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Tuesday, January 20,2009

Songwriter circle offers entertainment and teaching moments

By Athens NEWS Staff
Side View is a series of stories aimed at capturing some of the people, places, projects, experiments and vitality unique to southeast Ohio. Objects may be closer than they appear. Ã â" " Troy Gregorino

Athens' reputation as a vibrant music scene is helped along in part by its abundance of live shows, recording projects and weekly open-mic events. But Tuesday evenings in Baker Center's 1804 Lounge offer a uniquely intimate opportunity for musicians of any skill level to fine-tune their work alongside other artists, including one of the region's most renowned songwriters.

Bruce Dalzell, Baker Center open stage host since 1990 and long-time favorite of area music enthusiasts, began the Singer/Songwriter Circle nearly three years ago.

"Writing a song is a rewarding but difficult way to express yourself," he said. "At least for me it is.

"Ultimately, it's the creative process itself, not necessarily the finished song, that's the most rewarding reason for me to do this," Dalzell said.

The Singer/Songwriter Circle incorporates a range of activities, from discussion groups and writing prompts to guest musicians and collective songwriting. Dalzell is also known to give participants "assignments" — such as most recently, rewriting the lyrics of an existing pop song.

"It frees you up," he said of the exercises that are intended to spark new perspectives in the songwriting process. "Before, I'd labor over every line to the point that I'd miss what I was trying to accomplish. It's helped me to be more willing to make a mistake."

Angela Perley, a recent Ohio University graduate from Columbus, said her music has benefited from the Singer/Songwriter Circle's emphasis on attention to detail.

"It's such a small and comfortable setting," she said. "The main thing was really just the honest songwriting it attracts.

"It's a huge inspiration to let go and not over-think the songs," Perley added. "Also, just having the time to sit and listen where there's no audience, just you and other songwriters. That alone was really helpful. That doesn't happen very often."

Corbin Marsh, an OU history major from Lake Bluff, Ill., said the workshops inspire new ideas and approaches to making music.

"Part of my problem with creating is, when I sit down to write a song, I put too much pressure on myself," he said.

Being pushed to consider songs from a variety of angles, Marsh said, strengthens the quality of his writing.

"If you don't have to be personally invested, everything doesn't have to be about you," he said. "So many great songs are just stories, or about people, not necessarily about your greatest hopes and fears. A song doesn't have to be your diary."

According to Dalzell, it's sometimes that willingness to separate from excessive personal attachment that contributes to a song's effectiveness.

"The biggest thing I've learned in the time we've been doing this is sometimes you can have too much emotion invested," he said. "If you're not afraid to throw it away, you haven't lost anything."


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