Music as Creativity

In my Sept. 4, 2009 blog, I wrote about my journey as a song-catcher—how words, images, tunes come to me in a way that I just have to stop whatever I’m doing and write them down. I’m convinced an ancestor has found me and decided I would be the vehicle for her/his thwarted musical expression.

The song, Sundowner (if you click on the picture above, it will enlarge), came first as a title. When I lived in Berkeley several decades ago, I read a lot of Doris Lessing. It was a phase. They were always having sundowner parties with cocktails and friends chatting. I loved the word, sundowner. One afternoon last year, it just popped into my mind as a song title. So where’s the rest of it? I asked of the muses (ancestor?) that occasionally mess with my head. Silence. No fair! I complain. I sense a smirk from somewhere in the ethers.

Months pass and I’m on my computer checking e-mail. A tune drifts into my mind. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? I search my memory for bits and pieces of music from my personal history, tunes from childhood, etc. We were a musical family prone to singing obscure songs none of my other friends knew, like K-K-K Katie, and Doodley Do. But, I can’t place this tune.

The tune repeats itself. Oh—right; this is one of those run to the piano moments and write down the notes. I transfer my pencil scribbles onto music notation paper and grapple with the math of getting four beats per measure including rests. Why does music often come to me in a key with four flats? I change keys and try again. One sharp—that’s do-able. The music takes one and a half stanzas. Well, it’s a start. I wait. I wait some more. I give up and go back to my e-mail.

Weeks pass and I’m vacuuming the living room. Just another sundowner light inspired song… I turn off the vacuum and listen. Do these words go with the tune I wrote down last month? I go to the file I keep on my piano and search through the bits and pieces of paper. There it is, Sundowner. The lyrics fill exactly two measures and one note of the music, leaving over four measures of music wordless. Looks like I’m going to have to effort to fill in the lyrics for the remaining notes. Then of course I’ll need more notes—lots more notes, and more words. Oh, my. The photo on the right shows a few incarnations the song went through on its journey.

It was a long journey stretched over the better part of a year of adding music and lyrics, a little here, a little there. Some of it was provided (thank you honored ancestor), some of it was just plain elbow grease. I took my finished song to my very skillful mentor, Melissa Phillippe, for a tune-up when I’d done as much as I could. “It needs structure,” she said. “Songs have a structure.” She proceeded to draw a chart illustrating verse, chorus, bridge, refrain and how they all fit together to create a song. Sheesh, who knew? Back to the drawing board.

What I wound up with is a short song that I actually like enough to share with you. It says a lot about my spiritual philosophy without being overly wordy. Is it structurally perfect? No, (although it’s less embarrassing than when I first showed it to Melissa) but that wasn’t my goal. Did I feel completely immersed in creative flow while I worked on it? Absolutely. That’s what lights me up. That’s what’s important: Do what lights you up.

Post Script: There is a good chance this song will actually be performed in October in a Talent Showcase format, sung and played by jazz musician/singer extraordinaire Randal Collen. I ask you, does life get any better than this?

PSS: check out Melissa’s website at


  1. Kimberly says:

    First, your writing is captivating. I can't stop once I start reading an entry. Second, I love your description of writing down Sundowner. It feels exactly like what I've been going through recently writing a new story. It's comforting to know that my process is perhaps not so unusual. I am thrilled to know that your song will have an audience.