Friday, April 10, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

I haven't written in this space in almost two years. During that time, my wife and I have staged two new children's shows: Do the Right Thing (a character education piece for upper elementary) and Beth & Scott's Nutrition Mission. I'm very proud of these two pieces. They are examples of us taking what's often referred to as "The Teacher's Seat"and being very honest with children and teachers. Our values and our vulnerabilities are both on display and I feel very good about that.

Most of my writing energy, however, has been spent composing new songs for grownups. Truth is, I never dreamed about being a children's artist when I was a kid. I wanted to be a singer-songwriter or a rock star. So, now I've now got to the point where I have close to 20 tunes and I'm beginning a new career while maintaining my job as a children's artist. I play one night per week at a local restaurant where I combine my originals with cover tunes from 6-9pm. For the most part, I'm enjoying the experience, though I've recently begun to feel ill at ease when I perform too many cover tunes.

That's not entirely accurate. When I perform for kids my goal is to reach them and teach them. I am expert at controlling the 45-minute experience so that they take a "ride" with me. With grown-ups, however, I feel like I don't want to spend my energy trying to get them to go somewhere. A cover tune is like saying, "Hey, notice me noticing you! I know you love "Brown Eyed Girl" and I'll play it so that you can tap your feet and remember where you were in 1975." I guess I'm saying that I don't want to lead people on a Magical "History" Tour of the 60's and the 70's. Been there and done that, friends.

This is not a finished thought, today. I'm struggling with the needs and wants of the audience and the bar owner versus my desire to connect and play my new tunes. I'm not so sure I want to settle for a balance between the two. I'm not doing this to earn money, so I don't have to be beholden to the almighty dollar. But do I have an obligation to the audience? And what is it exactly? Am I an artist or an entertainer? Don't rush to answer that question with "both" because that's too easy. Think about your favorite musician and wonder, does he or she play cover tunes? Yes, they play their famous songs over and over and that's a drag sometimes. But I know from playing my children's tunes that playing what the audience wants if it's my tune is a lot better than when they ask for something that I haven't written.

I think that this is about the guts to stand up for what I know is right for me. All too often (in the grownup music world), I have bent to the needs of the many and forgotten my own needs as as an artist. I have to stop doing that. As one of my friends said, "You try things out and then see if you can sleep at night." Well, now I know. I realize that I'm on a track where I'll be playing my songs more and cover songs less.

As I said earlier, one of my new kids' shows is called, "Do the Right Thing". That lesson applies to me, too!

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