The Songbook: Party in the USA

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Music Therapy

Song #4 for the songbook (after a long back) hearkens back to a simpler time when Miley Cyrus wasn’t crazy:


It’s very popular to hate on Miley these days (and for good reason), but I will freely admit that I like this song.  It’s more because of the message than anything to do with the singer herself.  It’s a story of a girl from Tennessee that has come to Los Angeles for the first time to be a big star.  We’re probably meant to think it’s autobiographical since that was basically the plot of Hannah Montana.  But we don’t find out if this girl makes it, we simply get to hear what happens when she hears her favorite music:

So I put my hands up, they’re playin’ my song, the butterflies fly away
I’m noddin’ my head like “Yeah!”, movin’ my hips like “Yeah!”
Got my hands up, they’re playin’ my song, I know it’s gonna be okay
Yeeeeeaaaaah, It’s a party in the USA!

This speaks to the “music as a universal language” we talk about in music therapy, and it’s one of our core principles.  Music can make us more comfortable in challenging situations.  If we’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s comforting to know that they listen to the same music.

The song itself is fairly easy to play.  Most of it is in a I-iii-vi-V pattern, which I play F-Am-Dm-C.  I know a lot of people hate that F chord (I’m one of them), but just nod your head like yeah and it will be OK.




Song #3 for The Songbook is Sunshine on my Shoulders, a 1971 song by John Denver.

I have to say that this particular song is at least in my top five favorites of all-time, if not in one of the top spots.  It’s just so beautiful…the imagery created by the words, and Denver’s voice just make this song heart meltingly wonderful.  But that’s my opinion.  Let’s be objective here.

When doing lyric analysis on this song with some clients, I’ve asked if they think it’s a happy or a sad song.  Sometimes they’ll say happy, sometimes sad.  I can see where everyone is coming from – it has a bittersweet quality that Denver was so good at.  But oftentimes, it’s the line “Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry” that convinces people it’s a sad song, even though the first line is “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.”  Sometimes it’s hard to understand how you can have conflicting expressions of emotion.  From an early age, we’re taught that we smile when we’re happy, and we cry when we’re sad.  But sometimes we can cry when we’re happy as well.

I remember when I figured this out for the first time.  I went to go see ET in the movie theater as a kid.  This is the first time I remember seeing a movie in an actual theater.  Anyway (spoilers for ET ahead), there’s a scene where ET has seemingly died.  I remember weeping because I was so sad.  Then, ET started talking and moving and acting silly, and I was laughing, but I was still crying.  And it hit me…I could be happy and still be so filled with emotion that it needed to leak out my eyes.

I like this YouTube clip because of the interview John Denver is giving right before the song (and not so much the saxophone solo).  He mentions that the “out-of-doors” was always a great inspiration for him, because it’s a shared human experience and something we can all relate to.  And I think that keys right into why Sunshine speaks to me.  I don’t necessarily like sunshine (I burn), but I do like being outside and enjoying the wonder of creation.

The song, too, is about wanting to share a feeling of happiness:

If I had a day that I could give you
I’d give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I’d sing a song to make you feel this way

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I’d tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I’d make a wish for sunshine all the while

In music therapy, I think this song can be a great starting place for a discussion about emotional expression, particularly things that make us happy.  Lyric analysis can be used to dig in to why you would want to share your feelings with others – good and bad.  The chord structure is fairly simple, so a group could be brought together to play together on various tone instruments easily, and it’s slow enough with a consistent chorus that it can be a singing exercise as well.

Thanks for reading!  Hope you have a sunshiney day!

Song #2 in The Songbook is What I Like About You, a song from 1980 by the band The Romantics:

This has all the hallmarks of a hit.  It’s catchy, it’s easy to sing along with, and it’s easy to play – three chords are all you have to know (the song is written in F, but for those of use who don’t like to use barre chords, you can just repeat E-A-D-A over and over and over).  The lyrics aren’t terribly deep – it’s a guy talking about what he likes about a girl.  The brilliance of the song comes in its energy, which is really quite contagious.

I hadn’t thought about this song in a while until my work instituted a What I Like About You wall – people were encourage to write something positive about someone and stick it up on the wall.  They even got me to track down the song so they could play it over the PA when announcing it.  So, it came back into my consciousness, and for the last week, I’ve been using it as a songwriting activity.  Specifically, we’ve been rewriting the lyrics to What I Like About Spring (the weather is finally getting warmer here in Northwest Indiana, and the flowers are starting to pop out all over).  Here’s a sample of what the clients have come up with –

What I like about spring, the grass is green
The flowers are blooming, the birds are all chirping

What I like about spring, the birds and the bees
Butterflies everywhere, in the flowers and the trees

What I like about spring, you get to be outside
Looking at the flowers, the lilies and the dandelions

What I like about spring, you get to go to the pool
Easter’s here, and you get spring break from school

And I’ve been using the same chorus with everyone:

Keeps getting warmer everyday, summer’s not too far away
So I’ll sing, that’s what I like about spring

I’ve been recording the verses on GarageBand into one giant song, and this coming week, I’m hoping to get the clients to add in some instrumentation – drum beats, keyboard effects, etc.  The creative process has been good so far – the clients have enjoyed getting involved in the creation with others they aren’t in session with.  It’s creating a kind of community without even being around each other.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading!

I’m going to try something new on this blog.  You may have noticed that YouTube Friday has been all I’ve posting for a while, and that has been pretty spotty recently too.  Well, I’m going to retire YTF for now, and I’m going to start this series called “The Songbook”.  I’m going to try to do one of these each week, hopefully on Monday.  The idea is that I’m going to dig out a song from my songbook (currently at 260 songs and growing all the time), talk about the lyrics, and try to find some practical applications for music therapy.  The first selection is Paul Simon’s 1986 song “You Can Call Me Al.”

A man walks down the street, he says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle, the rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo opportunity, I need a shot at redemption
Don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard…

A man walks down the street, he says why am I short of attention
Got a short little span of attention, and whoa, my nights are so long
Where’s my wife and family?  What if I die here?
Who’ll be my role model now that my role model is gone, gone…

The song starts out with a kind of joke.  “A man walks down the street…” is based on “A man walks into a bar…”  But despite the silliness of the video and the relative absurdity of the chorus, it’s not really funny.  The guy is complaining in both of the first two verses about how tough his life is, and is really kind of self-absorbed with himself.  In the first verse, you get a sense of ambition, wanting to do something to improve his situation, while the second verse demonstrates a little more depression as things aren’t turning out how he wants them to.  But then we get to the third verse:

A man walks down the street, it’s a street in a strange word
Maybe it’s the third world, maybe it’s his first time around
Doesn’t speak the language, he holds no currency
He is a foreign man, he is surrounded by the sound, sound
Of cattle in the marketplace, scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around, around, sees angels in the architecture
Spinning to infinity, he says Amen and Hallelujah

In the third verse, the man looks outside of himself and is able to see how people who are much worse off than he can survive.  Maybe it’s faith, maybe it’s community, maybe it’s something else.  But the man comes to a realization that life isn’t so bad.

(I should mention at this point that all of these interpretations are my own, and may be completely off from what Paul Simon intended.  However, that’s the beauty of music – it can mean something different to everyone.)

You Can Call Me Al is a great song for my songbook because it’s very simple musically – just three chords throughout (I-V-V-IV, IV-V-V-I).  This makes it easy to arrange for Orff instruments.  You can also add some African drumming as this came from the Graceland album, where Simon was very influenced by African music.  Lyrically, there are some good points of discussion as people look at the good things they have, even when times seem rough.  And, if nothing else, you can always do the dance.

Thanks for reading!

Another one from the Piano Guys.  Pretty cool.

It must take a lot of coordination to do this.

YouTube Monday: Harlem Shake

Posted: March 11, 2013 in YouTube Friday

On Friday, I posted some Harlem Shake videos.  I’ve been kind of fascinated with this meme lately.  It’s a fast 30-second video of people acting silly, and it’s caught like wildfire.  So, naturally, it was time to get involved.  With the adult day services program at work, we put together several of our own Harlem Shake videos.  It was a really good chance for them to get creative, and they had a great time doing it.  So, I wanted to share with you.

YouTube Friday: Harlem Shake

Posted: March 8, 2013 in Music Therapy

If you are unfamiliar with the Harlem Shake meme that’s been blowing up on the internet lately, here are a few to get you acquainted.

YouTube Friday: Drum-Off

Posted: March 1, 2013 in YouTube Friday

This is fun.

OK, so he’s no Susan Boyle, but I thought this was funny.  Combining two of the biggest movies of last year into one showstopper: