December Meeting Recap

Hey songwriters.

Sometimes it’s hard to write a happy song, but a few members tried to put a smile at the end of the chorus at the final Pittsburgh Songwriters Circle meeting of 2016. A good crowd showed up Tuesday and discussed, analyzed and critiqued old songs that had been dusted off because they fit the assignment, new songs written to be played at the meeting, works in progress that needed a little group-inspired polish and idea fragments that could-should-oughta be structured into songs.

On short notice, Paul Eisert ( filled the half hour featured set with a small portion of his backlog of fine songs.

– I’ll get to the songwriting assignment later. But first …

City Mission Christmas Party, 6 p.m. Sun., Dec. 11

Everybody plays Christmas standards, but some Songwriters Circle members have original holiday songs. We’ll mix the originals in with the standards to create a truly unique set at the annual City Mission Christmas Party. In addition to the music, residents of the homeless shelter in Washington, Pa., will get venison tacos, sodas and hot chocolate. Got the December blues? Cure it with the great response and gratitude we get every year at City Mission. If you have an original Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s or vaguely holiday-season song, please bring your instrument and play it. If you don’t, leave the guitars and keyboards at home (we don’t need 20 guitars to sing “Silent Night) and join us on sing-along standards on printed lyric sheets. Family, kids, friends, etc., are welcome.

Email coordinator Sue Gartland ( with questions and your intention to participate. We meet at 5 p.m. at City Mission to run through some songs before the gig starts at 6 p.m. I think we’re usually out of there by about 8 or 8:30.

City Mission, 84 W. Wheeling St, Washington, PA 15301. 


Day of event, my cell number is 412-335-1446.

– One more thing before the songwriting assignment …

Prodigal songwriters return

Two Circle members we haven’t seen in a while will soon return to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern stage.

9 p.m. Tue., Dec. 20. Derek Gabrish ( swings by Calliope Songwriters Open Stage to play a 30-minute featured set. Now a New Jersey bond analyst and musical night prowler, he’s been playing out in Greenwich Village bars and suburban nightspots. Derek is putting together a contemporary country band and will visit BBT while home for the holidays.

7 p.m. Tue., Jan. 2. For a few years, Jordan Umbach ( has been living and playing in Nashville. While visiting family in Washington, Pa., he’ll sit in with the Circle meeting and play the featured set at 9 p.m.

Optional songwriting assignment

Does your song need a pre-chorus? For the Jan. 3 meeting, write a song, or upgrade an old one, that includes this common structural element. Most typically lyric or music-only lines repeated at the end of verses, the pre-chorus builds momentum or emotional value leading up to a big chorus.

Learn more about the pre-chorus from an old friend of the Circle, hit songwriter Jason Blume ( (

Here’s a pre-chorus you’ve heard a million times. In John Lennon’s “Imagine,” ( the one-line pre-chorus begins the shift from C to F, lifting the intensity to an emotional precipice before dropping into the chorus. Listen for the pre-chorus 40 seconds in with the lyrics, “Imagine all the people living for today” — each time the pre-chorus comes around the lyrics change a little but the music stays the same. The chorus, as you know starts with, “You may say I’m a dreamer …”

For a more contemporary example, check out Katy Perry’s familiar hit “Firework,” cowritten by Ester Dean and the song’s producers. Listen 44 seconds in for the escalating pre-chorus that begins with the words, “You just gotta ignite the light…” Notice how the pre-chorus builds to the chorus, which starts exactly 1 minute in with the explosive, “Baby you’re a firework …”

No matter what kind of song you write, consider a pre-chorus when you’re climbing to a big chorus or a killer hook. Thanks Sue Gartland ( for suggesting a great songwriting assignment.

See you soon,

– John