Jenny Bienemann: It sure looks easier than it is.

It sure looks easier than it is.

Teaching, that is.

I say this with the certitude only someone who has taught a mere four classes over two days, can say. And, I was co-teaching! Robin Bienemann and I did it together.

You may remember I sometimes teach in-person songwriting classes and workshops at The Old Town School of Folk Music. In addition to that, every so often Robin or I will get an invitation to teach a songwriting class for the next generation, meaning, students in an actual high school or college classroom. Last week was one of those weeks.

It would be our first time teaching on Zoom. Each 50-minute session of our class would be for a different group of 20-30 HS students. We would teach two classes on Thursday, and two classes on Friday.

Songwriting is a sacred thing, yet also absolutely ordinary once you get the hang of it. We wanted to do it right by all of it: the kids, the teacher who brought us in, and songwriting itself.

We quickly encountered a number of figurative and literal “boxes." Only 50 minutes?? for SONGWRITING? And how do you reach into the hearts and minds of 30 kids via Zoom?!? Rut roh! It sure looked easier than it was turning out to be.

It was relatively mild in January through the middle part of February, so we could walk. Walks are great for getting the ideas together. If you are familiar with the area, we could walk from our part of South Oak Park over to the Buzz Café, see our musician friend Jake who works there in mornings, and admire the almond croissants in the refrigerated case.

We’d walk. And talk. And compare and contrast. And talk some more. And almost misunderstand each other. Then definitely misunderstand each other. And then misinterpret each other. Collaborating is not always wine and roses, you know? Even if it is more often than not, you gotta get through the times when it’s not. You probably know that already.

We did too. That’s why, somehow we kept coming back to center, talking some more, and, not talking. Wonderful stuff dwells in the silences, and you want to scoop that up too. After not talking, coming back together is like drinking a long, cool, satisfying glass of water.

We came up with a plan. Loosely, it was about generating ideas, deciding on a direction that might well change in the process of the song coming to life, and then bringing the song to life. I really wanted there to be one word of three letters that could serve as a shorthand for the process.

Robin brought forward the perfect word: GIG.

Gather ideas, identify, and grow the song. We wrote a script and worked it through a couple of times, but there were enough variables that we didn’t have the handout pulled together until the Tuesday night before the Thursday of the first class. And of course, our regular graphic designer was not available.

So I turned to UpWork. I drew the handout and collaborated with two people I had never even met before, one in Canada and one in Romania, to colorize it. Because we needed it by 5:00 pm CST that day, I hired both of them, hoping at least one of them would deliver something more usable than what I had drawn with my black Pilot G-2 pen on shiny printer paper.

We went with the one at the top for our class. The other one is at the bottom.

As a postscript: as much as you can tell anything from Zoom, the classes went great. What we know for sure, is that the kids asked great questions. They were gracious and at least appeared to be interested and mildly entertained by two mid-size, white American make and model singer-songwriters and what they had to say about songwriting.

That can only happen because some incredibly patient and dedicated teachers have been on Zoom with them for the better part of a year, helping kids get to a place actually learn something new in a meaningful way, remotely.

Our hats are off to you, educators! You sure make it look easier than it is.

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