by Cathy Hasty
We gathered in the sanctuary of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in the middle of Durham. We were a small group of mostly strangers and mostly women drawn by the topic of “The Story of Now,” a connection to RCWMS, and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. I met my 22-year-old daughter in Durham as a respite from her work as a nursing student in Greenville, NC. There were a few people younger and many who were older.
In this two-hour workshop, we wove together our individual stories with a common theme, developed language and music that compelled us, and created a group song that speaks to the story of now. I did not learn many details about my fellow sojourners yet we found a rare intimacy in the writing of music together.
We moved quickly from introductions into sharing single-word then one-sentence reflections on what we noticed in the last 24 hours. I relaxed and let my mind wander to the unusual duck we saw at Duke Gardens with its black top hat that reared back before plunging herself under the surface of the dark water where she disappeared, reappearing much farther away than I thought possible. I enjoyed overhearing the others’ reflections, each a vibrant reminder of now.
Carrie introduced songwriting by saying, “A song is a short form and has one main idea, with the lyrics as the story behind, between, underneath the main idea.” As we shared ideas, Carrie invited us to respond with a BING sound to ideas that rang true to our experience. Our main idea became “and that was holy.” From there we landed on, “it caught my eye” and “it caught my breath” and “it caught my heart.” We fleshed out details, which eventually formed the basin out of which the lyrics of the song were chosen. I do not remember whose ideas any of the phrases were; they emerged from the group as if by magic.
To build the musical structure, Carrie played short idea selections and let us choose one of the two instruments she brought. On one guitar, which was bolder and more bass, she presented a few ideas of a cadence, melody and intonations that went with this building storyline. The picking and choosing between ideas was so patient and kind. Carrie had a way of affirming everyone and every idea, while guiding us to choose rhymes and a cadence that built an endearing and beautiful song. She was present to us in a unique and powerful way that brought out the best of us.
We sang the song together two times and later she shared a scratch track with her solo voice. I have played and shared this track many times. As Carrie reminded us during the workshop, “In depression, we live only in the past; in anxiety; we live only in the future. The challenge is to live in the present. The present is living in the impossible.” The entire workshop was a magical experience.