Flaxen Tales

I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
Tracey Hammell, Brisbane, Australia

June 2018

Once upon a time, a little girl with golden curls sat cross-legged amongst the spring clover under two pine trees in front of the family home. The girl made up story tales and told them to an audience of bees contentedly buzzing to and fro the delicate white flowers. That little girl was me, my Flaxen Tales.

The scene reminds me of the girl with flaxen hair Leconte de Lisle wrote about in his poem later composed into Charles Debussy’s musical in the 1900s. A simple two and a half minute piece of tinkling piano keys drew her imagination to wander into some far off place in her dreams. Such is the power of music.

A Flaxen Tale

I reminisced when I Heart Songwriting Club prompted us to write a song to the theme Swings and Roundabouts. The idea was to bring ourselves out of our usual ‘grown up’ environment and recall the fun we had as kids. I thought back to a time when life was simpler. I always drew, painted, wrote stories, played music, and sang into a hairbrush!

There were escapades through bush tracks with my horse as the wind blew through our ponytails. The smell of baking wafted from the kitchen as my mother proudly set down a tray of cupcakes shaped like butterflies with sugar-coated wings for afternoon tea. I thought about building sandcastles in the sunshine, playing board games in the caravan during thundery summer lightning storms on our annual holidays to the beach. We felt so safe inside.

At school, I learned piano. Then, my Dad taught me to play a shiny red tortoiseshell accordion. Then, one day a new teacher arrived carrying a nylon-stringed guitar. It had a shoulder strap embroidered with red and green flowers. I was so transfixed when she played the gleaming wooden instrument that I immediately asked my Dad if I could learn to play. I have had a love affair with the guitar ever since.

Recently, with those images in mind.

I started writing longhand Flaxen Tales onto a paper notebook. That in itself was nostalgic. I thought about the journey I’ve taken that little girl on through life. She trusted me to guide her and has become the image of my inner child that I can still see and hear so clearly. At the end of the song, I wrote, “Sometimes I still think about my choices. Each decision takes me somewhere else or lets me stay.” Stay where? Well, in the moment. The moment that reminds me that even though I’m here now, my inner child is still with me, and I’m with her, wherever we go.

In songwriting, I have found the freedom to express all those things I might have wanted to say and didn’t, or couldn’t. Writing a song can be like saving little pieces of memorabilia. Bringing back magical feelings into something tangible and real that I get to relive repeatedly by describing how I felt at the time.

It can help to bring closure to things that have taught me lessons. To let go and move on. I can write about anything I see, hear, taste, taste, touch, and feel. Maybe I can still talk to my parents and sister, who have passed on. I’ll write words of passion, appreciation, comfort and encouragement to those closest to me.

My Flaxen Tales can say what I always wanted to say to past loves or find healing for a broken heart.

I can write about cherished pets. About bosses, jobs or teachers, or an article I’ve read. Perhaps something completely abstract. Above all, I can write about when I felt so elated that I wanted to preserve the feeling forever. The anticipation of trying to do something and learning that you can’t always get what you want; you get what you need! Time can’t do that because it marches on. Words and music can. Once created, a song lives forever.

I joined I Heart Songwriting Club because I felt that I had something to say after singing other people’s songs and had begun writing a few songs for myself. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my fledgling songs with people. Also, I knew this straight away because those songs were often conceptual or experimental, very personal or cathartic in and of themselves. Also, I found it easier to share that part of myself with strangers who did not know me. I could feel the freedom to be whatever I wanted to be without expectations.

I remember once meeting a very successful songwriter who said to me, “Write what you know.

Open up and let people see you. Tell your stories, listen to their stories, find shared experiences to identify with. Connect. That’s what it’s about.” Sometimes I feel stumped by the weekly theme, and I remember her words. We were given a theme a short while ago, and nothing was inspiring me. So I walked to the local farmer’s market in a state of procrastination and watched an older man with a rusty stringed red guitar and croaky voice busking under the trees.

I listened to him; listened. I watched the sincere joy on his craggy bearded face as he did what he loved. He turned to me at the end of his set and said, “Child, you’ve just got to play.” That was it. I walked home and picked up my guitar, and just played. I wrote a song about going to the market and what I saw, thought and felt as I watched and listened to him.

My song was really about my own internal riot wrangling with the theme and turning it into something that had meaning. My group loved it and commented on how they could envision the whole scene at the market. When I let resistance go and just wrote, the song came forth with ease. It may not be a song I would perform as is.

I may return to it and reshape it or re-write some of the lyrics, just keep working on it in the background, or not.

The magic is in having a collection of Flaxen Tales that are like little ‘strawmen’ and I flesh out at any time.

The club is just as much about the friendships I have made with songwriters from all over the world who are daring to show their vulnerability. They dig deep for self-expression and story-telling. Some members have been in every group with me since I started. Each term, there are often new people that add different points of view and inspiration.

We all have in common that we are here to support each other. Each of us has different skills we have been able to help one another with. Some people are combining their Flaxen Tales with working on their vocal skills, musicianship, learning sound recording, releasing an album or trying new styles they aren’t ready to roll out in public.

Some songs have been sung into a phone in the bathroom for the ‘acoustics’ and some have been recorded on high-quality production equipment. Writing a song in one hour every week is a guide. We all make of it what we want to.

Initially, it was a new feeling for me to provide an opinion on styles of songs I might not normally listen to or play, and to feel more or less accomplished than people of different levels of musicianship and songwriting, and I sometimes questioned myself.

Now after months of seeing how differently people in the group respond to each song I don’t think about that anymore. I have learned not to compare. I just tell it how it is for me and as we do that for each other it makes for a great cross-section of views that helps us all.

Meaning can be expressed through words, an arrangement, a progression, emphasising a chord or even a sustained note!

Sometimes no music is necessary. An acapella version pulls the focus to the message in the lyrics in their nakedness. This allows the other members to suggest arrangements. Sometimes what I hear in my own songs is completely different to what others hear and when my inner critic is judgemental they always find something beautiful in what I’ve created to raise me out of self-doubt and encourage me on my path. We have created a safe space and welcome honesty as peers.

I am always fascinated by how groups of people in the club can receive a one-word prompt and come up with so many different ways of drawing on that theme as an idea for a song. That in itself is gold as it expands the mind.

It is also a reminder that we all experience things very differently and learning to stand in someone else’s shoes and appreciate what they see, hear and feel is a valuable lesson to learn in life. Pablo Picasso once said, ‘Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.’ I feel like songwriting is a bit like that.

So often these days we hear terms like ‘self-love’ and ‘never lose the spontaneity of a child.’ Yet many of us wonder just how we are meant to do this? One way is to take an hour in the week and just write. The theme is always strong enough to get me thinking and loose enough to unhitch me from constraints.

What has unfolded for me is that Flaxen Tales (songs) can’t be forced out, they flow out.

Songwriting is about tapping into the senses to express something that longs to be said. In that mindset, the song often tells me what needs to be written. The weekly theme gives me somewhere to start, other than a blank sheet of paper staring back at me. Each week I know that no matter what else has happened, writing a song with the club and giving and receiving the gift of attention to each other’s songs means I will have achieved something I care about! And that’s a wonderful feeling that fills me up!

And so the child with golden curls is happy that I am still telling stories to the bees. She smiles at me, and I smile back.

By |2022-04-13T08:35:38+10:00June 14th, 2018|0 Comments

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