Learning How To Listen: November 2015

Learning how to listen

Last week I spent a morning with Josh Gertz and his service dog Coda at the Songwriting With Soldiers Retreat in Rennselaerville, NY. We wrote a song called “Still On The Ride,” which portrays Joshua’s story of loss, perseverance, courage and survival, and his belief in a guardian angel that saved his life. Over the weekend, I also wrote a song with Kevin Reeder and Rudyard Edik, making for a total of three new songs in a day and a half. A privilege, and thrill, and a sacred trust. A huge thank you to the vets for sharing your stories with us. Click HERE to listen to "Still On The Ride."

The soldier’s songs have become a part of me. As I sing them from town to town, each of them resonates a powerful truth: Songs change lives.

An emotionally honest song has the power to wormhole its way deep into the heart. And then, like water on a seed, the heart changes the mind. Souls are reshaped, enlarged, by a simple song. Something new is born. Connections are made. Bridges are built.

At first glance the work seems simple: sit with a veteran, ask them about themselves, and write a song based on what they say. Use their words as the foundation. Listen for a title, encourage them to keep talking until I can discern the emotional bottom line of their story, play a couple of chords that sound like that emotion, come up with verses and a chorus, and then make it rhyme.

But after doing that, something complex happens, and I don’t fully understand it. Something extraordinary enters the room, something bigger than both of us. The song is born in that hallowed place.

It happens fast, and it happens almost in a trance. I barely remember writing these songs. Writing with a veteran is like walking an emotional labyrinth. An exchange takes place in the entanglement. There is soul-to-soul contact.

As I sit and listen to the stories they carry, my chest swells with love. Bearing witness to someone’s story is profound. Truly listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Listening compels the real story to come out. There’s nothing else quite like this humbling process. Maybe this is why I love this work so much, because it is teaching me how to truly listen.