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December, 2008

"Collecting Music"

by Webmaster

"My love affair with music began almost immediately after I got my first boombox. I started with CDs (vinyl was hard to get your hands on mostly because I didn't have a car). I savored ripping the plastic off, scouring the liner notes and taking each new disc for a spin in my room." — Matthew W. Shearon, "Editor's Note / Ch-Ch-Changes..Are We Gonna Face 'Em?," American Songwriter, November / December 2008

My love affair with music started before I could read. I would sit next to my mother on the piano bench and listen to her play. The songbook had drawings for each song, and I learned to find the songs I loved by the illustrations. I also learned to pick out the melodies by ear. I would open the book, find the illustration and play the song by ear. Mom thought I was reading music. I played the songs I liked the best, in the order that was meaningful to me.

In those days, before vinyl LPs were common, songs were collected into songbooks. Oh, we had a few old, thick 78's around. But, songbooks were more common. Mostly, those songbooks were collections put together by the editors. We picked and played the ones we liked.

I collected my music, one song at a time, by learning to play it: kids' song, show tunes, old folk standards, cowboy songs.

When I was 13, I got my first guitar. And, I taught myself to type on a heavy black mechanical typewriter. I collected song lyrics, and either figured out the chords myself or got someone else to teach me. I typed them up, punched holes in the left side of the pages, and put them in a 3-ring notebook. I still have it. Once again, I collected songs one at a time: folk songs, protest songs, pop songs, love songs. And, I chose the order to play them.

When I could afford it, I bought singles: vinyl 45's. There were two songs on each one, the A side and the B side. The A side got played on the radio. The B side got ignored on the radio. Sometimes the B side was interesting. Mostly, we just played the A sides and we collected one song at a time. We got record players and put a thick adaptor on the spindle so we could stack the 45's and let them play in the order we chose, an order that was meaningful to us. I learned them too: "I Want to Be Wanted," "Yesterday's Gone," "Mister Blue," Hummingbird," "Thunder Road."

When I got into high school and got my first job, in a record store, I started collecting vinyl LPs. That's when I started reading liner notes, and listening to collections of songs by the same artists, in an order they chose.

"... then I oredered by artists whose discs I had the most off [sic]." — Matthew W. Shearon, "Editor's Note / Ch-Ch-Changes..Are We Gonna Face 'Em?," American Songwriter, November / December 2008

Ah, yes,: a passion for a particular artist: The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane / Starship, Tom Rush, Fevertree, Tom Paxton, Love, Moody Blues, Dave Brubeck, Marty Robbins. I, too, relished "ripping the plastic off, scouring the liner notes and taking each new disc for a spin in my room."

And still, I continued to learn the songs that I loved, and play them. My collection of songs to play continued to grow one by one. "April, Come She Will," "The Times They Are A Changing," "Circle Game," "Don't Think Twice."

Eventually, I got into tape: I got (oh, miracle of miracles!) a cassette player that also recorded! I could play my LPs and record them to tape. And, I did: hours of tape on little plastic cassettes.

I wasn't playing much music in those days. I finished college, got married, worked, got divorced, got a career and a masters degree, and my own house. Life took over, but music was still the soundtrack of my life: radio, LPs, and cassettes playing in the house, in the car, and late at night at work.

But, I discovered that I didn't like every song on every LP, so I picked the ones that I liked, and put them together in my own collections. Bargain bins in the record and discount stores yielded LPs of collections. I'd listen once and pick out the 1 or 2 or 3 songs I liked, copy them to a new cassette, and then file the LP to never listen to again. My collections of great songs were famous in my little circle. We'd go on long car drives and I'd bring the music.

Then came CDs. I found myself repeating my LP and cassette collection on CD. And, I was back to the album concept: liner notes, songs chosen in particular order, etc. But, I could still put the ones I liked onto a cassette and play them in the car. Later I learned to make compilation CDs.

And still, I continued to learn the songs that I loved, even if I didn't play them. My collection of songs continued to grow one by one.

"You can't just throw a bunch of stuff onto your iPod.... And something doesn't feel right. I find myself thinking in gigabytes, not artists or albums. All these discs I hereded into my pastures were now reduced to a blue-space-measurement-bar on my iPod." — Matthew W. Shearon, "Editor's Note / Ch-Ch-Changes..Are We Gonna Face 'Em?," American Songwriter, November / December 2008

I got an MP3 player. I loaded it with songs I wanted to learn, and listened to them on long car trips. It was easier to do that than to copy from CD to cassette, and all I had in the cars were cassette players.

"Will my kids ever get this experience, of growing a music collection this way?" — Matthew W. Shearon, "Editor's Note / Ch-Ch-Changes..Are We Gonna Face 'Em?," American Songwriter, November / December 2008

A music collection is still one song at a time, for me. Dont' get me wrong. Theme albums are great. The Beatles were masters at that. The Who's "Tommy" is a classic. But, I still find that I love some songs, that some songs touch me more than others, and I want to absorb them, learn to play them, make them part of my life. It's rare to be deeply affected by every song on any CD.

And, as a songwriter, I believe that a song, each song, should be able to stand on it's own, with no introduction or explanation.

So, as interesting as liner notes are (my husband and I used the liner notes from a Fevertree album for the vows in our wedding), as interesting as playing songs in a row can be, I'm still collecting songs one at a time.

And, I play in several bands, with people whose musical tastes are a lot like mine, and whose song collections were gathered like mine: one at a time from several sources. We play songs one at a time, in no fixed order, and our fans like it that way. I've learned a lot of new songs from my band mates, too, and I'm back to collecting songs the way I first started: one song at a time and making it part of my music collection by learning to play and sing it.

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