September newsletter

Hey songwriters,

In less litigious times, songwriters routinely wrote new lyrics over existing melodies — our national anthem is written over the tune of an old British drinking song. Now songs are considered intellectual property, but in the U.S. the lifting of words and melodies is protected speech in some narrowly defined circumstances. It’s sometimes done as satire but mostly for the sake of parody fun, a good deal of which was had at this week’s meeting of Pittsburgh Songwriters Circle.

The Beatles were particularly picked upon and John Mayer was tweaked. Randy Hoffman, our group’s award-winning parodist, parsed the distinctions between “lyric alteration” and “parody,” and between “prosody” (the science or study of poetic meters and versification) and “scansion” (the metrical analysis of verse). Before your head hurts too much it should be noted that Randy was recently nominated for a national Pegasus Award for best songwriter/composer — the Grammy of the filk music scene. Read more about filk (sci-fi based folk songs) and the Pegasus nominating process at
Tom Beckman concluded the meeting — or, depending on your perspective, began the open stage — with a solid set of his gentle yet fiercely independent songs.
Meet Bill Loeffler, a relative newcomer to the Circle who will do the featured set at the group’s next meeting, Tue. Oct. 2 at Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (412-682-8611).

Suggested assignment
Every song tells a story, but every song isn’t a “story song.” Try writing one, or pull one out of your archives, for our next meeting. Here’s a self-guided primer on the craft and art of writing the “story song.”
Hear several of what are arguably the best story songs ever written in the English language:
“Mr. Bojangles” by Jerry Jeff Walker

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

While many story songs are based on true stories, truthfulness isn’t a prerequisite. A classic story song by Shel Silverstein became a big hit for Johnny Cash.
“A Boy Named Sue”

Album project
They said it couldn’t be done — literally. But you did it.
The recording portion of this year’s Songwriters Circle album finished on time with 36 songwriters on the project (David King dropped out a couple of weeks ago; his participation fee was repaid in full). In total, four artists removed themselves from the project — about the same number as usual. Producer Doug Wilkin said very few sessions were rescheduled and deadlines were met, and musical diversity and performance quality were among the highest of the album series’ eight years. Thank you, participants, for your good work.
While Doug masters, Steve Gallo and I are working on the cover design. I’ll get back to you about our Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 CD release shows.

The 14-week outdoor music festival in Greensburg ended last week. Fifteen invited members of Pittsburgh Songwriters Circle performed paid pre-show or opening sets for audiences that numbered from about 500 (in the rain) to more than 2,500. It was a great opportunity and promoter Gene James and festival staff treated our members well.
See you soon,

John Hayes
work 412-263-1991
home 412-751-7744