Writing Songs

My original major was music performance. My first love is classical music – always preferred that to anything else. I love to listen to jazz. I love rock and roll. I love the blues. I love steel drum – we had a blast on a long-ago cruise listening to our Jamaican steel band play Lucille on the steel drum.

But when I write music (as I hadn’t done for years – until yesterday) it’s always a country song. Which is hilarious since I rarely listen to country music. Yet many of my favorite artists – Lee Greenwood, Charlie Daniels, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, etc. are country artists.

Back in the Air Force I did a lot of arranging – with a choir that consisted of pilots and other people who are gone as much as they’re home, I learned how to sing every part, write two-part arrangements (in case it was just me and whoever – thankfully that never happened, but if it had, I was ready!), three-part, four-part, all women, all men – I learned to be flexible based on who we had on any given day – and sometimes we would luck out and God would send us a fighter pilot who could sing to make up for the one we sent to someone else.

Back then music was still my life – teaching piano and flute, acting in musicals, singing with the Lowry Air Force Base Chorale (while I was still on active duty), directing the Air Force Chapel Choirs at Tyndall and Yokota, singing with the Skylarks (officer’s wives performing group). If anyone had told me back then I would put my music aside for years, I wouldn’t have believed them.

We all enjoyed watching koi in the pond

Back when I used to write songs in Japan

My first hit song was written shortly after the Air Force moved us to Japan. Our trip over was horrendous – Daughter was a little over two and just getting over a cold. Son was a year old and was just getting over an ear infection. We flew from Panama City, FL to St. Louis, MO and then to Seattle, and then to Tokyo.

Our first apartment was off base. We had to park one of our cars underground – there was a car elevator. The floors were made of tatami (ever tried to clean up peanut butter and jelly off of a tatami floor?). The walls were shoji doors – paper easily punctured by rambunctious toddlers and flying toys. (We got to be expert at repairing those). There was no heat, except a kerosene heater we carried from room to room. I was scared to use it because the kids loved to throw Cheerios at the fire to watch them combust. The movers, who I welcomed as Southerners do with iced tea and chocolate chip cookies repaid me by stealing my jewelry, including my diamond wedding set (I wore my plain one while we were moving). (They’ll go to hell for that). Good times.

Back when I was a working musician

Back when I was a working musician

I would eventually get my piano (when we moved on base and had a floor that would support it) but those first long, cold months I was piano-less. Our apartment was beside a river and the kids and I would walk along the river and sing.

I was trying to make the most of it, but I missed our house near the beach. I missed my family. I missed the dogs and cats we weren’t allowed to bring.

And I found myself writing a song about it. And being a choir director at the time, my song was a prayer to God asking Him what the heck he was doing to us. (Despite my utter despair at the time, it’s a snappy little tune). Here it is.

Title: Good Lord, Where Have You Been?

Lord, you weren’t watching over my crystal
As it fell to the floor of the van
And the kids both got sick
And screamed all the way
From Seattle to Japan

Our apartment resembles a doghouse
And the walls are toilet paper thin
And the question I have
For you on this day
Is good Lord, where have you been?

Chorus: Where have you been?
Where have you been?
Did the movers leave you in a box
Then forget to bring you in?
To leave us during moving time
Ought to be a sin
Oh, good Lord, where have you been?

I sang it on the playground for a neighbor who was equally homesick as our children played one day. She had me sing it for everyone else at an officer’s wives’ tea. Before long I was singing it for every hail and farewell. It helped create a bond between us – we weren’t as alone as we thought we were. We were all going through the same thing, the same feelings, and we could laugh and cry about them together.

Yesterday’s song was born during the Savannah Jack concert at the Strawberry Festival that Daughter and I went to on Friday.

Actually, it probably started when we were having lunch and heard someone singing God Bless the USA. That led to me tweeting Lee Greenwood, which made me think of when he came to see us in Japan. Daughter and I talked about that time (she was still not much more than a baby then – just starting pre-school). She remembers going to rehearsals for Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (I was co-music director for that show). She loved my Egyptian costume with the gold tinsel hair. So all of those things – God Bless the USA, Japan, my old life as a musician, all of those things were in my head when we wandered in to hear Savannah Jack.

My keyboard player and me with Savannah Jack

My keyboard player and me with Savannah Jack

They talked about the songs they had written for themselves and for other artists and I remembered writing songs. They sang a lot of the songs I used to perform and that took me back. I remembered that I used to write songs and wondered what happened. I said “I used to write songs” and my daughter said “I remember, Mom. You should write some more.”

Yesterday one started running through my head (at Mass when I was supposed to be singing something else). I started playing with it on the way home, out on the patio while I cleaned the bird cage. I wrote it down. Sang it on the way to Gemini Springs to take the dogs for a walk. Tweaked it on the trail. Some songbirds flew along with us and sang backup for me. The dogs liked it. Sang it all the way home. Here it is.

Title: What Dreams are Made of

I dreamed of singing my songs on a great big stage
In front of people who paid to watch me play
I dreamed of going on tour
And a platinum record or two
But now my audience consists of my family
My keyboard player’s about to turn three
And my drummer beats on a big old pot with a spoon

Chorus: My life is what dreams are made of
They’re just different dreams than I thought at first they’d be
My life is what dreams are made of
Right now my dreams are about much more than me

I used to sing about breakups and throwing bums out
Now we sing about spiders and waterspouts
And we learn how to spell
The name of the farmer’s dog
Sleeping on a tour bus just can’t compare
To the loving arms of my sugar bear
He’s the man of my dreams
And he still believes in me

Chorus: My life is what dreams are made of
They’re just different dreams than at first I thought they’d be
My life is what dreams are made of
I thank God my dreams are about much more than me

Our Marine & Mt Fuji

My drummer grown up