2012 Summer Songwriters Wrap-up

At the end of June, Soapbox Music partnered with Rock The Cello to host a first-ever week-long summer songwriting workshop for middle school students at the Chicago Waldorf School and Soapbox Music in Logan Square.

The workshop itself was envisioned as an experiment – an investigation into the possibilities at the intersection of teaching and creativity. Organizers asked themselves and camp participants a series of questions: What is a song? What are some approaches to creating a new one? How can this process be made collaborative? Everyone involved had a great time and learned a lot – whether about writing songs, micing string instruments, or the logistics of summer camps and large-group CTA rides.

The week began with two days of guest presentations on five varied approaches to songwriting. After each presentation participants were encouraged to experiment with the new approaches in their two-person ‘bands’, and then to share their song fragments with the larger group. Our three bands were The Goats, The Creepers, and The Freaky Zs and W on Keys.

Monday’s first presentation was Approach 1: Pattern & Improv, where the goal was to build simple melodic patterns from a minor pentatonic or major scale, and use these patterns to make a new song. Approach 2: Rhythm Pattern featured guest percussionist, songwriter and recording engineer Farsheed Hamidi-Toosi. We experimented with combining rhythmic patterns vertically and horizontally to make some really interesting short compositions!

Tuesday’s presentations began with Approach 3: Chordal Pattern, which a few of the students had some familiarity with from their participation in the Bass Clef Bandits ensemble. During this presentation we experimented with root/5th accompaniments and the 12-bar blues form. Following this, Approach 4: Chance Music featured special guest Billie Howard – songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and member of Chicago’s A.pe.ri.od.ic ensemble – and resulted in some really crazy-sounding and awesome music! Approach 5: Lyric, also led by Billie Howard, was the final presentation of the day.

On Wednesday, participants were encouraged to draw on their Monday and Tuesday experiences to create final songs with their band-mates. All three bands came up with interesting and unique new tunes!

The week finished with two days in the recording studio, where the final songs were recorded live and mixed by the participants with the help of recording engineer Farsheed Hamidi-Toosi.

We’re all looking forward to hosting Soapbox Summer Songwriters again next year, and may even need to split the group into two sessions!