Composing as a Team

By Lois Brownsey and Marti Lunn Lantz

Although we’ve been writing together for about twenty years we are still always searching for that magical moment when melodies and words come together in a way that excites us. It’s a weekly event—our Thursday ritual. And our efforts can range from reworking a piece we were sure was finished last week, to brainstorming new ideas. While many writing partners divide the tasks (one lyrics, the other music), we both write words and music. This way we can critique each other’s contribution. That can be tricky, but over the years, we have become completely open to suggestions from one another.

There is much to consider. We’re always striving for a good message: something we feel is important and reflects good values, or something that teaches. It can come from other cultures, folks songs, poems, or be centered around a theme, especially the holidays and seasons.

We sincerely hope that our songs might inspire conversation. What does this song mean to you? How can you express your feelings about this topic? This might lead to some research or creative expression through painting, dance, or writing. And finally, could those creations be used in a performance? Nothing would make us happier than students not only getting something from a song we’ve written, but also bringing something to one of our pieces!

For example, Winter’s Frost could inspire you to read some of the poems of Robert Frost. Could someone read or recite an appropriate Frost poem before this song is performed? Our Santa Mash-Up, created from two of our popular “Santa” chorals, was obviously inspired by Glee. How do two songs fit together? Tempo? Key? Theme? Deedle Deedle Dai was just plain fun to write, but may lead to an explanation or discussion of the traditions of Hanukkah, or other seasonal celebrations.

We’re glad to see our songbooks still have legs. One of our favorites is Celebrations Around the World (and also its sequel), written in collaboration with Sally K. Albrecht. This collection reflects our interest in all things multi-cultural.

Our songwriting is completely spontaneous, yet formulaic—at the same time. That’s the mystery of the creative process. When we’re starting a new choral, we are never sure if it’s really going to work. If there comes a point when it clicks, then we’re excited. And if that doesn’t happen, it’s going to wind up in the recycling bin (literally or figuratively).

The final little piece of our ritual, upon completion of a song we feel is worthy of sending to Alfred, are our words: “It’s the best thing we’ve ever written!” Our little in-joke, but somehow we always believe it!

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