The Song Journal

Miscellaneous news and writing by Bob Franke, mostly about songs as a portable art form, and the process of creating them and enabling them to do their work in the world.

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Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

from Bob Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fall/Winter songwriting workshop and Joan Sherman's "Getting the Gig" workshop in Peabody, MA

Due to popular demand, Joan Sherman and I are opening our living room in
Peabody, MA to two workshop series starting on Wednesday, November 9.
Joan will present her oft-requested class "Getting the Gig." Whether you
are looking to play gigs around your neighborhood or across the country,
the skills and knowledge required are the same. In her five-week
course, Joan will take you through defining and marketing yourself,
resources for finding venues, how to approach and work with presenters,
how to build relationships and, finally, how to land that contract.
Joan's "Getting the Gig" workshop will be held on Wednesday evenings,
Nov. 9, Nov. 16, Nov. 30, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14, beginning at 7:30 pm.

I will offer my "Songwriting from the Center" workshop on Thursday
evenings during the same period. The workshop begins with a lecture on
the many resources available to songwriters and continues with
individually crafted songwriting assignments designed to teach the
nuts-and-bolts issues of putting together effective and appealing songs.
The assignments will form the basis of new songs that will be shared in
a respectful and constructive group critique. I have been teaching this
workshop across the US and Canada for over 20 years; my job will be, as
it always has been, to create a safe environment in which songwriters
can grow and learn. "Songwriting from the Center" will occur on Nov. 10,
Nov. 17, Dec. 1, Dec. 8, and Dec. 15, beginning at 7:30 pm.

Cost for each series will be $200 payable at the first session. For
those opting to take both series, we will offer both for $300, a savings
of $100.

Those interested in taking advantage of this opportunity should email
Joan at We anticipate that these workshops will fill up
quickly, so take a look at your calendar and get in touch as soon as you

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why I didn't congratulate you

I like to think I've got an open mind and at least average hearing. When you walked on the stage to open for one of my favorite bands last night, I was ready to listen. But when I realized that, only 6 feet in front of you, I was only catching about 25% of your lyrics, I started to get annoyed. You're an adult, man. I've heard your name on the circuit. I write songs with meaning, and I suspect that you're trying to do that, too. The percentage went up to 75% by the end of the set, and that fact, plus the occasional interesting image and character, and the fact that you kept to the 25 minutes allotted to you, almost got me back on your side.

Almost, but not quite. There was a roomful of people there who had paid for tickets, and you were asking more energy from them than you were giving them. I know that engineers have been telling you for years they can fix it in the mix, and producers have been telling you that your lyrics can go up on the web. But all you had last night was the moment, and you blew that with me and with my wife. I suspect that you blew it with most of the audience as well, and they, like us, were open to listening to you.

Songs are such tiny artifacts that, in a well-written song, they need and use every word they've got. If you don't show respect each one of those words, how do you expect your audience to do more? Hard to do in a bar where folks have a variety of agendas, I know. But that's not where you were last night.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Waterbug Anthology 9

I've never been prouder of a song of mine than "My Next Drink", and the company Andrew Calhoun has surrounded it with on Waterbug Anthology 9 is astonishing to me, as it will be even to those of you who might think that any singer-songwriter album that doesn't suck is astonishing. A new Leslie Smith recording would alone be worth the miniscule price of admission, but this thing's got great songs by Geoff Bartley, Cosy Sheridan, Jonathan Byrd, Kate MacLeod, Annie Gallup, Lui Collins and other esteemed colleagues as well. Andrew is giving it away free with any CD ordered from his web site, or selling it for $5. You can hear "My Next Drink" streaming from my MySpace page.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Hanukkah

I managed to get this little video of "Sometimes A Little Light Can Be Enough" up on YouTube:

I actually got the words together two years ago and found a melody last year. Lost a little video recording I made at that point (somehow the file got corrupted), and was delighted to find this year that the melody had not deserted me (a good sign). The thing I love about this song at this point is that it has helped me re-connect with old friends. It's put together with love for my Jewish friends and family.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Stolen voices

I had a strange "It's A Wonderful Life" kind of experience this morning. I visited a local church; it being the feast of All Saints, there was a baptism, in this case of infant twin girls. I was glad to see the joy in the faces of parents and godparents, and gratified that the supply priest (the rector having been suddenly taken ill) preached eloquently on baptism and the meaning of the event. I was a bit taken aback by his reading the bishops' request to tone down the passing of the peace to eliminate the possible sharing of pathogens during this flu outbreak. I noticed that some heeded this warning and some, including the children in the pew just ahead of me, didn't. I responded in kind.

I was a stranger in this church. That is a relatively unusual experience for me, and it was instructive. I began to feel like Jimmy Stewart's character George, who is shown in the movie what his town would be like had he not lived in it. My ritual greetings were acknowledged sincerely, and I could see genuine warmth and support between various members of the congregation, but never got the feeling that any of it extended to me.

The thing that shocked me, though, was that nobody in the congregation sang. I may have caught a few tentative voices, but that was it, and my voice, tentative as it tends to be in the morning, was still more noticeable than any of them, to the point that I caught some folks' attention just by raising it. The other thing that shocked me was, my own voice was for a moment the only "Amen" heard in response to the baptism.

It was as if the voices of the congregation had been stolen. To be sure, the church was of the old fashioned kind, lots of stone or brick and the layout one that discourages participation or intimacy. Row on row of straight pews; I was in the front half of the church and still felt far from the sanctuary.

The organist was competent for the most part; there were supplemental hymnals with very simple hymns in the pews. But the congregation just did not sing. Even the choir seemed intimidated by the space. I began to wonder who had stolen all their voices.

"American Idol" came to mind, and the inner Simon Cowell and his legions of allies in the music business that tell people that their own songs and their own voices don't cut it. I recalled my experience at Harbor Sweets listening to my co-workers talk about that show, co-workers who just wouldn't imagine going to the wonderful open mic at the Pig's Eye pub just a few blocks away. The best music in the world arises out of communities, but communities are continually told that the real music is the stuff that's packaged and sold to them. That's idolatry indeed, and it pained me to think that in some Christian churches, where, if anywhere, people should be aware that their own voices are the ones that God wants to hear, it's idolatry that has made great headway. I was among people who are struggling and broken in various degrees, as I am struggling and broken, but who, unlike me, do not understand what a wonderful tool for healing and restoration singing together can be.

I went downstairs to the coffee hour and stood next to a couple of pillars, feeling more and more like Jimmy Stewart's character caught in a strange world. I escaped to my car and went home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When's the right time to leave?

I prepared this note for publication in the newsletter of my local church. Sometimes it takes time to figure out what love requires; I'm not saying that I've got it right yet, but I'm doing my best.

Dear Friends,
I'm looking forward to performing anthems on November 22 and December 6, and to taking part in the Epiphany and Good Friday cantatas next year, but I need to share with you all that after after much thought and prayer, I've submitted my resignation as Artist in Residence to the vestry.

I've spent a long time now with the great honor of serving the parish in this capacity. While I once had a direct connection to children's and youth ministries, my child is now 29 and a grad student in Michigan. I'm also afraid that I'm no longer "in residence" in the same way I once was: I read about the various church activities at St. Andrew's and wish I could plug into them on a casual basis, but the combination of distance, the time I need to stay afloat financially, and the fact that Joan and I are also members of another faith community (even if I'm happily a black sheep in a Jewish context) indicate to me that I should be looking for a parish closer to where we actually live. If and when I find such a congenial community, I can tell you from my heart that I will nonetheless dearly miss worshiping with my friends at St. Andrew's.

I want to do the right thing by this parish that has supported me so generously and faithfully in my creative life. You have many fine musicians and visual artists, and should understand that you have a free hand in allocating limited resources to them as makes the most sense to you. I don't think at this point that my claiming an artist in residence title is helpful in that process. I've hung on to it in our transition period just to take on the unaccustomed responsibility of someone providing continuity in chaos, but that transition period is over now, and Susan and the new staff are doing a fine job as far as I can tell. I hope that one of the positive effects of my resigning will be a lively and loving discussion in the parish of the role of the arts in its life and its proclamation of the Gospel.

My life as an artist is doing as well as it ever has; I have been and will be writing and performing with some regularity. Both Joan and I will be hooking up with a nationally active booking agency next month, she as its east coast associate, and myself as an artist on its roster. If this works out, it looks like I will be spending more and more time out of town, and more time working with other churches as well.

My 30 year tenure as Artist in Residence at St. Andrew's is something I will include on my resume with a great deal of pride and gratitude. It still seems remarkable to me, and it's been a source of great blessing in my life. The support that many of you have personally given to me during all this time I also will never forget, especially Janet's constant support as Music Director, the wonderfully skillful and professional support Amy and the choir have given to the Passion cantata, the extremely thoughtful support the Liturgical Arts Committee has offered me over the years, and the deeply satisfying and grounding fun that I have had singing in the choir. This just seems to me to be a good time to mark an ending that will enable new beginnings for us all.
Your loving brother in Christ,
Bob Franke

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A new song for church

I'm debuting this one tomorrow.

Strange Kingdom

by Bob Franke

©2009 Robert J. Franke

When James and John both asked for seats in heaven,

They must have thought that Heaven was like Rome,

We stumble here just like the first Eleven

and wonder as we travel to your home.

(chorus) It's a strange kingdom that you've left us in this world,

A love that's so much more than we deserve.

The journey to your glory leads us onward to your Cross,

Rejoicing as we suffer, and we serve.

We're baptized in your death and in your rising,

We've tasted of your cup, and of our tears,

The joy that fills our hearts is still surprising,

When we gather in your name we know you're here.

Though sorrow, sin and suffering still assail us,

Our daily bread is all the wealth we need,

Though princes fall, your love will never fail us,

And living in that love, we're blessed indeed.