Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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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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Aaron Symbol, Minneapolis
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My recording contains live guitar, live voice, software drums, software bass and software orchestral strings. I created, recorded and mixed the entire song myself (with no outside assistance) using a home studio.

In general, the approach I take when creating a new song is to develop around a single guitar "riff" or "phrase." First and foremost I am a guitar player, and thus the guitar is my medium of choice when creating a new song. In fact, I usually write the music and fill in lyrics afterwards.

When developing the music for "Afternoon Song," I first read the supplied lyrics to get inspiration. Some of the "flow" and "mood" of the song takes on what I felt by reading the poem. However, the music, for the most part, is independent of the lyrics and in some cases I had to shoe-horn in the supplied lyrics (to keep the flow and meter consistent).

John Thompson, St. Paul
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I knew I had something when my three kids (ages 4, 9, 11) were singing the chorus randomly around the house. I worked in the PM after they were in bed, with frequent playback during the day.

I approached the song with just a guitar at first to see what kind of phrasing I could work out. It started out as a much slower/soft number, but then my wife yawned when I played it to her (really!), and I picked up the tempo and she perked up. It would have actually been much too long with the slower tempo.

The basic melody came pretty fast, I just had some trouble with the bridge, which came to me at last as my time was running out (family of five vacation looming). My other obstacle (sorry, Stephen) was that although the lines were lovely, lovely -- yes, poetry and words I enjoyed immensely -- they were a little dense for the pop song.

My motivation here was having a project with a deadline and just loving the concept. I feel like I'm really a part of it even if no one hears this. After watching my guitar strings rust during intense child-rearing years, it's nice to get a little creative. I know there's an infinite number of ways a song can go, and I wandered down only a few paths before I settled here.

Lane Trisko, Minneapolis
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Web site
My name is Lane Trisko and I play in and write music for the local band The Northern Roots. In songwriting, I tend to approach song structure and melody before any words ever crawl into my head, forcing me to take a much different approach to creating a song for these lyrics.

After reading through the words, I cycled through different chord progressions and hummed melody after melody until I found some ideas to work with. It was a lot of trial and error, until the right melody worked with the words. It took some time to structure the verses and make the syllables mesh with the melody, but eventually it flowed out, and the words and chords and melodies all came together to make a song. I recorded the song myself and played the instruments myself.

Peter VanDusartz, River Falls, Wis.
Listen Listen
Web site
This is a wholly amateur effort. This is our first attempt at recording, our very first exposure to any audience. We are a father/son acoustic guitar and bass duo. We call ourselves "The Plops" as a reverent nod to Matt Wilson and John Munson's duo group "The Flops."

I am a long-time fan of everything Matt Wilson, and saw this as an opprtunity to step into the same arena as one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I've "written" many personal songs, performed mostly to the empty living room long after everyone else is asleep. On the other hand, my son, age 17, is the real musician who plays in an all original band with friends called "Finding Eternity."

At first read, the lyrics seemed cumbersome and non-rythmic, but soon it seemed they fell into three parts, each repeating three times. We called them the verse, the semi-chorus, and the chorus. Therefore, we developed a melody and rythmic section for each, the first languid, the second deep and building, and the third (the chorus) a crescendo that rolls back toward the verse. Thats an invented description since we have no training and are music theory/structure illiterate. In other words, we just made it up as we went.

Since I really can't sing, I tried to channel Tom Waits and the elderly Johnny Cash (my wife says it sounds a little bit Greg Brown). The poor quality results from slapped together technology and editing (two tracks, each in one take, each recorded via the family video camera, transfered to laptop, ripped to an mp3, and mixed by free open-source software "Audacity"). We acually have a third track of my son on lead electric guitar, but the added white noise of one more track made it far too muddy.

Song Submissions

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