Tag Archives: songwriting

One Tuba in a Sea of Guitars: DSE California 2011

Just returned last week from attending the Durango Songwriter’s Expo in Santa Ynez Valley, California (just N of Santa Barbara). At this expo, 150-200 songwriters gather together to mingle with each other, network with industry professionals and get direct feedback on material, write more songs, jam endlessly into the wee hours, and perform in front of the group if chosen for a showcase slot.

The DSE is held twice annually, once in California during February and again outside of Denver in October. This was the fourth in a row that Melissa Axel and I have attended, and it was the best one yet.

What exactly does a tuba player do at a songwriter’s expo? Well, play tuba, of course!

Apart from playing the kick-off party open mic the night before the expo began, Melissa was also chosen for a showcase performance during the opening night festivities. We played her song “The Worth Of Things,” which went over quite well—happy to have had the opportunity! It’s always an interesting experience for me when I play into a mic, but the sound in the room was great. (For lack of a piano, she was relegated to playing on a weighted keyboard. If only they’d move the lobby piano into the hall and onto the stage!)

The second night, singer-songwriter Andy Ard asked fellow musician Tage Plantell and me to sit in for his showcase performance, and the three of us had a hoot playing Andy’s “Here Comes Another Good Time” to the audience. He’s also asked me to play on this song when he records it later this year.


After the showcases there’s an open mic which we’d wander in and out of. In addition, there were plenty of impromptu jams in the resort lobby, as well as packed song circles in crowded hotel rooms. The advantage to being the only tuba player at an expo overrun by guitarist singer/songwriters is that they are usually more than happy to have a tubist sit in and play with them. (Special props to Ron Gozzo who brought out his sax!)


Ultimately, the driving force of the expo is the listening session: basically, twenty or so songwriters sit in a room, each plays a demo or finished recording of a song for a couple of industry professionals, and everyone takes note of their feedback and suggestions (pictured below). Pros come in all shapes and sizes, but many of them are music supervisors, label execs, successful hit songwriters, publishers, and management. This time, we were sharing nearly completed recordings from Melissa Axel’s debut album, and it was exciting to see a lot of these folks really impressed with the songs. There are also panel discussions on various music industry topics, and we attended the ones on Film & TV Placement (pictured below) and DIY.


Overall, we had a great time seeing old friends and making new ones. Can’t wait for the next one this October!



Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz

Tuba music is just getting too darn complicated.


Of course it’s just a gag—a piece of fun. Truthfully, I think our producer keeps this framed piece of music right by the recording booth just so nervous performers have something more intimidating to look at other than the microphone dangling in front of them. I think my favorite bit is where it reads, “remove valve.”

Speaking of the recording booth, today was another wonderful studio day, during which I did something unheard of for your average tuba player: I sang.

That’s right, I sang!

I sang background harmonies on the song “Every Place Is Home,” which I co-wrote with Melissa Axel and Irish songwriter Andy White (co-writer of Peter Gabriel’s “Whole Thing” and other fantastic music). Since the song has no tuba part, I knew I had to participate in some other way.

We also finished recording background vocals from the super talented Ayo Awosika, who is an incredible songwriter in her own right. We’re very blessed to have her working on this project!

Finally, Melissa sang final vocals on the quirky tune “Merry-Go-Round” that I referenced yesterday (piano, vocals, tuba, harmonium, and glockenspiel), which means just a few tiny details to add in tomorrow morning, and this baby will be ready to mix!

Until then, keep practicing “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz,” and let me know when you have it down.

A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.

Recently, my sweetheart and I have been on a Disney kick.

Mostly we’ve been visiting the glory days of Walt’s time with films like the original Fantasia, Saludos Amigos, Fun & Fancy Free, Bambi, Melody Time, Mary Poppins, and The Three Caballeros. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the DVD special features, which have all contained a healthy measure of behind-the-scenes materials to fill in the real spirit of the era, living vicariously through the one of the most fertile creative times in film history.

It pains me that I missed all of it.

Walt was gone nearly a decade by the time I hit the world stage, and sure I’ve enjoyed the fruits of those labors since my childhood, but it’s only now that I’m fully appreciating the depth of his accomplishments and what it must have been like to grow up during—or better yet, grow with—the golden age of Disney.

Two recently released documentaries highlight the heyday of the Walt Disney company, and in the past week we have watched them both.

Walt & El Grupo travels with Walt and team as they head to South America on the U.S. dime as part of an outreach goodwill tour during World War II (and just prior to the U.S. entry into the war). The time they spent observing art and culture in countries like Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and others informed much of what they released in the 1940s, but most particularly Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.


Flashing ahead twenty years, The Boys chronicles the history of the beloved Sherman brothers, the songwriting team behind so many of Disney’s most beloved songs and films: all of Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, and songs like “It’s A Small World,” and “(There’s A) Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” to name just a few. Their songwriting genius, fueled by Walt’s inspiration and encouragement—and filtered through a dysfunctional brotherly relationship, practically defined the Disney experience for all generations to follow.


The one thing both films have in common is that they effortlessly validate every myth I’ve ever heard about the magical Walt Disney himself. There is little or no direct footage or interviewing with Walt.  Instead, he is defined through the eyes of people who worked alongside him or had their lives irrevocably enhanced by whatever chance meetings they had with him.

They speak with utter admiration. They speak with love. They speak with wonder.

There’s no doubt Walt was a savvy businessman—direct when he had to be and hawkish when he needed to be, but his love of art, music, and all creativity was boundless. He was genuinely filled with puckish glee and fed by imaginative ideas; and he built and surrounded himself with a culture that cherished and rewarded all of these things—rare back then, rarer today.

This foray into Disney history has been incredibly inspiring and has driven home the point that I am limited only by my imagination. Truly, everything is possible. For all of us.

We can be more supportive. We can be more encouraging. We can take the time to value more than just our balance statements, our portfolios, our bottom line, our ability to pay the bills. We can change the course of things, with even a single song.

After all, for Walt, it all began with a mouse …