Julie Mahendran

Week 4- Songwriting/Blogging Challenge 2015

Well, it's official- I missed the week 4 deadline. But only because I've had a most amazing and intense gig week!

I knew I would be in trouble this week. As soon as my challenge for last week was done, I knew I wouldn't have the same kind of time to devote to this challenge during week 4. The reason? I had three different shows to prepare for this weekend, each one requiring the learning, transcribing, charting and memorization of the lyrics and melodies written by 3 skilled and prolific songwriters. Their names? Prince, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

So there, that's my excuse- at least I was studying the masters. The first show was singing backing vocals in a performance of Prince's Purple Rain album with Classic Albums Live at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. This kind of show involves learning parts note-for-note and therefore making detailed charts- not just for the album, but for another set of greatest hits material as well. It was certainly a labour of love, but labour nonetheless. Our lead singer captured the vocal essence of Prince perfectly and I was happy to see my own preparation pay off in this Friday night performance.

My second gig of the weekend on the following night involved being a guest vocalist in Toronto singer/songwriter Mia Sheard's annual tribute to Joni Mitchell at Hugh's Room. I was so happy to participate in this show, which featured many outstanding guests and a stellar band. I learned a new song for the occasion, one of the songs Joni co-wrote with Charlie Mingus called The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines. This song is basically a vocalese, which means that she likely wrote lyrics to an instrumental solo that Mingus wrote or recorded. Such songs often involve quick melodic and lyrical phrases that require precision singing. Needless to say, I had to take some time in preparing this song. It was a rousing success, as was my own arrangement of Both Sides Now- which was beautifully interpreted by the band. I also had the pleasure and task of learning some of Joni's backing vocals in assisting other guest singers on their songs.

My third and final show of the weekend involved learning a set of Leonard Cohen songs- mostly backing vocals, except for Hallelujah which I enjoyed singing on lead vocal. The venue was the Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto, which has been programming a Rock Eucharist on Sunday evenings for some time now. They feature a different artist every month, and this time it was Cohen. It was my first time performing at a church service, and it was a divine experience indeed. Cohen generally has at least 2 backing vocalists on his recordings, including the lovely Jennifer Warnes, however in this setting I was the only backing vocalist. So I had to pick and choose among the harmonies in his recordings to select the one that would work best with the lead vocal. Needless to say, it took some time- but the work paid off with a solid performance.

And there you have it- I had three fantastic performance experiences interpreting the songwriting of others, yet fell short of producing one song of my own for this week's challenge. This is a trade-off I can live with. And now, on to week 5! See you soon,

J.

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