Songwriters learn structure for artistic expression

Part of the songwriting workshop included a walk through a cemetery to help writers brainstorm using everyday experiences.

Part of the songwriting workshop included a walk through a cemetery to help writers brainstorm using everyday experiences.COLUMBIA—Spreading the Gospel message and sharing the faith through words and music was the focus of a Christian songwriter’s conference held April 17 at St. Peter Church in Columbia.

Tina Mento, a musician and songwriter who sings in the choir at St. Peter, organized the workshop.

“I was transplanted to South Carolina from Pennsylvania and discovered a need for networking among musicians here,” she said. “I’m trying to create more opportunities for songwriters, especially those who write religious music, to get together, to talk and learn more about their craft.”

Twelve people from the Midlands attended the session, led by Karen Paparelli and Bill DiLuigi, two Nashville-based artists who offer workshops around the country and overseas. They have written secular and Christian music, co-authored a manual, recorded CDs and had their original work performed by other artists.

Paparelli and DiLuigi said God should be at the center of any songwriting, whether it is secular or religious in theme.

“When we write together, the first thing we do is pray,”  Paparelli said. “We invite God into that session and allow him in to steer it however he wants.”

Paparelli said she has always been interested in music, but at one point thought she should abandon singing and performing to spend her life as a full-time evangelist.

She quickly learned that her talent as a vocalist and writer gave her unique opportunities to share her faith, she said.

Bill DiLuigi and Karen Paparelli, Nashville-based songwriters, offered a workshop at St. Peter Church in Columbia April 17. “Preaching the Gospel through music is a way to go where ordinary preaching won’t take you,” Paparelli said. “You don’t need to take classes to write music and songs. If God has given you the gift it’s there, but learning the rudiments of writing can help. Inspiration married with structure brings the talent you have to a new level.”

The morning session included time to brainstorm for ideas. DiLuigi and Paparelli led the group into the cemetery adjacent to St. Peter’s and talked about how every experience can provide inspiration. The duo said they came up with several good ideas after walking through a historic cemetery in Key West, Fla., and discovering unusual names and epitaphs, which they later used in their tunes.

DiLuigi said a strong, catchy single line or just a great  title is often the key to the rest of the song.

He said most modern Christian pieces, like country and pop songs, feature a signature hook of some sort that makes them memorable to the listener.

“If you get a great hook, the song will write itself,” he said. “You need a strong idea of what the song is going to be about.”

The pair said most lyrics follow a basic pattern of verse, chorus, verse, then a bridge and a repeat of the chorus, which is often called a refrain in traditional hymns. Some religious and folk songs, however, follow different patterns, which include repeating specific lines in each verse, without having a separate chorus.

A key to good writing, they said, is to understand the verse as storytelling, and the chorus as the place to convey a central meaning.

“The chorus is like your thesis,” Paparelli said. “Everything else in your song is trying to prove what you’re saying in the chorus.”

Timing is a key element, they said. For instance, most music written for secular or religious radio can’t be much longer than three minutes.

“There is no such thing as a throw-away line or a word when you only have three minutes to tell your story,” DiLuigi said.

The pair acknowledged that some people write lyrics and music, while others are solely lyricists who set their words to music written by others. The key to success is capturing listeners.

“The best songs are where the melody is so captivating you can’t forget it, and the lyrics are great and powerful, like the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’” Paparelli said.

Jan Gilligan, a member of Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia, said she has always been interested in music, especially liturgical pieces, and discovered a love for songwriting after she retired.

“I believe at any age you can recognize a talent, and if you’re given a talent by God, you should pursue it,” she said.

Kirk Spong attended the workshop with his daughter, Anna. He said he entered the church at the recent Easter Vigil and attends St. Joseph in Columbia. He sang with a small group at his former church.

“Songwriting is a hobby I’ve enjoyed for many years and I’ve even recorded some CDs,” Spong said. “This was a good chance to learn more about the many different ways to approach writing a song. Songwriting can offer self-fulfillment and artistic expression, it can be a form of worship and a good way to express your faith.”