Tuesday, August 4, 2020

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The lyricist

Stephen BurtSTEPHEN BURT is the author of two poetry volumes, "Popular Music" and "Parallel Play." He's the former chair of the English Department at Macalester College, and he'll start teaching poetry this fall at Harvard University.

The songwriters

The OwlsTHE OWLS' first album, "Our Hopes and Dreams," won raves for its intricate melodies and unique harmonies. All four Owls members help write their songs, and each plays more than one instrument in the band.

The Roe Family SingersTHE ROE FAMILY SINGERS summon the darker side of Appalachia in their mournful melodies. Quillan Roe is the primary songwriter. He and his wife Kim share the singing spotlight. They're joined by a rotating cast of pickers, blowers and strummers.

Matt WilsonMATT WILSON is the former frontman of Trip Shakespeare, a local band known for its dramatic, ornate songwriting. Wilson is starting a new collaboration with John Munson, a former Trip Shakespeare bandmate and bassist with Semisonic.

Reporters: Larissa Anderson, Chris Roberts, Sanden Totten, Nikki Tundel
Broadcast editor: Jim Bickal
Online editor: Melanie Sommer
Online producer: Charlie Knutson
Web designer: Rebecca Cioni
Interactive producer: Julia Schrenkler
Audio engineer: Michael DeMark
Video production: Ben Krueger, Bo Hakala, Brian Becker, Jeff Harkness

Song Submissions

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Laura Binkley, Oyster Bay, N.Y.
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I'm a singer/songwriter from the Midwest currently living in New York City. I grew up in South Dakota, but I went to school in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. Actually, I got my start performing because Quillan Roe, of the Acoustic Showcase, encouraged me to audition for the group! While in Minneapolis, I played in coffee houses and bars until I transferred to MU in Columbia, Missouri, graduating with a degree in English (emphasis in Poetry). I moved to NYC to make my fame and fortune as a musician. I figure, Dylan did it. Why not me?

So, when mom told me about the Songs from Scratch program on MPR, I was really excited! I checked out the Web site and Stephen Burt's poem, which I thought was very much written in a song form. (Nice work Stephen!) The line, "The perfect day's the one we leave behind. So much to do ahead but I don't mind," immediately jumped out at me as the chorus. The verses just fell into place from there.

The bridge was a lot of fun to put together. Obviously, the section "Three-season porches," makes for a very nice bridge because it's the turn of the poem, the reason why, "The perfect day's the one we leave behind." Stephen expresses that, "In your future you'll remember we were happy on the same weekday that made you start to cry." This brings the song full circle, gives the unity that connects all these various simple experiences of our daily lives; waiting for a bus, spending time with family, going to the pool or the movies.

Overall, the poem's message emphasizes living for today, which is also a very positive message. So, I opted for a positive sound, putting the piece in a major key. Also, since the poem is called Afternoon Song, I went for an upbeat, "happy" tempo.

It took about an hour for me to put the poem to music. Within a day or two, I went over to visit my friend, Tynan Davis, to record the song on GarageBand. Tynan is an opera singer with a beautiful voice, and after recording the song on my own, I asked if she'd add some backing vocals. A few glasses of wine later (we were having a great time!) we did a final take and called it "good." (I should add that it was Tynan's influence that really shaped the bridge. She suggested changing the time at the end of the line.)

I love poetry and I LOVE songwriting. This project was a lot of fun for me, and if anyone wants to check out my own compositions (music and lyrics), see my Myspace page.

Eliza Blue, Minneapolis
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I wrote this song one evening after reading the lyrics online. I recorded it the next day in my bedroom. The lyrics themselves were so beautiful, and I prefer a stripped-down sound anyway, so I just concentrated on bringing the beauty of the language out.

Tim Cameron, Minneapolis
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Web site Alternative Web site I am the only participant (save the lyricist) who worked on the composition and recording. I usually go by the name People Skills. The instruments are cello, guitar and voice.

As far as approach, I let melodies come as I read the lyrics, going so far as to pick up my guitar and find chords and harmonies I liked as I got to know the text. I didn't find the text to ask for a brisk pace.

Claudia Callaghan, Shoreview, Minn.
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Vocals and songwriter -- Claudia Callaghan; Piano and piano arrangement -- Betsy Keno; Engineer -- Tom Pletscher

This recording is simple: only voice and piano. It was a joy and an honor to team up with Betsy and Tom, neither of whom saw the music until the recording session. (I think Betsy's piano is amazing!) Time was a real issue because I just heard about "Songs from Scratch" recently, and Betsy and Tom planned to go on vacation on Wednesday!

My intent was to write music that is beautiful and wondrous and not without sorrow -- just as afternoons can be. I loved, and also struggled with, the lyrics, and ended up changing some of them to fit the melody and for clarity. I had to be able to get my mind around them!

David and Lisa Carnes, Minneapolis
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We're in the band Mayaflyer. Lisa heard about Songs from Scratch on the radio. We put the kids to bed, printed the lyrics and recorded essentially a live take to a single mic -- two voices and guitar. Then we overdubbed some harmonium.

It took us about two hours to come up with the arrangement and record the parts. I especially like the "crisp pollen interference patterns" in the lyrics (we sang that part better too). Anyway, great lyrics....

Song Submissions

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