Ralph Covert: All Creative Choices Begin with Choice and Limitation

Collaboration. Community. Songwriting! Join us on March 31 for the Haiku Milieu concert at Golden Dagger in Chicago. Get your tickets here!

One of our artists for this show is Ralph Covert. Ralph is a Grammy-nominated multi-hyphenate artist: singer. Songwriter. Producer. Playwright. Actor. Educator, and the list goes on! He will be sharing not just one, but TWO songs with us on Friday!

I experienced his work for the first time as many of us did, on the radio, then in venues ranging from clubs to theatres to one unforgettable evening in a now long-since-closed wine bar on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago, where he played for an epic three hours and then talked with fans for another couple of hours.  He is as generous of a person as he is as an artist.

I was thrilled when he said yes to writing for Haiku Milieu. And when he said he'd be willing to do a deep dive on his creative process for this email - ? I was over the moon.  Hope you enjoy this peek into the one and only Ralph Covert's process.

"There are several aspects of my songwriting process that lend themselves well to writing a song that incorporates a haiku. There’s the creative process itself, and there’s the analysis of the creative process.

You can’t know a flea

Unless you look at the dog

And the bite they share

There are four primary aspects of a song I look at when songwriting: Words, Music, Rhythm, and Emotional Center.

While they are of course interrelated, thinking of these four categories allows me to construct a tool box of techniques I use while writing.

For example, within the category of Words (lyrics) there might be considerations of where the light and heavy syllables fall (the poetic rhythm), line length, narrative structure, point of view, what rhyme schemes are employed, and the meaning (if any) of what’s being said.

Music would include both harmony (chords), which exists vertically and within a specific duration, and melody, which is a more linear collection of notes that happens horizontally over the course of time.

When I look at Rhythm, I consider both time signature and the pulse or groove of a song as well as harmonic rhythm and the ways that the different sections of the song flow from each other (Song structure creates the rhythm of the song as a whole).

Finally, I use the idea of Emotional Center to describe the way a song makes the listener feel as well as both the emotions and memories the writer draws from and the state of mind they’re in while writing.

For me, all creative acts begin with choices and limitations. In some ways these two things are the same. Every choice you make during the creative process adds corresponding limitations until the song you arrive at is the only possible solution to the creative riddle you’ve been solving.

The five-seven-five syllable line structure dictates line length, and so shapes both the lyrics and the melody. I find writing verses in haiku form no different than any other verse.

With every song you write, the first verse composed is easiest because it establishes the poetic rhythm for all subsequent verses. We then experience “Second Verse Syndrome,” because the pattern is now set, and the writer needs to internalize this structure before they can write more verses within this new pattern.

The more haikus we write, the more transparent the form becomes, because we have internalized the form. 

Interestingly, because haiku doesn’t require a specific poetic rhythm, I sometimes find that I need to re-write a haiku that I’m using to get the pattern of light and heavy syllables to be consistent with other haikus that I’m using. The melody and phrasing of the lines needs a consistent poetic rhythm.

One of the wonderful things about haikus is that their condensed form requires cleanly constructed insights or images.

These lend themselves well to songwriting, because they often contain strong emotional centers. Often, the emotional center helps inspire melodic, harmonic, and lyrical ideas. 

The music inside

A seed fallen from a tree

Haiku becomes song."

- Ralph Covert

 Join us in person for Haiku Milieu this Friday, March 31 at 8:00 pm at Golden Dagger in Chicago!

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