • Is this middle-class American guilt?
  • Would you call it white privilege?

It’s definitely underpinned with lots of gratitude: I like my lot in life!

However, I do not want to sleep-walk in an American dream. I want God’s design for me and my family above all. The questions, however, don’t always get answered. Guess I’ll have to live in the tension.

In deed, I know I’ve got a lot that isn’t just a house. No more rented and temporary for me, I get to settle in and stay awhile. Thanks to the circle, Scott and I see our neighbors and they see us. We belong here. To this day we are all sharing our lives and dreams. In defense of suburbs and close associations, I’ll just say something about if the shoe fits….

                                                 Cul-de-sac Cathy

Everybody’s got two cars in the drive

We’re all working hard to give our kids a life

Tell me then, who am I to criticize?

The shoe is mine

 

I’m Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are somewhat like me

Getting to work on American dreams

 

Why would I trade away my pretty little yard

Where the kids can play and life is not too hard

And it’s safe to stay outside even when it’s dark

It doesn’t get better than

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors look somewhat like me

Falling asleep with American dreams

 

Well the country cousins say the isolation gives them freedom from associations

And my city friends seem so progressive in their accommodations

I must admit I wonder what I’ve missed by playing it safe,

playing it safe, am I playing it safe?

 

Guess I’m gonna live in this middle ground

Cause I got a lot that isn’t just a house

Location of the heart they say is everything

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are someone like me

Living our lives and sharing our dreams

 

Check out the other songs on my 5-Song EP, Closer to Free.

More like this: I Wanted My DogDead

Running Out Of Time: Escape the Hurry and Worry

worry a woman running

I am running out of time,

I’m running out of time

Running from the hurry,

turning worry into wine

In my mind

Out of time

I know ‘if only’ is what was

and ‘what if’ is in doubt

So I think I’ll find myself

a lovely here and now

So sublime

Out of time

I am always running out of time. Trying to get away from hurry and worry.

Hurry is the currency of productivity. I race to accomplish as much as I can in a day. However, the older I get, the less I like the chase. Lately, I’d rather say no to appointments and opportunities and shout yes to wide margins that make room for rest and reflection.

Why is it so hard to not be busy?

Worry has always been a part of my life. It operates on the battlefield of past mistakes and future hazards; a skirmish between if only and what if. My mind tries to battle it out. You’ll find my heart there in the middle, wounded in the cross-fire.

Why do I engage in the struggle?

Imagine the miracle of suspending the flood of bullets, as Neo does in the Matrix. When slow motion is an option, I’m all over it! Outside of time, I drink in this sublime sip of wine.

A Lovely Here and Nowenchanted forest mossy path

When I’m not careful, Time sweeps me up on her wide lap and tells me gruesome stories of the past.  As I try to escape her grip, she squeezes my wrist and whispers the worst is yet to come.

I have occasionally escaped into the enchanted forest of Timelessness where I rest my head on the mossy feet of wise old trees. They speak the language of long, slow exhalations. They tell the stories of feathers and feet that whisper by when stillness lingers. I believe in this moment.

Is it too good to be true?

My Place Apart

Actually, my enchanted spot is the plastic Adirondack chair on my mossy lawn. A full array of cushions for my comfort, feet bare to the earth, I breathe long and deep.

I listen for the small voices of birds and bugs that tell me to be mindfully present. I toss my to-do‘s to the wind and let the weather dictate my schedule.

Wasn’t it a lucky wind that swept my list away

Wasn’t it a happy rain that changed my plans today

Made me stay, out of time

In my mind, out of time

I like lists and schedules. They keep me sane. They capture part of the swirling cloud of “musts” and “shoulds,” keeping it in a safe place lest I lose my mind. Yet, lists and schedules tend to paralyze me, leaving no wiggle room for the muses to come and play.

Being Productive

When writing this song, I sat at my piano and experimented with a kind of cyclical melody. I wanted it to feel like a soap bubble blooming from a child’s wand into the calm. Barely a breeze as it lifts and tilts and floats up and out of sight. A quiet meditation, an open-mouthed gape.

I asked my son, Julian, to produce this and the other new songs I had written. He said yes! so I sent him my rough demos. They were recordings of me plodding through the chords on my piano while singing into my smartphone. Not very inspiring.

It’s a tricky business for a producer to dig out and polish the gems his artist assures him are there. Julian found mine and some extras of his own. He helped create a project I am proud to call ours. (He also dealt well with Mom-as-Artist and Mom-as-Mom.)

Visit my YouTube channel to see some of our fun exchanges.    Christine Dente and Julian Dente in the recording studio

It’s About Time

Julian has been making music since he was a few years old. Growing up in studios and on the road, he didn’t have much choice. Jules, as we call him, has developed his talent by playing in lots of bands and also writing and recording his own music. He graced my songs with his years of musical experience and the innate sensibilities that words cannot capture. Only his artistry does.

Notice the very cool rhythms and counter-melodies he wove into the music. He played and programmed everything on the recordings, too. You’ll also hear his voice in some of the backing vocals.

In Running Out of Time, Julian took the time to create the wide musical spaces of breathless suspense. Makes me want to go and live in the moment for a while.


Read more stories about our recording process here: New Music & the recording process

Read more about the new songs here: Closer to Free and See Through Me

Buy the digital 5- song EP Closer To Free here or on Amazon or listen to it on Spotify!

Closer to Free

finding finding freedom: woman floating down a river

“Finding Freedom To Be”

I remember the day I became a slave to my face.    old polaroid christine finding freedom

I was nine and taking some visiting kids on a tour of my elementary school. I don’t remember the occasion. All I know is that a teacher chose responsible me to lead and I was up for the job. At the end of the quick trip around the school, I stopped the small group of kids about my age outside the cafeteria.

“Any questions,” I asked.

“Yeah,” said the closest boy, “are you a boy or a girl?”

I was mortified. His question knocked me off-balance, challenging how I saw myself. And how others saw me. So began my journey of asking mirrors to tell me who I was and who I should be.

Old Polaroids

To solidify my new bondage to image, the series of shocking photos came next:

  • school pictures featuring my incongruous teeth and hair which reared their ugly heads year after year
  • the snapshot of my belly bulging in its bikini sandwich
  • the polaroid my dad took where I felt so beautiful in my pink night gown, only to disappoint again as my image materialized as not-so-pretty me

I struggled with my complexion for most of my life. Hormones and stress were my enemies. Even in my thirties and forties I leaned into mirrors, picking at the blemishes embedded in my skin. “Not better, only redder” was my ineffective mantra.

Getting older has its advantages: fifty-something skin and less stress have freed me from some of my mirror-gazing slavery.

Deeper Than the Skin

But the freedom I’m seeking is deeper than the skin. It’s farther in where heart meets soul.

Freedom from judgements: my own and those of others.

Freedom to be the real me is the center I seek.

I taste that freedom whenever I’m untethered to my image or my productivity or my critics. No lackey to fashion, no vassal of shame. No bondage to beauty as defined by me and my culture.

To me, real freedom feels like sliding along a river, body buoyant, no friction in the flow. Crank the self-conscious volume knob back to zero, I’m on a roll.

Recreation

Have you ever tried to recreate yourself? I tried once in college.

In the fall of 1982, I drove to Carnegie-Mellon University, 5 hours away from home for the first time in my life. I thought about becoming whomever I wanted to be. No one in this college town would know if I was naturally sassy or sweet, gregarious or aloof. I could present myself as the person I chose to be.

Trouble is, it is hard to stray from who we are at heart. I tried to gather my energies and garner new friends by behaving like a party girl, carefree and easy. But I didn’t have her in me. I couldn’t stick to the part and stay late in my party clothes. I just wanted to go home.

Free People

I recently wrote a song called, “Closer to Free.” The initial inspiration came as I perused the Free People clothing catalogue. At first, I thought it funny that a company would make such a statement about a line of clothing. Those hippie-esque styles in strange layers and pairings said, “be adventurous and creative and don’t worry if it doesn’t match.” The wispy indifferent models propped in languid poses declared, “we wear what we want wherever we dare.”

closer to free

They began to draw me in, these Free People. I’ve never had much sense of style. I have always admired girls and women who seemed to throw on any old thing and make it look good. Sometimes it was their sheer confidence and caution-to-the-wind that made them so attractive. Freedom from caring about what others would think seemed to set them free to flow in their clothing and throughout their lives. Like a river.

I was hooked. Sold! to the woman in earth tones and sneakers. Maybe now my inner critic will nap because I’m wrapped in these fabulous fabrics. Oh, the glorious freedom of not giving a crap.

The Catch

But there’s a catch. It’s there, squeezed between the freeze-frames. If we stretch it out to see the real-life spaces where we live our lives, it gets a little messy. Suddenly we see the props and pins that keep it all in place for the shot. A make-up artist and a clothing wrangler rush in to fix the blemishes and slips. These clips and vignettes, I sometimes forget, are only old polaroids of curated unconcern. We are all truly, sadly, very concerned.

The Thirst

We are a thirsty people and there’s no sating. We are hungry for love and acceptance. We hide our shame and insecurity behind snapshots and complicated layers. We buy the lie of self-re-creation.

Yes, we can dress for success and wear our truth to some extent. But freedom, true freedom from what we don’t want to be, implies a freedom toward something. If I am free from my naturally fearful, insecure and angry self, than what am I free to become?

Becoming

Back to center. In pulling focus, I discover a door to another room: a place called Acceptance.

What if I believed God loves me and accepts me as I am? What if I accepted myself ‘as is’?

We are told that’s what Jesus does: “Come to me and I’ll give you rest. Yoke yourself to me.”

If I am tied side by side to Jesus, I’m free from any other slaveries. I suddenly become free to be who I am, the girl He made me to be. Being tied to Him is a burden but it’s easy and light compared to all those other slave-drivers out there. I am Becoming, what I once was, the girl in the mirror of His love. I am becoming. His love becomes me.

Every once in a while, I see through the facades of photos and mirror images. Like floating down a river, these moments of clarity, of sweet release, are the times when I know I am closer to free 

Listen to this song here!

You say you’re one of the free people

Nobody tells you how to live

You splash your face across the page

And spread yourself so thin

 

Yeah, you look like one of those free people

Embrace the world and make it spin

But even you can only take so much

Til something’s got to give

 

Come closer to free

Come know your poverty

Feel your thirst and recognize your need

Come closer to free

 

Your clothes don’t cover up the heart of you

And freedom’s deeper than the skin

You think you’re shining like a star

But we see the shape you’re in

 

Yeah you could be one of the free people

No need to re-create yourself

The beauty you want to so much comes

From being loved so well

 

Come closer to free

Come know a sweet release

Can you feel your thirst and recognize your need

Come closer to free

 

Come closer to free

Come know the love you really need

When you feel the hunger and it grows you know

You’re closer to free     You could be one of the free people

 

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 Tips for Better Songwriting

piano/ organ in amber glow

Whenever I hear the intro to Steely Dan’s song Ajajoy wells up in my chest.

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.

In one 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 ideas:

1) Listen before you write.

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

Maybe 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. Borrowing ideas like “we are not quiet, we are not listening,” I 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!

Bubble Girl: The Story Behind the Song

Story Behind the Song

The “Bubble Girl” song is from the latest Out of the Grey album titled, A Little Light Left, by Christine and Scott Dente.

Click here to see the lyrics or view them at the bottom of this page.

Bubble Girl #1

This girl is an amalgam of sorts. Parts of our 2 daughters and our 6 nieces combine to form the lead character of this song. Chloe, our youngest, was the first inspiration for this idea. When our oldest daughter, Carina, was 16 years old and thinking about college, she, Chloe and I visited a few universities within driving distance of our home in Nashville, Tennessee. One of these was a small Christian college only 100 miles away.

The lovely campus impressed us as did the friendly professors and students. But something was bothering Chloe, then only 14. Something about the atmosphere of the place. “It feels like a bubble,” she said. She was referring to the monochromatic buildings and rooms which seemed a bit stuffy and a little too perfect. Also, the combination of the isolated campus and the compulsory chapel attendance added to the constricted atmosphere.

Later, while driving home, Chloe added that the student body did not look very diverse. She did not think this college would give Carina a chance to interact with a variety of people. I was surprised at how much she had absorbed in such a short visit. Yet Chloe did and does have an acute sensitivity to such things. Carina ended up at a different Christian college after graduation and Chloe, two years later, went to a medium-sized state university. Even there she felt the “bubble” at times and often left campus to meet her need for diversity by interacting with little kids and older people.

Bubble Girl #2

girl with purple hair blowing bubbles falling downward in a blue water drop as her hair swoops up
painting by Magdalena Youmans

My second inspiration to write this song came from a painting by my niece, Maggie. She is my sister’s youngest daughter and her painting, as you can see on the right, depicts a beautiful girl encased in a blue drop of water. Her hair is sweeping upward as she sinks downward, blowing bubbles as she goes.

When I first saw this watercolor, I tried to imagine how teenage girls must feel at times. The girl in the painting evoked isolation and loneliness, like someone cut off from the bigger world. To me, she was a young girl wondering what life held for her. Like a drop in the pond or a frog on a frond, this girl in the teardrop, blowing bubbles with her eyes closed, might be imagining a bigger world.

Maggie’s painting was a poignant image for me although I may have read more into it than she intended. In fact, “Bubble Girl” is my title, not hers.

Bubble Girl #3

Some of my other nieces seemed to be in a hurry to grow up, graduate and get out of the house. I remember myself as a teenager, always looking for what was next instead of enjoying the here and now of being a kid.

It seemed to me these young ladies wanted to leave home before knowing what was on the other side of the gate. I saw a rocky place ahead. Did they see a sweet escape instead?

I wanted to slow them down, tell them that growing up comes soon enough. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have ears to hear beyond the moment in which we are living. Especially teenagers. How can she know what she don’t know? She’s gonna find what she’s gonna find.

Bubble Girl #4

Another perspective for the song came from the fact that all of these girls were mostly educated at home. Homeschooling parents often operate from a protective and — dare I say — controlling nature. I will speak for myself: I didn’t want my kids to grow up too quickly and get stained by the world any sooner than necessary. Like most parents, homeschooler or otherwise, I wanted to keep them safe and delay the inevitable crashing on the rocks. (Also, I think education is about so much more than most schools are offering these days but that’s another story.)

On the other hand, the stigma of being different has affected my kids and my sister’s and brother’s kids in some negative ways. In writing Bubble Girl, I attempted to see the many dimensions of the bubble beyond my limited perspective. Those girls are mostly grown up now and are making their splashes in the world on many different shores. If I had to live it all again with them, I would definitely change a few things. If I could cure loneliness and alienation and help in the search for significance and connection, I would do it! I But at the end of the day, I would still be saying, “take your time, take your time.”

Bubble Girl by Christine and Scott Dente

Bubble girl doesn’t want to be here no more
Wants to make her splash on a distant shore
Like a drop in the pond
Just a frog on a frond
Bubble Girl wants a bigger world

 

And what she don’t know, she don’t know
What she’s gonna find, she’s gonna find
tell her for me to take her time, take her time

 

Such a girl can’t hear what we have to say
Got water in her ears, eyes a dreamy haze
like a tear on her cheek
Lonely stone in the creek
Bubble Girl wants to break away

 

What she don’t know, she don’t know
What she’s gonna find, she’s gonna find
tell her for me to take her time, take her time

 

we see a sweet cocoon
she sees herself marooned
we see a rocky place ahead
she sees a sweet escape instead

 

She don’t know what she don’t know
She’s gonna find what she’s gonna find
tell her for me

 

What she don’t know, cos she don’t know
What she’s gonna find, she’s gonna find
tell her for me, ask her for me
to take her time, take her time

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