The Singer Songwriter Affect

I recently attended a house concert hosted by a friend of mine.  One of the performers was a singer songwriter named Brooke Campbell whose songs worked so well in that kind of intimate setting. Definitely check her out at

But I realized something about her music and about singer-songwriters while I was listening to her: she was sharing something about herself with us.  That is why singer-songwriters and folk musicians are so popular.  Each of their songs says something about the musician, each song shares a different part of that person’s soul.

Part of this is because the songs literally say something.  Because there is voice involved, they can tell a very concrete story or bring the complexities of poetry into the mix.

Which of course made me think about how I, as a classical musician, can create a similar affect.  How can we make the music of long-dead composers say something relevant to the current situation?  How can we make something written by someone else say something about us personally? How can instrumental music share a part of someone’s soul?

I’m afraid I don’t have many answers to these questions.  What I can say is that we can, at the very least, chase this idea and the very act of chasing it may be enough.

I remember reading that the famous cellist Rostropovich felt personal meaning behind each piece he performed, even Lutoslawski’s cello concerto which the composer insisted was non-programmatic. Musicians and teachers throughout history have come up with stories to connect with music so that it has meaning.

Every musical performance should have some kind of personal meaning behind it. Whether or not it conforms to the composer’s intentions is mostly unimportant (albeit not entirely unimportant).  Whether or not it translates that way to the audience is a different matter that I can’t quite put my finger on.

However, I do know that I have certainly seen music performances that made me feel as though I was watching a singer-songwriter and I certainly am trying to chase that same affect.


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