(Photo: Jonatha Brooke and me! Circa 2004 or 2005? We were babies!)
Almost four weeks ago, I participated in a three-day intensive creative writing workshop with one of my musical heroes: Jonatha Brooke. Jonatha is a folk/rock singer-songwriter and now playwright whose career began in Boston with the duo, The Story. I was introduced to her through her solo work back in college. I took a songwriting class at Belmont and one of the guys in the class kept going on and on about Jonatha Brooke. I took a listen and immediately fell in love with her lyrics, the musicianship on the record, and her vocal delivery.
Soon after my discovery, the local indie radio station in Nashville, Lightning 100, started playing her single, "Linger," on heavy rotation. I performed that song for my senior recital in order to graduate. So, you see, my love affair with Jonatha Brooke goes waaaay back.
When I was signed to Warner Bros., I got the chance to meet her at an afterparty for the ACM's or CMA's... I honestly can't remember which. This was around 2004 or 2005. I had just performed a set with my band at the party, got off the stage, and saw her in the crowd. I totally fan-girled her (can I use fan-girl as a verb?). Anyway, she was so kind and she was even gracious enough to snap the picture that's at the top of the page.
Earlier this winter, I was listening to a playlist on Spotify and the app populated a tour date for Jonatha in Nashville in May. I haven't seen her perform in years. No way was I missing this show! So, I clicked on the link, surfed her tour page, and discovered she was also leading a creative writing workshop in Nashville the days leading up to her show. What is life?! How can this be?!
So, I took myself back to school. Jonatha School. 20 other participants from all over the world and I bared our souls by sharing unfinished seedlings of song ideas. We walked around Vanderbilt in tempo like crazy people to shake loose new song ideas. We played instruments we'd never played before and tried tunings we never could have dreamed up on our own. We even sat in front of the room and (gulp!) got a song critiqued in front of the whole class. We went back to the basics.
Going back to the basics can be frustrating and hard. I'm impatient. That weekend, I learned that the basics were exactly what I needed. The experience was exciting, hard, emotional, inspiring and even spiritual. Actually, it was mostly spiritual. For me, anyway. It's opened up my writing in the most exciting ways! I was groomed on co-writing. It's the Nashville way (at least since the mid-90's). A few years ago, a songwriting friend encourage me to write more on my own. It felt scary. I'd get stuck and not know how to finish it. So, I'd use the beginning I'd created as an idea to present to a co-writer at my next appointment. On one hand, I felt accomplished that I had contributed an idea. On the other, I let myself down time and time again by not sticking with the song when it got tough. I needed to learn how to do the work. How to dig in, dig deeper, and where to even start excavating!
Now, I'm at least beginning to better understand how to do the work. I got to crawl inside the brain of one of my biggest inspirations to learn, to improve, and to understand how she teases out lyric ideas, creates interesting melodies and gets herself unstuck. It was exactly what I needed to reinvigorate my own creativity. I also received major impact from the other 20 creative souls participating in this workshop and getting to hear the inspiring and important things they had to say through their art.
Based on my recent experience, I encourage you to stretch yourself, no matter what your career or passion. Don't be afraid to get schooled. Get uncomfortable. Play. Go back to the basics. I promise you'll surprise yourself.