As the community turns another page on its calendar, the Campbell River Songwriters Group has turned their first one, as well.
The group formed one year ago when local musician Kenneth Paul Cooper realized bringing together some of the songwriting talent of the area would be of mutual benefit to them all.
“We didn’t know how it was going to pan out, but I was told by the songwriter’s association in Toronto when we were first about to start up that if I got five or six people to show up for six months or so, they would consider that a success,” Cooper says with a laugh. “But we’ve got a good core group of eight to 10 people – and sometimes more than that – and here we are going into our second year.”
The reason the group has seen success, Cooper says, is the members themselves, their openness, honesty, and willingness to both share and receive.
“I actually really hate it when I have to miss a meeting,” says Roy Ashdown, who has been with the group since the beginning. “I’ve never come away from one without having learned something valuable.”
One of those lessons, Ashdown says, was realizing that he had some very consistent songwriting tendencies.
While it can be good, Ashdown says, to have a “signature sound that you are known for as a musician, it can also put you in a rut, and all your songs can start to sound the same.”
One way to avoid that rut, according to group member Grahame Edwards, is to be “open to suggestion from someone with a different point of view, and then accepting that input and weaving it into your work.”
“It’s not easy to do,” Ashdown admits, “but when you can do it, that’s when you grow.”
And that’s what makes the group valuable: it’s a place for its members to grow.
“It’s a cliché expression, but it’s true: the total is greater than the sum of its parts,” Ashdown says.
Some members of the group use it as more of a sounding board for workshopping songs that are in progress, while others are there for the ideas and discussions.
“I always like to have some input that I can mull around when I’m working on a song,” says group member Katherine Jean, who falls into the former category. “I don’t necessarily go with whatever that particular input was, but it’ll maybe give me the thread of something that I can go home and try a number of different things and find out what works best. Sometimes it’s just getting another perspective that you can’t possibly hear when you’re working on a song, but when you get it from someone else, it can really improve the work.”
The other aspect of the group Jean has found valuable are the exercises. They often have either “homework” to bring with them to the next meeting or an activity at the meeting itself, Jean says, “that sort take you out of your comfort zone. It’s good to stretch those brain cells to strengthen your creative side.”
Jean says one of those exercises, in particular, was particularly valuable. It actually became a finished song.
“It was amazing to see a challenge that was just ‘white the first verse and a chorus and bring it to the next meeting,’ and see it develop into a finished, written and recorded song.”
“That idea of a ‘comfort zone’ is an interesting one,” Cooper says. “In my experience, it’s easier to go outside of my comfort zone if I’m comfortable, if you get my meaning. We have such a supportive group here, so as we move through a number of meetings and everyone gets to know everyone a bit better through these exercises and discussions, you start to see that it’s okay to move outside that comfort zone, because you know there won’t be judgement from the others.”
“To me, it’s the quality of the listening that’s really quite remarkable,” Edwards agrees. “It’s interesting to me to hear other people’s reactions to the same presentation, for example, and to hear that they got completely different things out of it. If someone says, ‘that’s awesome,’ it doesn’t give you a lot of information, but if they give you something reflective, and just tell you what they heard without placing a value judgement – and I think that’s the key – it can be really valuable.”
Going forward into year two, the group has at least a semblance of a goal – something they intentionally stayed away from at the beginning.
“There still aren’t any quantitative goals,” Cooper says. “We’re not looking at ‘we want to have X number of members’ or anything like that, but one of the potential things we’ve been looking at going forward is the possibility of sharing this with the community at large. So far, we’ve kind of been keeping it to ourselves.”
That could happen in the form of a concert – or concert series – or some other yet-to-be-determined method.
But growth could also just be internal, as well. Not all growth has to be in something you can count.
“Even if the next year was just more of what we’ve been doing so far, that would be perfectly okay with me,” Ashdown says. “We’re all growing all the time through this group, and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so, even if it’s just by continuing these meetings and continuing to work together.”
For more information on the Campbell River Regional Songwriter’s Group, contact Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask to join the Facebook group.