The Guitar Player

It has been almost three years since I started this solo singer-songwriter project. The key part of making this a “solo” effort was getting arrangements for my songs on guitar that could hold up all by themselves, and then being able to play them well. This was important to me because I realized when my band broke up that I did not have the confidence to play out by myself simply because I knew my guitar skills were lacking.

A few weeks ago, I played a gig that many musicians would scorn. It could not have been more BGM – background music. I would play a song, finish, and no one seemed to notice, except to speak a little softer because they didn’t have to speak over me and my music. I was happy for the gig – I’m still happy about any gig – because even though people were not supposed to be listening, there always are a few who do, and they are listening closely, but not obviously. Background music gigs are weird, because there is something in the environment that tells people they shouldn’t really be listening, so it feels uncomfortable to listen obviously, because the venue is supposed to be about conversation. But some do anyway.

I found it interesting that those who listened most obviously were usually under the age of 4. They sit with their parents, faces open, staring and listening as intently as a satellite dish. Others come and stand directly in front of me, their faces wide with the intensity of their listening. One little girl was sitting with her parents, wanted to come forward, but could not decide. Her mother said something to her that absolutely made every moment I was there worth it, not that I didn’t already think that, because in my mind, it’s always worth it to play.

“Do you want to go closer to the guitar player?” the mother asked. I wasn’t just playing guitar, I was singing, and for years the quality of my voice has been a point of anxiety and pain, warranted or not. But this is not what the woman commented on. She called me a guitar player. Over and over I have told people, “I am not a guitar player, I’m a cellist.” I said this because I was insecure, and wanted to head off any comment on my guitar skills. I also call myself a “trained monkey” because I do not in fact know the names of many of the chords I have taught myself to play (I forget their names almost immediately after memorizing them) and still don’t really have an accurate or exhaustive knowledge of where the notes are on the guitar. I do not, therefore, consider myself a guitarist though I play my songs on guitar very well now.

But I came off to this mother, at least enough to discuss it with a toddler, as a guitar player. I heard her, even though I was playing and singing, and was so, so happy.

Finally. I realized in that moment that I had reached a milestone on my journey as a musician, specifically as a singer-songwriter. I can play guitar now, and do not feel embarrassed or inadequate about my guitar skills when I play out. I don’t even think about it much, which two years ago would have been unimaginable for me. This is huge and wonderful.

So now I realize it is time for another step – another goal. I will be working towards that goal this year, in the hope that by Christmas of next year, I will have something in my hand that says I achieved it. In the meantime, hold me in your thoughts, please, as I seek to climb the next mountain.

The Project

This solo singer-songwriter project began in February 2013. Before that time, with only a few minor exceptions, I had only played out my originals with two lovely ladies I still count as friends in a band we called MapleDream. We had parted ways, as bands often do, just a month before, and I was left with a stack of originals that, with a few exceptions, lacked solo guitar arrangements.

I am a cellist by training, not a guitarist, so I knew that if I were to get these songs to work on solo guitar, I needed help. I was looking for someone who is excellent at both guitar and arranging, whom I trusted to make my songs sound great, and who I knew would be brutally honest. I immediately thought of my friend Greg Newlon. I can confirm that working with Greg requires a thick skin (which I confess is not my forte), as he left no holds barred in his critique of the chording, lyrics, structure, meter, and thematics of nearly all of my songs. In other words, he was just what I needed. He also apparently has a high opinion of my potential as a guitarist, as more than a few of the arrangements he created for my songs have taken me nearly a year to play convincingly, and I practice a lot.

I can say that he had a hand in making several of my songs far better than they were before. He even re-wrote the bridge to “Leave It Alone,” which officially makes us co-writers. There are some songs, however, that he had nothing to do with: some I didn’t show him because I knew he’d hate them, and some I’m still playing the way I want to despite his counsel otherwise. This is another way of saying that if you don’t like something about one of my songs, it’s probably not his fault.

Thanks for thinking about joining me on March 15 for my debut as a solo singer-songwriter. I hope to see you there.

Got Some Shows ….

I am happy to report that I now have two solo shows booked; you can see the details here. I have been working diligently as promised, all focused on my solo singer/songwriter debut on March 15, followed by a second show on May 16.

Things are going well. I remind myself that 98% of this is showing up to it every day that I’m supposed to, doing the best I can that day, and as my old Tae Kwon Do instructor always said, “You show up, you work hard, time goes by, you get better.”

I’m still working on getting some samples up on the Listen page; those should be coming soon.

My forays to open mics have been an education; it really is a different experience to stand up there all by yourself, singing your own stuff, and doing your best not to think about what that means for fear of psyching yourself out. I’m looking forward to having the chance to play more than just two songs for a crowd, and taking the time to share my little piece of the world with the world. I hope you can join me at one or both of these little gigs. I’m excited about them, and would love to share that excitement with you.

Thanks for visiting

Thanks so much for visiting. I am playing out at open mics in the south San Francisco bay area right now, polishing and honing my stuff. My plan is to get things together well enough to have a solo house concert in Winter or Spring 2014. Details will be posted here and on my facebook page when it comes to pass.

Writing original music is pretty interesting. In some ways I prefer just to sing other people’s songs because it’s easier than having the responsibility for both the song and the performance of it. On the other hand, there is nothing better than having someone hear me play one of my songs, even once, and then having them tell me that my song speaks their heart. That’s when I think maybe it isn’t a self-indulgent waste of time and effort to get a song together, work it up, and play it for others.

As soon as I feel like I’m doing my songs justice, I will begin posting video and audio. Thanks for your patience as I work out the kinks and the nerves.