Latest From Rory: When Rory’s in the Round

January 31st, 2010

When Rory’s in the Round

It’s snowing in Nashville today. One of those rare, dire forecasts of 3 to 5 inches seems to be coming true. For some unknown reason, I’ve been thinking about songwriter rounds and my experiences in them. Early on, I discovered that my fellow writers could sing and play in rounds much better than me. Performing out was hard for me and continues to be so today.

What’s so difficult for me? If I only had to sing, I’d be ok. If I only had to play the guitar, I’d be ok. No such luck in rounds. The trouble begins when I combine the two skills.

Generally what happens is the following: I’m playing all the right chords. I’m singing all the right words. At this point, my mind steps in and shouts, “hey Ror, you’re doin’ great, why don’t we…” Now I’ve lost it. My left hand attempts a cool lick, but it’s a train wreck. It doesn’t fit this song very well, and I’m trying desperately to recover.

Let’s leave me back in the round for a minute. Since I’ve written the majority of my songs with great writers, I realized that I needed to adequately learn these songs before playing them out. In 2000, I decided to take lessons from a a great guitar player and teacher, Gary Talley. Over the years, Gary taught me all the songs. That was a smart move, and I recommend lessons to anyone having similar trouble. Now every time I perform, I take a big blue book of lyrics and chords with me. It really does help. I also start practicing with intense fervor three weeks before a round.

Let’s go back to me in the round. I’ve made a mistake. It’s obvious, and I want to hide under my chair. But instead of continuing and hoping people won’t notice how uncomfortable I am, a guy inside me shines a big spotlight on what has just happened. I hear him say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, you deserve much better than this, and yes, you shouldn’t have to pay for this…But you already have, so with your kind permission I’ll begin again.” It’s clear that my right brain, which creates these songs, has without invitation stepped right in. And wait, what are the good people doing? They’re laughing at what my right brain has said. And then I feel good. Real good. The night presses on.

Through all this I’ve learned that rounds are entertainment. People come to hear songs, but they also come to be entertained. Most nights I return home feeling like I played a Rory role as part of a four-person team. I helped entertain all the people who came through the door that night.

If you’ve had similar experiences, I recommend practicing your songs. Go to a teacher if that’s right for you. But when you get in that round, let that part of you that created those songs run the show. You might be pleasantly surprised. Author’s note: I never censor that voice. It is in many ways my best friend.

Above all, keep writing. – Rory


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