Collaborations

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Playing music with other people – whether you’re jamming or “officially” performing – it’s a collaboration that creates a whole, greater than the sum of its parts. The most stark example of this is in vocal harmonies. Have you noticed that when a harmony stack is perfect, it sounds like another voice has joined the mix? John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas even named that magical voice and tried to craft his band’s vocals to feature it.

It’s not a studio trick – I have heard the mystery voice listening to Doyle Lawson’s band warm up backstage. Three people singing – and suddenly you can swear there’s a fourth in there. It gives you chills!

The CBA itself is one big, many layered collaboration, isn’t it? From the small-scale collaborations of folks jamming at a festival, to the various committees and volunteer groups, on up to the Board of Directors. It’s very impressive how well all that works, if you think about it!

Oddly, I thought of this whole collaboration theme while noticing a book written by two authors. How the heck do two people write a book? Sometimes, co-authored books are “ghosted” – the famous guy’s name sells the book, but the “co-author” did all the heavy lifting.

Then I got to thinking of songwriting. I was in a band where two of the members wrote terrific songs together, and I had to marvel at the process and the results. They didn’t hide their method – each wrote snippets of melodies and lyrics and they just traded notes and created amazing songs.

A few years ago, a person I met at a gig told me he wrote lyrics but not music and asked me if I could put his “poems” to music. I did a few of them, and enjoyed the exercise, but results weren’t that great – I don’t still play any of those songs.

Of course, in the old Tin Pan Alley days, there were lyric specialists and melody specialists and timeless classics flowed forth from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Gilbert and Sullivan. Later on, of course, Jagger/Richards and Lennon/McCartmey made history as well.

For me, I’d much rather play music with people than play it alone. I would rather sing with people than sing alone. I enjoy the challenge of being an effective musician in an ensemble, and I feel real good when it seems like I’ve helped make the group sound better than they would without me.

But songwriting, and writing, no, that’s me alone. Expressing myself, by myself. Then sharing the results with everybody else.

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