Archive for the 'Sarah Sings' Category

Writing A Jazz Record

Posted by on Sep 18 2017 | Sarah Sings, Songtaneous

In November of last year, I learned that I received a grant award from the MN state arts board to write, record and release an album of original jazz songs. (Thanks, MSAB!)

In my proposal I said that “I want to sing jazz, and specifically jazz that I write in order to help broaden the definition of jazz vocals in the Twin Cities.” I had already written a couple of jazz tunes and believed I was ready for the challenge of composing an album’s worth of material.

I also knew that it would be an important growth project for me (that certainly has proved true!). Since beginning work on the project, I have worked with new musicians and performed more jazz gigs (both goals of mine). I have also had to dust off and update my transcribing and chart-writing skills.

Now some people might approach writing an album by coming up with a theme for their project or a title for their CD, but I was pretty sure that if I tried either of those approaches I would never start writing. (If you’ve spent any time here, then you know that I am a far better finisher, than starter.) I also worried that having writing “assignments” might send me into a spiral of stuck and procrastination.

So I tried a bunch of other stuff.

  • I signed up for online classes on songwriting and vocal development. And while it was helpful to have some external accountability (one of the classes had weekly check-in calls), I found a lot of the approaches to songwriting weren’t making much happen for me.For example, I tried looking at songs/jazz standards I really liked to figure out how they worked. What did I like about the melody or the chord progression? The instrumentation? The production? And while I truly think this was/is a good idea, I didn’t make a lot of progress with it.
  • Writing titles for songs first did NOT work for me (at all).
  • Thinking about types of songs was a little more useful. I felt like a jazz album should include some kind of blues and some kind of ballad. (Both of which have since manifested. *smile*)
  • Next, I asked myself questions about the jazz songs (all two of them) that I had already written. In doing so, I realized with both songs their melodies arrived first, accompanied or followed very quickly by key words of the song.

Armed with the knowledge that melody and words worked for me (or at least it had two other times), I embarked on another 30 days of spontaneous songs. (Technically, it was 28 days because I did it for the month of February. *smile*)

(I sincerely thought about sharing that project with you here, Dear Reader, but I thought that adding the step of posting the improvs might keep me from creating them.)

After 28 days, I had a lot of ideas to explore. My commitment to myself was that I only had to record one 3-minute improvisation every day, but I frequently recorded two and sometimes three or four. I think this worked because I didn’t approach it as a songwriting activity, I revisited it as a creative/improv outlet.

As I had hoped, improvising every day got the music flowing. In fact, I woke up singing parts of the first verse of Maybe during that month.

Here’s my first “take” of the first verse

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and here is a clip for a performance of Maybe six months later

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Sarah M. Greer is a fiscal year 2017 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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April in Minneapolis

Posted by on May 13 2015 | Sarah Sings, Songtaneous

While April in Minneapolis is sometimes less than charming in terms of the weather, it’s always full of singing. And, it includes my birthday making it one of my very favorite months. *smile*

If a blog is like a journal or scrapbook, the here’s my entry for April 2015.

BLU-7 at the Nicollet, April 2015

BLU-7 at the Nicollet, April 2015

I heard BLU-7 guitarist Jim Ouska sing his song “Halfway around the World” last summer and fell in love with it. I told him then and there that I wanted to sing it. When tasked with creating a set of contemporary tunes this spring, BLU-7 debuted our version of his haunting tune.

Halfway Around the World, BLU-7 (click the red triangle to play)

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with Coloring Time at the Icehouse, April 2015

Coloring Time at the Icehouse, April 2015

On the first Tuesday of the month, the improv collective Coloring Time takes the stage and serves up a night of invented music and spoken word. In April, I got to join them for a satisfying and soul-stirring evening.

I particularly liked this spontaneous composition about composing spontaneously.

It All Comes Out (excerpt), Coloring Time (click the red triangle to play)

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The Cast of Beauty and the Beast, Northeast Middle School

The Cast of Beauty and the Beast, Northeast Middle School

Oh how I wish I had an audio clip to share of the cast at Northeast soldiering on after we blew a fuse during the Thursday night performance! The lights came back on (thank heavens), but they performed the end of Be Our Guest (and the rest of the show) a cappella!

It was sight (and sound!) to behold; Bravo!

 …

Jay Young and the Lyric Factory at the Dakota, April 2015

Jay Young and the Lyric Factory at the Dakota, April 2015

I got to celebrate the conclusion of Beauty and the Beast at Northeast and my birthday at the Dakota with Jay Young and his Lyric Factory.

Happy Birthday (to me), Lyric Factory

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2015-05-13 GGS@NVF

Give Get Sistet at Northern Voice Festival, April 2015

The Give Get Sistet and I traveled to our twin city St. Paul for the first annual Northern Voice Festival in April. With the help of our audience, we improvised a trip abroad.

Red London Dawn Improv, Give Get Sistet (click the red triangle to play)

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My latest collaboration is with my friend and mentor Anthony Cox. The quartet, called Riotus N, features Anthony on bass, John Penny on guitar, Davu Seru on drums with me on vocals.

More (excerpt), Riotus N (click the red triangle to play)

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Listening for Instructions

Posted by on Feb 23 2015 | Sarah Sings, Songtaneous

A big part of spontaneous singing is what I call listening for “instructions.” Instructions are those ideas and impulses about what to do or try that you might ignore in other situations.

Consider this, you may be the only person to hear a part that’s “missing” from the piece. By adding your idea, the whole work becomes more relevant to you and to the rest of the singing circle. Or to put it another way …

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
– Martha Graham

Some of you – writers, storytellers and other word lovers – have the gift of language. Music calls up words, phrases, a line from a poem or another song. Give yourself permission to say it. And I encourage you to say it so that we can hear it – that it truly becomes a part of the music we’re making.

Others are drummers or dancers — you want to add rhythmic elements, tap your feet, clap your hands, click your tongues, dance, stomp your feet, wave your arms or wiggle your hips. Don’t be shy; the music needs rhythm and movement.

Then we have you, the songsters, songstresses and melody makers – you hear the melodies and their harmonies. You tend to hear the pieces as songs, you can find the beginning, middle and end of a piece. You can create structures.

Of course, all of us have all of these talents to varying degrees. The distribution of these talents is as unique as each singer in the circle.

The fun part is finding the music that each unique circle (ensemble, band, etc.) can create when they bring their portions of these talents together.

I recently got to play an entire evening of improvised music with some very fine musicians (Riotus N featuring Anthony Cox, Davu Seru and John Penny). My cohorts and I experimented with melodic and textural ideas and I tinkered with stories and tales.

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