Song Design

by James Linderman

As I was writing my newly released Song Forms for Songwriters workbook, I started to draw parallels between the crafting and manufacture of a song and the crafting and manufacture of other artistic and non-artistic consumables.

As I did my research, the two words that kept appearing were “abstraction” (which involves creating a version or illustration of something that only shows a particular part or feature of it) and the word “design”.

I certainly knew about sound design since I had colleagues who worked in that field, but I was not sure I had ever heard the term “song design” and I began to see that this might be the name for the kind of work that would allow those of us who write song to create better songs.

Of course, form is an essential element of any kind of design work and since I had just spent the last ten years analyzing and compiling 500 of the most successful and iconic song forms for my book, I felt like I was practicing and studying the foundations of song design already.

Of course, classical composers completely understood the importance of compositional form. They wrote menuettos, sonatas and fugues and poured their creative choices into these pre-designed frames. Writing to a form like a menuetto comes with some rules and stipulations but it is surprisingly liberating since the writer can then focus on the expressive elements and the structural decisions look after themselves since they are pre-determined.

First and foremost, to be considered a menuetto, the composition must sound like a menuetto. How the composer innovates their own creative elements into it, cannot be so vast that the listener can no longer identify the form. For instance, it must be in 3/4 time and historically people had to be able to dance to it, in a dance that involved a series of small steps. A traditional menuetto is 32 bars long with an AABB form. See Menuetto in C Major by Mozart.

Within the restrictions that come with writing to a form, it is then essential for the music creator to make a brand new work and not have their music just mimic the examples that preceded it. Everyone who writes music has a responsibility to move the art form forward. It is what separates those who paint, from those who paint by numbers.

In our day and age you would get the impression that form is not an essential part of the songwriting process. To create a commercially successful song you do not need to understand, or even pay any attention to song form. I meet songwriters all the time who cannot distinguish their verses from choruses and they did not write their song with an awareness that they were creating their own song form as they went along. The downside to this kind of writing is that, songs that do not have a strong reliable form, no matter how instantly popular or immediately successful they are commercially, always die as quickly as they rise.

The urban dictionary refers to these kinds of songs as disposable music. Music that listeners find instantly appealing, but will abandon for their next musical infatuation, sometimes within days of the first listen. How commercially successful or popular these songs get before they disappear obviously varies greatly, and the study of that trend is not the focus here. Perhaps I will write on that topic another time but for now lets get back to song design and have a look at the difference between a well designed and a poorly designed element of a song.

Since my new book could be considered a design catalogue for chord progressions lets look at a small section of the template featured on page two. It is in the key of G and it is in 3/4 time.

The templates in the book display the sections of a song; the intro, verse, chorus, etc. with boxes representing bar lines like this…

Linderman Chord Choice Box

The chords displayed in this eight bar intro are options so the songwriter can choose one chord from each bar and determine if, within this very stable and reliable form, they can find a pattern that they might want to write a song with.

That song might look like this…

Linderman Chord Choice 1

Another version could look like this….

Linderman Chord Choice 2

If you listen closely you will hear that there is a distinct similarity in these two introductions because they have the same form and the chords in each bar do the same kind of job, but there is also a significant difference in these two intros as well. They each convey a different mood and therefore represent the artistic choices of their particular songwriter.

Play through both of these examples a number of times and the elements that make them similar and the elements that make them unique, will both become clearer as you get your ear accustomed to this analysis. Also try singing or playing a melody to this song part and see how easy it is to set a melody on a progression that has a reliable form. Many songwriters even go as far as referring to an element of a song as being trustworthy as it relates to the other song elements.

If you have enjoyed taking a look at these inner workings of song design, please visit my website at and find more information on my new book Song Forms for Songwriters as well as information on my Skype teaching and song coaching.

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May 2017 Showcase

May 2017 VOCAL Singer/Songwriter Showcase

(310th Consecutive Show)


This past Monday, May 15th, the VOCAL organization gathered for another round of fun and music! It was a “short night” in terms of how long the showcase lasted. However, it was not short in terms of the enjoyment everyone felt during the course of the evening.  Performers included John Ellis, Matthew Costello, and Norman Roscher! Each member performed a short set of songs to get the crowd at O’Tooles going.

John Ellis performed four songs during his set on Monday some including: “I’ll Be There For You,” “The Stranger,” “Winter Solstice,” and “In My Place.” All of John’s songs showcased his magnificent talent for writing tunes that everyone will love. His beats treated the crowd with a variety of tunes, rock and roll, peaceful instrumentals, and slow and somber. I believe I can speak for the crowd, and other members of VOCAL who attended the showcase when I give a big “thank you” to John for his wonderful performance!

Second to perform was Matthew Costello, and he treated the audience to seven songs on Monday evening. Songs included: “Louise,” “Matters To Me,” “Train of Thought,” “Quarter To Three,” “If You Knew,” “One For The Road,” and “Diggin’ For Elvis.” Some of Matthew’s songs could have been said to take the crowd back to the 1950s and 60s in terms of beat and rhythm, but they all left the crowd feeling energetic and happy! In fact, there was crowd participation during the song “Diggin’ For Elvis” that left everyone with a smile on their face.

Norman Roscher was the final performer of the night, and gave the audience a few good laughs before the evening ended! His songs included: “I Don’t Play Doctor Anymore,” “Waiting For The Moon,” “You, Me, and Baby,” “The Train,” “I Need Your Love,” “Pig’s Party,” and “Boobs.” As many of you know, some of Norman’s songs are a bit risqué to talk about on this blog, but we all find joy and humor from listening to them!

Once again, I want to give a huge “thank you” to all three of these gentleman that took time out of their day to perform for the diners at O’Tooles! Join the VOCAL group again in June for another round of performers! Check the VOCAL blog and webpage for more details on future showcases!


  • Jordan Ellis


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Carol Torricelli

Carol Torricelli’s Blueprints of My Soul


Carol Torricelli, for those of you who are not familiar with her work, is a local singer/songwriter creating wonderful music in the city of Richmond, Virginia. Torch, as she is referred to by her friends, is also an avid member of the Virginia Organization of Composers and Lyricists whose members gather around to showcase their original songs.

Recently, Torch released her first album titled, Blueprints of My Soul, which is filled with original songs! To celebrate her success, I sat down to interview with Torch on Monday May 1st.


Drawing Inspiration

One of the first things that came to mind during the interview was Torch’s inspiration for her songs and album. We all have people that inspire us, superheroes, celebrities, sports starts, political leaders, etc. However, I feel that with music, we can step into another level of inspiration. Artists take from their experiences in life, love, sadness, joy, and everyday people whom they may encounter.


“This album is like a kaleidoscope of my life experiences, or blueprints of my soul. Like my father who worked with blueprints. Having an emotion that came out as a song, I had to make it tangible to put it on an album that someone could hold in their hands.” 


Torch had several inspirations that influenced her to decide to work on her first album. First, there was her father. Mr. Torricelli was an architect back in the day, who came home from a long day’s work only to continue being on the job at home. To keep herself entertained, Torch was able to see the blueprints that her father would work on outside of the office. These blueprints are like maps, they lead to something bigger than just an idea on paper. Similar to those blueprints, Torch’s songs are like the blueprints of her soul. Each song touches Torch in a different way based on her experiences and journeys.

Another inspiration Torch spoke highly of was a musician by the name of Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell is best known for her music during the 1970s, which can be categorized into the folk music genre. Torch describes her musical inspiration on her artist page:


 “Her song and album was a turning point, for I was driven to redirect my passions by combining classical finger picking style with the art of composing storytelling vignettes of personal feelings and experiences through lyrics and emotions of a melody, a catharsis of sorts.”  –


During the process of creating this album, Torch took inspiration from many different mediums. All of them, however, hold a special part of her heart that helped create her wonderful music.


Dreams Become Reality

Each and every one of us have dreams that we hope to achieve one day. Mine used to be to become a famous USA softball star, but that dream changed into a new one that I am still trying to reach. For Torch, her dream became a reality.


“Making an album has always been a goal of mine, something I have always had to do.”


It took several years for Torch to be able to produce her first album. With all the writing, recording, editing, and copying songs took a great deal of time, but was worthwhile in the end. When one has a goal to achieve, they must do anything and everything to make it happen, which is exactly what Torch did for her album. Not many people would stick with something for all those years in order to get to the end goal. Many decide to pursue another dream, give up, or simply abandon their goal altogether. However, someone with Torch’s motivation is not going to give up their dream. Torch stuck with it over the course of several years, with many trials and tribulations along the way I am sure. Ranging from recording issues, lyrics, and sound all played a part of the process. Those trials all made the outcome worth more than words can describe!


The Process

When following a dream in order to make it a reality, there is a lot of work that goes into the process. Torch spoke extensively about the hard work she put into producing this CD.


“…going onto Red Amp Audio to be able to record some songs. Waiting for them to send the copy, and then edit them. Working around my job (Virginia Tourism). Finding the time between work to record, get the copy, and to edit songs. Having 12 songs was a great process. The most enjoyable being with Jody Boyd (master engineer) working with him was awesome. Kind of like family, and it felt so right. I loved being in the studio. It made my life. I was high as a kite.”


Finding time to do things is a struggle we all face in our day to day lives, but Torch made a lot of time for her work. Between travelling for her fulltime job with Virginia Tourism, and making her album there was little time for much else! One thing that amazes me is her resilience to make it all happen for herself. She put her mind to something, and just stuck with it through the very end.

There are hard aspects to producing your own CD as well, and I asked Torch to clarify as to what those trials and tribulations exactly entailed.


“Hardest part was when they sent over the final copies, and hearing the little buzzes. But you can’t fix everything. Those buzzes are real. Everyone being digitally perfect is not real. Little imperfections is what life is all about. Finding a website to get the music out there (Disk Makers). Scary that there weren’t people to work with…turned out okay. Also, signing all the paper work and deeds. Understanding the law and rules of the industry.”


Torch went through a lot of effort and work to get to where she is now after the release of her album. A person earns a bit of respect when he or she accomplishes something as great as releasing a CD all on their own account. Going through both tough and good times makes a person grow stronger in terms of mentality. For Torch, this should be a good sign that once she puts her mind to something anything is possible, and we can all learn a lesson from her hard work.


Advice for Fellow Singer/Songwriters

We all can learn things from one another. For example, we can learn how to be polite, courteous, or respectful. Through Torch, other singer/songwriters can learn how to produce their own album, and understand the amount of work that is necessary to make it all work.


“First, depends on how you are recording (studio or at home). Organize and plan (3 steps). First, recording, all the final audio files, know how to upload everything. Second, be comfortable with Production Company, like the website, but keep self totally organized with your logistics because you have to pay attention to deadlines, read fine print, understand it and agree to it. Third, taking the final production from the company, take it to whoever digitizes it, release it to the world, and then sign more papers you will need to understand. Find a support system, like VOCAL, who is going to be there for support. Reach out to that support group.”


Torch’s three steps are a good guide to follow from someone who has been through the process. I know from personal experience, the best advice to get is from someone that has gone through the same doors you have, or at least similar experiences. For music lovers wishing to make their own dream of releasing an album come true, take Torch’s word. Find the studio in which you would like to produce in. Be comfortable with who you are working with. Become organized in order to keep track of recordings and songs. Be able to understand the legal side of the music business. Finally, find a group of people in which you can draw endless support from. A group like VOCAL, friends, family, or even co-workers are a good place to go to when you are feeling down, or just need someone to say “you got this.”


Where to now…

Now that Torch has finally released the CD of her dreams, what will she do now?


“So glad I did it. Huge sigh of relief, and happiness as well. My next music goal is to start writing again. Sounds like it should be a no brainer, but for me to write something I really need to be inspired. Writing a song is very cathartic. My way of dealing with the issue, the challenge, or the happiness…all emotions. The last song was a Christmas song for the VOCAL showcase two years ago 2015.”


Following an accomplishment like this it is nice to sit back and enjoy the after math. That feeling of “ah, I did it” sinks in, and one can get a high (not the smoking kind of course)! For Torch, all she wants to do is get back to writing more songs, and enjoying her time playing with close friends.


It is safe to say what a wonderful accomplishment this is for Torch! I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors. If anyone would like to listen to Torch’s new album the link will be posted at the bottom of the page.


  • Written by Jordan Ellis



Torch’s website:










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video on copyright

Interview with Attorney Mark Berrier

I am posting this for the information contained therein, not as an endorsement of song secure. FYI: song secure charges 9.95 per month to register your songs (No limit) after a $5 initial charge.

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The New York Songwriters Circle 25th Anniversary

by James Linderman

There is something truly wonderful about performing your own songs at a songwriters circle.

First and foremost it is the graduating event that pulls us up from the open mic night. It seems to many of us who write songs that the open mic night is where we sharpen the skill, and the songwriters circle is where we get to not only show how sharp that skill has gotten but also where our sharpness is celebrated.

Just by being on the bill, in this invited and limited capacity, makes a statement and I believe most of us see it as a sign of ascent.

My first songwriters circle was Bluebird North in Toronto and I sat beside Melanie Doane who had won a Juno (Canada’s Grammy) for her album Adam’s Rib which was in my top 10 favourites list of all time. It was magical to not only sit beside this artist whose work I so admired completely, but to have her guitar player mention to the audience that I was a hard act to have to follow….priceless!

So if we agree that the songwriting circle is a cherished tradition then we can also agree that the New York Songwriters Circle is the most cherished of all, in this, it’s 25th year.

To try and imagine all of the incredible moments that have taken place over that time would be only possible if you had been involved with it for a long time and fortunately I got to ask the host and co-ordinator of the New Your Songwriters Circle, Tina Shafer these 11 questions that will give you a very good idea of what it has been like over the years and where she believes the NYSC is headed in the future.

Q. What did you think of the Circle the first time you went?

A. The first time I went, I was invited to be a performer. I was a songwriter signed to Warner Chapel at the time and performing in a “round”, listening to other people’s tunes and not having to carry the whole show was a delight to me!

Q. Did you make any significant changes once you started hosting?

A. The format remained the same but I used many of my early co-writers and voice students to perform …we were all just starting out in the business and it was such a great way to share our music and perform.. Some of those artists were: Norah Jones, Jesse Harris, Richard Julian, Nellie McKay, Lisa Loeb, Vanessa Carlton, Billy Porter…

Q. How has the NYSC evolved since you first started hosting it?

A. It became kind of famous out of it’s own accord, there really was no other “in the round format” in those early days and the amazing talent just brought more of the same in from all over the country, and eventually from all over the world.  We soon had ASCAP nights, BMI and SESAC nights, we had SONY nights, Nashville Nights, Pop nights, R&B nights….It was truly an amazing time for songwriters and a few of us started having real success!

Q. What is the significance of hosting the Circle at The Bitter End?

A. The Songwriters Circle was actually the brainchild of the late Ken Gorka, owner and manager of the famous club.  I never planned to take it anywhere else once I started hosting it in 1991.

Q. Are your younger writers able to appreciate the significance of the NYSC and the Bitter End location?

A. It really depends, some do, some don’t.  Most of the time we do let the writers know that it is truly something special that they were chosen to be a part of our community and that the Bitter End represents one of the original spots to hear great songwriting. Really, the vibrations that come from that room are haunting, in a great way. It is a place where the music makes a difference and there is a transformation that comes from listening to a song in it’s purest form in a place like that.

Q. Is it interesting to go from a “Young Performers Night” to a night of veteran celebrity writers?

A. Yes it is a shift! Wisdom, craft and experience make for some incredible performances by the more seasoned writers.  You really feel like they are our troubadours. They have a voice that is truly their own. In watching the young songwriters, you get to see the “diamonds in the rough” and all that goes with the budding of new talent. Often, many of them are still finding their true voices and their own uniqueness.

Q. What are some of the special showcase moments that made you say, “There it is! That is what this is all about”?

A. Talent is so subjective… but then there are just those few rare artists that you simply have to watch, you have to listen. For me that was Jane Kelly Williams, Billy Porter (Tony Winner for Kinky Boots), Nellie McKay, Vanessa Carlton, Rob Mathes, The Story, Jesse Harris, Richard Julian…these artists always made me listen, I just couldn’t help it. There was something there that was so pure, you had to listen…

Q. Does your own personal success as a songwriter with songs on recordings that have sold over 33 million copies make it easier to attract top tier songwriters when you are assembling a roster that will fill the room?

A. It is easier certainly, since I have known some of these songwriters from cowrite sessions and from being a vocal coach, but also from being in the industry for so many years, my own success as a songwriter translated into greater access to hit songwriters for the Circle when we set up those pro nights.

Q. Why the focus on songwriting as a performance art? Why is performing songs by the songwriters valuable?

A. This is a great question! One that I really struggled with when trying to turn the Circle into a company back in 2006 with our famous songwriting contests. For me, seeing the “man behind the curtain” and the process of what goes into making a song out of thin air, was always the most fascinating part.

We songwriters tend to be cerebral, shy people…that is why most of us choose songwriting and then only performing on a safe stage. We take the time to think through our thoughts, emotions and spin a tapestry of words and music into a 3 minute song that capsulizes that.  To me that creative process is the great unknown, the greatest miracle.

Q. What would the late Ken Gorka think of how the NYSC has progressed in 25 years?

A. I was lucky enough to know that Ken was very very proud of my work. He told me so and when he passed last March, his wife and daughter came up to me and told me how much he respected my work with the songwriting community through the Circle. It meant a great deal to me.

Q. How should the Circle progress in the next 25 years? What should change or remain?

A. That is the million dollar question! For the most part, through all the years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of great content. That has always been the consistent factor.

What I would like to see, moving forward, is greater sponsorships so we can offer some form of scholarship support to some of the newer up and coming talent. Right now, the Circle hires a videographer, photographer, sound man and promoters and paying talented people their worth makes it difficult to invest in the future of our Circle and in the future of our writers. It would be great to see some sustainable growth.

We hope that investment will come from a community that wants to continue to have a rich and vibrant culture filled with the beauty of songs performed by the artists that created them!

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April 17, 2017 VOCAL Songwriter Showcase

April 17, 2017 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase


Last night a great group of songwriters performed at O’Tooles! Performers included Matt Manion, Justin Laughter, and Doug Patrick. Each singer/songwriter awed the crowd with their creative music and persona. I think it is safe to say that everyone left with a smile on their face, so let us give a big thank you to these three gentlemen for giving the crowd of O’Tooles a special treat!


First to perform was Matt Manion who played six songs for his showcase of original songs. Songs that were performed included: “Job Hunting Blues,” “Hotel By The Highway,” and the fabulous “Pamunkey River Canoe Ride.” Matt’s songs for the night provided a mix slow and fast paced tempos, but they all were enjoyed by the crowd! Also, Matt performed a song called “Thank You Chuck Berry,” which featured a fellow VOCAL artist John Ellis! This particular song sent Matt out with a bang, and left the crowd feeling joyful with its fast paced beat. Thank you Matt once again for a wonderful performance!


Second on the list of performers last night was Justin Laughter who treated the audience to six of his songs as well. Many of Justin’s song were about love and being there for those you may hold close to your heart. Some of his songs included: “Remain,” “Stitch,” and “Thanksgiving.” Justin’s songs left the crowd full of love, and eagerness to go back and tell the ones we love how much we appreciate them.


Doug Patrick was the third performer of the night, and gave the crowd ten songs to enjoy in the final minutes of the showcase! Some songs Doug has performed before in front of audiences at O’Tooles, but needless to say they are a treat for everyone no matter how many times they are played. Songs performed by Doug included: “Leave It Like We Found It,” “Special Place in Heaven,” “New Orleans Nights,” and “I’ll Hold You as Long as I Can.” Every one of Doug’s songs sought a different emotion from the crowd, but nothing hit at the heart string of the audience than his song “I’ll Hold You as Long as I Can.” This song was written for Doug’s grandkids, leaving them not only something to remember him by, but the lesson that love lives on even in death. We all have relatives that we hold dear to our hearts, and wish that we never had to let them go. However, one day we must, and in the words of Doug Patrick, “But ‘til that time comes around, ‘till they lay me down / I’ll hold you as long as I can.” Cherish the ones you love while you have them here, and never forget them when you don’t.


Once again this was another great showcase! Hopefully these lovely performers will be enticed to treat us with more of their original work again soon. Until that time comes stay tuned to the VOCAL website and blog for more information on the upcoming May showcase!

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James Linderman: Getting Out of the Four Chord Rut

Getting Out of the Four Chord Rut

by James Linderman

Many would consider a four chord song to be a song with one completely unnecessary chord in it, and it is true that there are many brilliant three chord songs.

Country songwriter, Harlan Howard famously stated that all he needed was “three chords and the truth” and my mother in law used to joke that she only knew how to play three chords and a thousand songs and that I seemed to know thousands of chords but only three songs.

It would be fair to say that there are definitely a lot of ways, both simple and complex, to decorate our songs with harmony and it is well worth our time to explore some options and detail some of the rules of the road when it comes to “chording up” our tunes.

One of the first determinations, when looking for the greatest number of chord options for our song, is to establish what key that song is in. Determining key is easier with the help of the following chart which lists the names of the keys in the left column, lists the number of sharp and flat notes featured in the key, in the right column, and displays the chords indigenous to that key in the rows between. When attempting to establish which key a particular song is in, there are lots of criteria that music theorists factor into the equation but in most cases we can simply state that, “majority rules”. In other words, whatever key most of the chords are in, is a pretty good key to work within.

View chord chart

If we determine that all (or at least most) of our chords are in the key of C, for instance, we can then add, remove, shift or replace any of the chords in our song with other chords from that same key. Although we are not guaranteed to like the result of every choice, we might find some chords that fit to our liking and some of those good choices will provide a foundation to work from, as we add chords to the other parts of the song.

As we continue to edit, we can then start to focus our chord selections by applying one of the many chord substitution techniques that are built right into the key system. A substitution technique that is fairly straightforward and easy to apply involves relative chords. The general concept of harmonic relation acknowledges that chords are considered similar to one another by having the most notes in common and therefore offer the greatest likelihood for success during substitution.

For instance, a “C” chord is a relative to “Am” due to the two notes they share in common (C & E) and therefore they can substitute for one another almost always and with very little, or perhaps even no adjustment to the melody. Likewise, a “Dm” chord is related to an “F” chord and an “Em” is related to a “G”, all within the key of C. Numerically, we can more broadly state that the 1 chord is related to the 6 chord, the 2 to the 4 chord and the 3 to the 5 chord in every key, which gives us a substitution platform that we can apply to any key we choose to write in.

A terrific way to test drive this concept of relative harmonic substitution is to take a song you have already written in the key of “C” (or any other key using the chart above) and swap out the relative major and minor chords. You would then listen and assess the effect of each of the alterations. This may not necessarily increase the number of chords in our song but it will definitely get you more used to hearing your song framed in a new chord system that might challenge your initial choices as well as challenge the general feel of the song as well. Think of this as the training camp of chord substitution.

As far as using relative substitution to increase our chord count, a great technique is to use the relative major and minor in each section that previously featured only one of the two chords. For instance, in a bar where we had previously been playing just a “C” chord, we would now try a split bar of “C” to “Am” and then also try “Am” to “C” and determine if either of those options is more likeable than the original chord choice.

I often teach the concept where we consider our songs initial chord progression to be an unchallenged plan “A” until we have tried replacing the chords with at least three other progressions (plan B, plan C, plan D) to determine if there is a better progression available, at least with the options from this primary substitution concept of related majors and minors in spits and/or swaps.

There are a few more ways to substitute harmony that are only slightly more complex than relative major/minor substitution that offer even more chord options and the goal is to rule in or rule out that the best progression for our song is the 4 chord box pattern that we often initially use to bring our songs into existence.

James Linderman teaches guitar and piano and coaches songwriting to students all over the world over Skype. He teaches songwriting for film and film composition at the Canada Film Centre and is an Academic Ambassador to Berklee College of Music. James writes songwriting articles for songwriting organizations all over the world and is the author of a new book Song Forms for Songwriters. To learn more about James visit his site at or contact him at

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March 20th Songwriter Showcase

Spring of 2017 VOCAL Songwriter Showcase

Monday March 20th, 2017

*This is the 308th consecutive show: A Showcase of Original Songs


Monday March 20th was not only a wonderful first day of spring, but a fantastic presentation of original songs from members of the VOCAL organization!

john-ellis-032017John Ellis, an avid member of the VOCAL group, was the nights “surprise opener.” He performed six of his original songs for the crowd of O’Tooles which included: “Blues #1,” “Five Black Kittens,” “The Stranger,” “I’ll Be There For You,” “Chimes,” and lastly “In My Place.” Two of these songs, “The Stranger” and “I’ll Be There For You,” he has performed for us at several previous showcases, but they are always a joy to hear! All of his songs tonight were performed using his electric guitar, and programming he had been experimenting with on his computer to enhance the songs’ potential. Various other instruments could be heard in the background, such as drums, bass, and chimes.  His first song “Blues #1,” an instrumental song, started off the night with a slow beginning, but then quickly picked up the pace giving the audience a taste of rock and roll qualities. Up next he performed “Five Black Kittens,” another instrumental piece was more upbeat from start to finish compared to “Blues #1.” For some it could put you back into the 1970s or 80s, cruising in your old Chevrolet with the windows down, and spending time with your friends. One could say this song would fit into the soundtrack of the film Dazed and Confused (For those who do not know of this movie you are really missing out)! For his fourth and fifth song he took us back to some of his older pieces, “The Stranger” and “I’ll Be There For You,” which left us all feeling a bit sentimental after the high tempo pieces early on in his set. Finally, for John’s last two songs he performed another instrumental known as “Chimes,” and “In My Place.” “Chimes” was a quick, fast paced song that left the audience in a rock and roll vibe as he quickly switched to his final song “In My Place.” “In My Place” ended the night literally with a heavy, enthusiastic, electric bang!

Carey-Colvin-Granger-Helvey-032017Shortly after John performed the main event for the night tuned up their instruments to perform a twelve song set! We cannot thank Carey Colvin and Granger Helvey enough for taking their time out of their lives to come, and give the diners at O’Tooles a little treat of music. Their twelve songs were performed by Carey on the guitar and Granger on the bass go as follows: “Gulf of Mexico,” “Ten Thousand Arrows,” “Fragile Hearts,” “Let It Flow”, “Don’t Let Life Go By,” “Refugee”, “Love Have Mercy,” “Satisfy Me,” “Ricochet,” “Tropic Skies,” and “Thin Line.” Their song “Gulf of Mexico” and “Tropic Skies” left the crowd begging for summer to approach faster than it already was! Talk of sand beneath our feet, and the sun smiling down on us only sent the audience into a dream like state, dreaming of warm weather and a nice ocean breeze. Several of their songs were a more deep and pulled emotions out of us that we may not have wanted every diner of O’Tooles to see! For example, the songs “Ten Thousand Arrows,” Fragile Hearts,” “The Refugee,” “Love Have Mercy,” and “Ricochet”. These songs made us think about love, loss, gaining love, winning back love, being secure about who were are as people, and dealing with the ups and downs of life. Other songs such as “Thin Line,” “Satisfy Me,” “Don’t Let Life Go By,” and “Let It Flow” were songs that may not have necessarily drawn a significant emotion out of us, but were extremely entertaining to listen to!

Stay tuned for a list of performers for next month’s April Showcase! Once again it will be held at O’Tooles in Richmond at 8:00 PM.


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2017 February Showcase

On Monday, February 20, 2017, the members of VOCAL got together for their monthly showcase to perform pieces of their work for the audience of O’Tooles. Performers included Anthony Dowd, John Ellis, Richard Hinman, Doug Patrick, Norman Roscher, and Gary Shaver. All the performers also wanted to send out a get-well wish to one of the founding members of the group, Matthew Costello who went into surgery the week before. Best wishes Matthew and get-well soon!

The songs tonight had a couple themes, and the biggest one being love – love between friends, love between family, and love with that special someone.

The fist performer of the night was Gary Shaver with his songs: “Between Her and You,” “Burn,” “All Things Pass.” His songs held the theme of love being complicated. His first song was a story of a person being caught between two lovers, and having to learn how to choose between them. Continuing with the theme of love Gary also sang about a lover that makes their way back into your life, and we all can relate to this in one way or another. Lastly, he performed one of Matthew’s songs as a tribute to him while being out for surgery.

Next up to perform was Richard Hinman who mesmerized us with his guitar pieces on love, but a different kind of love. His first song, “Lost,” taught us that sometimes we may be lost, but somewhere we find something to love within ourselves. After “Lost” he performed his “Reggae Song” that made you want to reach out and hug the person next to you. The beat was calm and peaceful, putting us all in a good mood as we approach the spring season. That song taught us to see the love in one another. Lastly, he played a song called “Crazy for You,” that represented the beat from the swing era, and made us all feel like we were in high school involved with young love.

Third to perform was Anthony Dowd who amazed us with his jazz influenced pieces. He played several songs over the course of the night; “Family Reunion,” “Little Hands,” “Waiting for You,” Sing me to Sleep,” and a potential theme song for Rachel Ray. All of his songs dealt with some aspect of love whether it be familial or with a significant other. Each song was played on the keyboard and moved us all throughout the night with his sweet melodies.

Fourth to perform was Doug Patrick who allowed us to enjoy his guitar works: “You Never Crossed My Mind,” “Rivertown,” and “Mist on the Water.”  His songs gave the crowd a reminder that we are all getting older every day, and we have to love ourselves, each other, where we have been, and even where we are going.

The next singer/songwriter to perform was John Ellis who played his songs on the guitar as well. His songs included: “Just What You’re Looking For”, “The Stranger,” and “I’ll Be There for You.” Each of his songs had a theme of being there for the ones you love, and moved the crowd with their lyrics.

Norman Roscher was the fifth and final performer of the night to wrap up the monthly showcase. His songs included: “Fat Alice,” “You’re Beautiful,” “Holiday,” “So Long Baby, Bye, Bye.” Many of Norman’s songs leave us laughing and carefree as we leave the show, and on Monday night Norman did not disappoint. All of his songs spoke of love, but the humor of love that each of us needs every now and then. Songs like “Fat Alice” and “So Long Baby, Bye, Bye” left us laughing and appreciating the love we all share for people who may be different from us, or in “So Long Baby, Bye, Bye” the love we do not share for those same people.

Come back out to O’Tooles on March 20th to see another lovely group of performers, and enjoy the great Richmond City atmosphere!

  • Jordan Ellis

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2017 January Showxase

VOCAL January 2017 Showcase.

First open mic of the year drew a small, but enthusiastic crowd of admirers for original singer/songwriter music, most of which, revolved around break ups with lovers. Host for the evening was Norman Roscher at the keyboard who was first to perform. “So Long Baby, So Long” was his way to to bid adieu to a relationship gone south. That was followed by “Pictures of Irene” a touching tribute to the late mother of a close friend.
Next up, John Ellis on electric guitar, kicked off his set with “Honestly” a brutal diatribe to a broken affair with the line “You can go to hell” prominent in the lyric. “I’ll Be There” offered support for a hurting friend, and
“You Never Said You Love Me” bemoaned the lack of commitment. Long time VOCAL member Gary Shaver took over on keys and launched into “One More Time” a song wishing he could love his departed partner once again,, Joined by Larry Lyles on violin, He next did “I Don’t Believe You Anymore” which refers to the words in a letter offering him a chance to “try, ( love) again”. Saul Black, a non VOCAL member, took over on guitar and offered up a rock song “Fade into The Fire” which made reference to disappearing emotions. “Criminal Cigarettes” paid homage to pot which left the singer “out of it. “Heavy Life” was followed by “Kiss” which was descriptive of what the singer wanted in a relationship. Gary and Larry encored with a song partially composed by his late father, “Hard To Say Goodbye” about leaving those things behind that mean so much to you. Trey Hall, a non VOCAL member, took over on guitar to do a three song set, “Trouble, Trouble” was an up-tempo tune, followed by “Piney Oaks” and “Old Time Romance” that featured advice given to him by his father about how to win the ladies and what to wear while doing it. To close out the evening Norm returned to perform his popular song “You and Me and Baby” which depicted a night-time fantasy of stars, dreams and moonlight.

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