The Power of Song: Q&A with Johnsmith

For the past thirty-plus years, Johnsmith has been sharing his music all across America and abroad. He has become a favorite at festivals, clubs, and house concerts alike. In addition to being a Kerrville New Folk Winner, Johnsmith has released seven solo albums to rave reviews, leads musical tours to Ireland, teaches songwriting, and has served as a staff songwriter in Nashville.

Fresh off teaching at SummerSongs West last June and at David Roth’s Cape Cod Songwriting Retreat in January, John will be teaching two classes at SummerSongs East, July 23-29: one on performance, called “Singing Through the Fear,” and one on songwriting, called “What’s in Your Songwriting Toolbox” —which explores everything in the songwriting craft from rhyme schemes and storytelling; 1st, 2nd, 3rd person narrators; telling our truth; and using metaphor. Here’s what he had to say about his classes, the power of songwriting retreats and what he loves about teaching:

Q: Why should someone consider taking a performance class? Isn’t that something that just comes “naturally”? Can you discuss what folks will learn in your performance class that will serve them well in their singer-songwriter efforts going forward?

A: That’s a good question. Unfortunately, most people are very afraid of getting up in front of an audience. It’s said it’s one of man’s biggest fears. And it’s even more scary to sing in front of a crowd. So the fear is actually natural and I try to help students find ways to manage the fear and stress while on stage. There are several tricks I’ve learned to help get through the fear and be able to give your song. A pre-show routine can help one stay in their body instead of all up in our head where the fear lives. This class will actually give students a chance to get some positive coaching on their own performance.

Q: What is the power of a song prompt? Why can that be a great way to get going with your songwriting?

I think song prompts can be very effective because sometimes all we need is a little nudge. Someone to tell us, ‘heh, write a song about ….’ . There is something energetic about having an assignment to go start a song and bring back your start the next class meeting. I try to give prompts that will trigger some ‘juice’ for the writer. Something that might be cooking under the surface just waiting to be expressed. Or sometimes a prompt can take us out of our usual mindset and topics we usually write about. Students are only asked to bring a song start, even just a verse, or a chorus, or a melody and share it with the class circle. But it’s very common for many to bring a full first draft.


Q: Why do you think a songwriting retreat such as SummerSongs can be so powerful for students? What would you say to someone on the fence about going?

A: I think that creativity is a natural part of being human. When we gather at a place like SummerSongs and see each other being creative it re-affirms and sparks that artists inside. It’s contagious. We all have an inner voice that longs to express it’s truth and gathering with other like minded people is in our DNA. Plus it’s way fun.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching at retreats such as SummerSongs?

A: I so much believe in the power of song to make this world a richer place. Any way I can help facilitate more songs of truth and heart in this world makes me feel full and grateful.

SummerSongs, founded by singer-songwriter Penny Nichols in 1999, offers seasonal songwriting camps (summer and winter) for adults on both the East and West coasts of the United States. The songwriting camps take place in the Hudson River Valley 30 miles north of New York City; and on the beautiful California Central Coast, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Both locations are perfect havens for songwriting and creative inspiration.

Join us for our 2017 summer retreats:
SummerSongs West: June 1-5, Camp Ocean Pines, Cambria, CA
SummerSongs East: July 23-29, Stony Point Center, Stony Point, NY

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