2020 SyberSongs Instructors & Classes


2020 SyberSongs Classes and Teachers


Blues Singing for Non-Blues Singers

I’ll be outlining familiar techniques we use to communicate emotion in speech every day, and applying them to the delivery of a song (we’ll also have a good look at the difference between being a performer and being an audience member and examine the dynamics of occupying the archetypal space at the front of any group, however formal or informal). There is alchemy to this. I’ll be singing lines in different ways to demonstrate some of these techniques, so that you can feel the impact when they are there (and when they are not).  If there’s time in our hour I’ll invite a volunteer or two to sing and interact with me as a coach on these techniques. If this happens, I enforce strict privacy. The voice is the most intimate part of your musical anatomy, and to do this work, one has to feel safe.  Class Rules: 1) no recording of any kind; 2) I am the only one who will interact with a singer on their singing – no one else is to comment on another singer’s work or experience – in or out of class;  3) As a student, you may respond to me, to my singing, presenting, and my ideas and speak about your own personal experience and my teaching. For feedback on your singing, you may ask someone in private, but if you aren’t asked for your opinion, you may not give it. These rules are designed to allow singers to be vulnerable, to try things they’ve never tried before, and they work. Come play with me. Private consultations via Skype are always available through https://CattailMusic.com

Arranging Songs for Solo Guitar

I’ll be introducing and demonstrating the skills and strategies one learns from the old blues heads about playing effectively as a solo guitarist. We’ll examine particular keys and chord shapes, and altered tunings, that are widely used in solo blues accompaniments, and I’ll provide a roadmap for developing solid and interesting accompaniments that will ideally be musically stronger and – once mastered – easier!  There will be references to PDF documents that can be printed out from my website.

A Phi Beta Kappa and honors graduate of Washington & Lee University, Ainslie came of age during the Civil Rights era and cultivated a powerful affinity for cross-cultural exchange. He has studied with elder musicians on both sides of the color line – in the Old-Time Southern Appalachian fiddle and banjo traditions, as well as Black Gospel and Blues. He plays this music with affection, authority, and power. Armed with a variety of instruments – vintage guitars, a fretless gourd banjo, a one-string, homemade diddley bow (aka cigar box guitar) and carefully chosen historical personal anecdotes of his encounters with senior musicians across the South – Ainslie brings the history, roots music, and sounds of America alive.  On stage, in educational teaching concerts, workshops, and school residencies, Ainslie explores the African and European roots of American music and culture. His easy, conversational way with audiences and cross-disciplinary approach to the music consistently garners rave reviews from presenters, audiences, students, and teachers, alike. He is a masterful and thoughtful historian, storyteller, and musician.


Music Theory for Songwriters (offered Saturday and Sunday)

Music theory can be daunting to some, and thrilling to others. With a focus on songwriting, we can demystify what daunts, and dive into why it can be a joyous adjunct for musical composition. It is a powerful tool and used wisely, can help us visit new territory, and sometimes get us out of a jam when we feel stuck. It can also assist in writing charts, for those who want to record their songs with other musicians. During each of these hour-long classes, I’ll play one or two of my own compositions, and discuss how music theory helped me navigate the landscape, the possibilities, and how to reach the destination. It’s one of my very favorite things to do!

Few voices have the power to cut to the bone like Pam Rose’s. Layer that over her profound songwriting gift and her consummate musicianship on an assortment of instruments, and you begin to get a glimpse of a real artist. With longtime writing partner Mary Ann Kennedy, Rose has been nominated for two GRAMMY Awards and has won praise for her powerful alliance with Mary Ann as the acclaimed duo Kennedy Rose. The twosome won the ear of rock star Sting and recorded two CDs for his private label Pangaea Records, a label he founded for “uncategorizable music.” As an added treat, they were asked to open for him on one of his World Tours. As special guests of Emmylou Harris, Kennedy Rose also performed twice for President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, and later at the Nobel Peace Prize Presentation in Oslo, Norway. As a solo artist, she has recorded CDs, “Morpheus,” “Fly” and most recently “The Temple Sessions.” Since 2006, she has enjoyed a vibrant life of touring, rejoining Mary Ann Kennedy and touring as an acoustic trio with Emmylou Harris in North America and Europe, and traveling the world as a solo artist with Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel.  


Writing Your Song (In 8 Lines or Less)

You may ask yourself, thinking about writing a song “who am I fooling?” And I would say to you – that’s such a great first line!  Now all you need is seven more. Simplicity, brevity, and repetition are hallmarks of most of the great songs in the modern era. In this class, we will briefly outline great songs like “My Girl” and “Here Comes the Sun” which illustrate this approach. Then each day we will do one or two in-class writing exercises designed to help jumpstart your writing process. Something happens when you sing a word – it can amplify, deepen, or even change its meaning. It’s that unexplainable alchemy that made us fall in love with music. And so we start with a handful of words, dump them into a bag of notes, and pull out a song. If it seems mysterious and impossible that’s because it is. If it seems healing and cathartic, well then that’s cause it is. It’s a miracle.

The Writing of “$20 Dollar Bill

In this class, Tom will take us through his process of transforming George Floyd’s story and the times we live in into a new song that has already had more than 200 artists cover it.  If you ever wondered about the power of song, there is insight be to gained by spending an hour here.

Tom Prasada-Rao is a musician’s musician — an unassuming presence on the folk scene since the early nineties. His voice belies his musicianship and his extraordinary songs. From Rishi’s Garden with its homage to Ravi Shankar to the groove of Sleeping Beauty, Tom’s music is melodic, ambitious, and reverent. He’s starting to tour again after being featured on the nationally syndicated TV show Troubadour Texas. 

In the fall of 2007, Tom quit the road to produce records and raise a family. He also took a job teaching music at White Rock Montessori in Dallas – TPR was formerly the songwriting teacher at The University of Virginia’s Young Writer’s Workshops – where he created the songwriting curriculum and taught for eight years.

From headlining major festivals 15 years ago to the relative obscurity of a recording studio – Tom continued to mature as an artist. That work blossomed into an impressive resume of producing credits as well as cuts (his songs covered by other artists). 2014 marked Tom’s return to the road. His release “ADAGIO” features bass guitar legend Chuck Rainey and piano virtuoso Julie Bonk who was Norah Jones’s teacher – all masterfully produced by Jagoda.

The most moving, pointed, and memorable songs reflect Prasada-Rao’s indebtedness to Bruce Cockburn, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, and other singer-songwriters who have something to say, and a distinctive way of saying it.
—Mike Joyce, The Washington Post

Prasada-Rao gives his folk songs an R&B flavor. George Benson, Grover Washington Jr, Marvin Gaye, and a number of other Motown greats come to mind when listening to Hear You Laughing.
—Charlene J. Arsenault, The Boston Globe

Tom Prasada-Rao is a rare and brilliant performer. His fine voice and thrilling guitar work hold you spellbound while he heals your heart.
—David Wilcox, Singer-Songwriter


The Creativity Key of Freedom & Playing Around with Melody 

We’ll explore a lyric writing prompt on freedom and how knowing “the rules” of melody can set our melodic writing free as well! In our hour together, we’ll explore the eight aspects of melody, do the above writing prompt, and then look at fun game-like ways to select lines for our verses and choruses and create melodies for them! Let’s see how fun and spontaneity in our approach leads to great places! 

Discover & Write Your Soul Song

In this hour, we’ll explore writing a very personal song using a powerful song blueprint that is ubiquitous (it’s everywhere in popular music, folk music, rap, etc.). We’ll also explore how different parts of the self can uncover distinct points of view that can be used in your song. We’ll use a playful exercise involving crayons & paper so please bring crayons or markers (or whatever you have) and something to write on. Then, through a step-by-step writing process, I’ll invite you to begin to craft the verses and choruses to your Soul Song.

Singer-songwriter and pianist, Anne Heaton has captured audience imaginations for over fifteen years with her songs that are, by turns, “tender, barbed and spiritual” (Washington Post). She’s been featured on the New York Times Podcast, played numerous times on NPR, and shared the stage with artists such as Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and jazz drummer Max Roach. The New York Times music podcast called her music “absolutely gorgeous” and with “To the Light” – her seventh studio album – Heaton is surrendering to her love of collaboration more than ever before.


If You Had a Hammer: Writing Songs of Justice

If you’ve ever had occasion to sing the iconic anthem by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes (both of the Weavers), you may have felt the outright power of these words and music bring you to your feet. In these deeply troubled times of pandemic, protest, and polarization, what goes without saying needs to be said. Let’s step on the gas once more and (very quickly) get OUR thoughts, our passions, our convictions, and our beliefs into energizing and engaging songwriting. We’ll explore how to communicate and create our themes in such a way as to build communities, not polarize them. We’ll also do our best to throw out the “cliche playbook” and search for new and personal ways to express our authentic truths. Time is precious, so come ready to write. We’ll start with a chorus that soars.

David Roth has taught (and learned!) at SummerSongs since the camps began in 1999 and now serves as Executive Director. He’s a singer, songwriter, recording artist, and instructor who also won Kerrville’s New Folk Award in 1986 and “landslide top vote-getter” at Falcon Ridge’s Emerging Artist Showcase in 1996. David’s songs have found their way to Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, the Kennedy Center, Peter, Paul, & Mary and Kingston Trio CDs, NASA’s Goddard Space Center (David’s “Rocket Science” went up on the Space Shuttle “Atlantis” in 2009), more than 100,000 textbooks in India, and 15 CDs on the Wind River and Stockfisch (Germany) labels. He also writes regularly for the Songs of Love Foundation (NY), creating free custom-made songs for sick children and their families. Featured on many of Christine Lavin’s seminal Rounder Records compilations, the former artist-in-residence at New York’s Omega Institute also directs the Cape Cod Songwriters Retreats, the Cape’s Full Moon Open Mic, and has taught singing, songwriting, and performance at the Augusta Heritage workshops (WV), Moab Folk Camp (UT), Common Ground on the Hill (MD), Rowe Camp and Conference Center (MA), Pendle Hill (PA), Lamb’s Retreat (MI), Wisconsin Stringalongs, the Woods Music and Dance Camp (Ontario), Empower Music & Arts (FL), the Swannanoa Gathering (NC), the National Wellness Institute (WI), and for many other songwriting groups and associations around the country. David also leads musical tours to Ireland and rafting trips on the Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River. davidrothmusic.com (Photo credit: econosmith)


Swimming in the River of Your Song

This is our time to create songs from a place of freedom, flow, and fun. Let’s show up and allow ourselves to dip into the waters of creativity – we will listen, we will write, we will mine ideas and marry together music and words. Using games and prompts – we will practice being in and writing in “non-edit” mode and see where each of us is led. Through examples and discussion, we will play with our ideas and open ourselves to inspiration. Jump on in…the water is fine.

Folk-pop artist Sloan Wainwright belongs to a musical dynasty of impossibly gifted singer-songwriters. Her family tree (brother and folk-music luminary Loudon Wainwright, sister-in-law Kate McGarrigle, nephew Rufus Wainwright, nieces Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche) reads like a who’s who of contemporary folk music. Sloan’s incredible gift is not only her unique songwriting ability but her dramatically voiced rendition of her original songs. Defying standard categorization, singer/songwriter Sloan Wainwright consistently demonstrates her easy command of a variety of American musical styles — pop, folk, jazz, and blues — held together by the melodious tone of her rich contralto. The end result, a unique and soulful hybrid. With a solid and impressive discography of 10 original CD releases to her credit, Sloan continues to write, sing and perform live. In addition, Sloan has written numerous musical compositions for theater and dance and teaches at many of the best-known master songwriter series and workshops. Sloan’s open spirit and first-hand experience are welcomed –year after year– in the musical classrooms of such prestigious song camps as The Swannanoa Gathering, SummerSongs, WinterSongs, WUMB Radio’s Summer Acoustic Music Week (SAMW), and Lamb’s Retreat.


Breathe In… Beginning Harmonica

This class is intended to introduce basic techniques, styles, and approaches to the use of the harmonica in blues and folk music. Topics covered include breathing, playing in both 1st and 2nd positions, bending, and more. Just grab a “C” harmonica and join for some fun (and learning).


How to Set up a Home Recording Studio While in Social Isolation

  • Use what you have, buy what you don’t (with suggestions in all price ranges).
  • A short list of basic recording practices, no rocket science.
  • Learn just enough so that you can focus on performance, which is all home recording really needs to be.
  • Use this time to make really good demos, or even recordings good enough for release.
  • Learn how to collaborate with other singers and players.
  • Bonus: Make a live performance music video with really good sound.

Mark Dann is a professional recording engineer and sideman/bass player extraordinaire. For more than 30 years, he has worked with hundreds of artists at his studios in New York City and Woodstock, including engineering and playing on the legendary Fast Folk Musical Magazine recordings. markdann.com


Adding Humor to Your Songs

As an artist, I love to reflect on things that weren’t funny at all when they happened and try to look at them through the lens of humor.  I’ve found that even using touches of humor in my songwriting can often allow the listener to hear a message on a deeper level.  In this workshop, we’re going to inject some humor into our songwriting.  And who knows, you may get a great start on writing a completely humorous song.  

As an artist, I love to reflect on things that weren’t funny at all when they happened and try to look at them through the lens of humor. I have found that even using touches of humor in my songwriting can often allow the listener to really hear the message on a deeper level. In this workshop, we are going to inject some humor into our songwriting. Ideally, you will get a great start on writing a completely humorous song. To start with, we will reflect on something in our life that could be viewed in a different way, then we will free-write about it, and launch from there. We will be writing every day, and hopefully, each of us will have a new humorous song to add to our setlist by the end of the week. Bring paper, pencil, and your recording device. This class will be sequential, so it can’t be a drop-in class after the 2nd day.


Go Live in One Hour! Live Stream Jump-Start

You play an instrument. You write songs. You can perform…but you can’t swim in the LIVE STREAM. Well, don’t hold your breath any longer! Glen is going to take you where you belong today – LIVE ONLINE, sharing your gifts, connecting with a wider fanbase than you’ve ever reached before. We won’t tread water in this fast-paced 1-hour quick-start how-to, and Glen will provide packets that summarize all the info provided. If your iPhone or Android phone (or your desktop or laptop computer) is fairly up-to-date, you’ll be Live Streaming in no time at all.

Glen Roethel, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/entertainer, helps kindle the energy of the SummerSongs (and SyberSongs) experience. Study guitar, songwriting, harmony, and performance with him, and take part in his legendary late-night jam-singalong-dance parties which ring out in the night – when the moment feels right – after the evening coffeehouses have wrapped up. He is an award-winning songwriter and 3-time nominee for emPower Posi Awards (Positive music), a jury-selected performer at NERFA, and also at the Singer-Songwriter Cape May festival, and 2020 Gold prize winner at Mid Atlantic Songwriting Contest (MASC) for “Too Much Crying,” which he wrote and recorded with Us!, his socially-minded trio with Judy Kass and Amy Soucy. He saw his song “Namaste” featured in a multi-media exhibit at the Presidential Museum in Texas for three months, and songs published in New Thought songbooks and a Hal Leonard Corp songbook. To Glen’s credit are six self-produced CDs and beautiful compilation CDs (emPower Music & Arts) of songs about healing, the magic of the winter holiday season, and congregational songs, not to overlook his guitar/bass/vocal/ukulele/keyboard/and percussion performances (and co-writes) on gorgeous and award-winning recordings by Penny Nichols, Sue Riley, David RothSloan Wainwright, Jan Garrett & JD Martin, and many others. glenroethel.com


Singing with Control and Ease… (and FUN!!!!)

Do you wish you could hold notes longer? Use dynamics more effectively? Not get tired or hoarse so easily? Nail that high note? Improve your tone quality and stay on pitch? Communicate your songs more clearly for greater impact? There are three main elements of singing that apply to every voice and every style: 1. Breathing – Learn exercises for controlling your breath (to prevent wear and tear, improve pitch control, and expand your range); 2. Resonance – Learn to use your body’s natural “resounding chambers” (to focus your tone, maximize dynamic control, and discover the many “colors” of your voice – this is so FUN!!!); 3. Diction – Learn a few simple habits to deliver your vocals clearly, enrich your tone quality, and improve communication with your audience. That’s a lot in an hour, but I want to teach you a new way to think about your voice and provide you with exercises you can continue to use for the rest of your singing life to keep you healthy, flexible, and sounding your BEST! 

Melinda Wood Allen is a singer/songwriter/actress/choral director whose career has spanned many genres: opera, musical theatre, jazz, folk, rock, gospel, & country…even a little rap. She firmly believes that music is not a spectator sport—that everyone has a voice and a gift to share, and she loves helping “musically wounded” or shy people find their gifts! She delights in making music with ensembles large and small and has a passion for the harmony only voices singing together can create. Melinda is the director of the Empower Posi World Chorus, and her (all-volunteer) choirs have performed to thousands at D/FW venues and at Carnegie Hall. melindawoodallen.com


Dream Songs

This class will begin with a brief outline of a Jungian approach towards dreams. In this approach, dreams are considered helpful messages from our unconscious that reveal who we are and how we may evolve. Writing songs based on dreams is a wonderful way to digest these messages. Because such songs are attuned to our depths they can have particular power and meaning. Further, as we employ in our songs the imagery, plot, and feeling of the dream we can find ourselves writing in new and vibrant ways. The bulk of the class will be devoted to a method for translating dreams into songs. There will be numerous examples, hopefully from students willing to email me dreams prior to class (to be discussed anonymously and kindly). Each student should bring to class a written dream, recent or not, that they find compelling and want to work with. There will be brief exercises in which students will be asked to use the method and begin structuring their dream song.  Because dreams can point to our blind spots and limits, to write in this way requires openness, self-compassion, and courage.  Such courage can be healing and deeply rewarding. Every dream is an inspiration. Each student should bring to class a written dream, recent or not, that they find compelling and want to work with. NOTE:  Due to the nature of this on-line class there will not be opportunities to interact with one another, but we will interact with our depths.

Steven is a clinical psychologist, author, and singer/songwriter. As a psychologist, Steven has had a successful psychotherapy practice for over 30 years. As an author, he has numerous professional publications, often exploring the integration of psychology and spirituality. He has given talks on dream interpretation, psychology and soul, and the psychology of music. He is also a published science fiction author. As a musician, Steven has been writing songs for over 25 years. He performs, as “Dr. Steve” throughout Connecticut and fronts “The Dr. Steve Band.” Steven lives with his wife Nancy in rural Connecticut. They have 2 lovely daughters. drstevesongs.com


Watercolor Painting

Translating our three-dimensional world to the two-dimensions of the paper, I tread a line between representation and abstraction. I work from life, from the landscape or still life, and I welcome the fluidity and chance of watercolor. I will give an introduction to my work, including the development of a few works in progress. Students are welcome to paint along with me or to simply view the presentation.

Kamilla Talbot has exhibited her work in numerous shows in the US and Scandinavia. Solo shows include The 360 Space, NY; Trygve Lie Gallery, NY; Charles P. Sifton Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; Bruno Marina Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; and at the Johannes Larsen Museum, Denmark. Artist residencies include a fully-funded residency at the Vermont Studio Center, as well as grants to paint in Italy, Newfoundland, Iceland, and Maine. She studied at the New York Studio School and The Rhode Island School of Design. She teaches or has taught at The Art Students League; the National Academy School; Brooklyn Botanic Garden; New York Studio School; New York School of the Arts; as well as privately. www.kamillatalbot.com @kamillatalbot