How to write a song

stone monument out front of the school reading ardscoil rath IomghainSo I received an email a while ago in my role as organiser for from an enthusiastic member of Ireland’s teaching community.

This particular instructor had an avid interest in music and was married to a composer. After stumbling across the songwriter website she thought she would contact us and see if we could arrange a course on songwriting for her transition year students. I’m not sure exactly how, but after a few phone conversations that songwriting instructor turned out to be yours truly.

To be honest, I was pretty excited about the idea. I thought it was fantastic that this teacher was taking the initiative to introduce her students not just to music, but to the creation of it – a pretty unconventional thing to do, in my opinion. Here in Ireland, there are so many talented original composers being eclipsed by corporate radio or “talent” contests like eurovision. Seriously though, it’s easy enough to find music lessons, but how do you teach someone how to write original music?

That was the question that resulted in about 6 pages of handwritten notes and a carefully detailed lesson plan in 15-minute increments with talking points in the margins. I was SO prepared and hey, this is a topic I have a lot of personal interest and enthusiasm for.

So here I was, working late the day before, and I thought I’d type up my notes during some downtime between newspaper pages. The opportunity came and I went for my notes in my jacket pocket . . . no notes. Frantic, I scoured my desk . . . no notes. I rang home and begged wifey to tell me my lesson plan was lying safely in the front hallway. No such luck. Excusing myself, I ran outdoors to search the street and was almost blown over by gale-force winds with a smattering of hail. Shite. If my notes had falled out of my pocket while biking to work they were well and truly lost. A careful search of the pavement between the castle and back to work confirmed my worst fears.

There was nothing for it but to head out to Rathangan, Co Kildare at 7am the next morning without any lesson plan other than the one in my head. Noshing on a sausage roll in Rathangan the next morning, I jotted down a few new notes, took a deep breath and drove the last couple of blocks to the school.

As it turns out, Irish transition year students (around 15-16 years of age) are far better behaved than you would imagine. The class was enthusiastic, receptive and talented. Seriously, at one point when generating ideas for love song lyrics I got the class brainstorming on metaphors for wonderful things to possibly work into our song. One student suggested “the cold side of the pillow”. The image that conjured for me was an empty spot unwarmed by a second person’s head. To be sure, I asked for an explanation. The student explained,

“Well, you know when you wake up and lift your pillow and flip it over and the other side is wonderfully cold and you sink your head down into it – I love that.”

Ideas like that, coupled with some surprisingly adept players among the class resulted in us successfully writing and recording 5 original compositions. Not bad for a class of 40 teenagers and me with no lesson plans.

Even when the back wheel of my car fell off on the way home I didn’t feel so bad. *grin*