I remember the first time I wrote a song for my wife Courtney to sing. While this wasn’t the first song I’d ever written (far from it), it was the first song I’d written for a woman to sing. It was the song Lazy Laughter, which is a deceptively sweet, sentimental tune I wrote while we were dating. In truth, the song was born out of her frustration with me.
During college, Courtney was busier than almost any other student I knew. She was a Vocal Performance major, which, to me, sounds like the slacker route. All you’ve got to do is sing, right? Wrong. She always had a pile of courses, many of them only worth one credit hour, and all of them requiring a substantial amount of study.
A typical day for Courtney included (but was not limited to): waking at 7 am in time for an 8 am ear training class, music history class, practice songs for a half hour before chapel, chorale practice after chapel, a quick lunch followed by more practice, a gen-ed course or two, meeting with her accompanist to practice, practicing on her own, one more gen-ed class, back to her apartment for a quick something to eat, followed by an hour of practice/preparation depending on if she had either a voice lesson, musical/opera/cabaret rehearsal, or a masterclass performance (and those often stacked on top of each other), a little more practice on her foreign language pieces, and then back to the apartment for homework, late night snacks, and maybe a little time with her friends and boyfriend before bed, all so she can get back up at 7 am and do it again.
The rub: after a day like that, would you have much energy for kissing? No. And neither did she.
But as a lazy English major, I always had energy for some couple time. I was ready and waiting for her to come hang out, typically with the explicit expectation that we’d spend the majority of our time together locked in each other’s arms, passionately embracing like two characters from one of my assigned classic novels.
Due to her fatigue and my under-attended, over-zealous libido, our evenings frequently deteriorated into me trying to make out with Courtney while Courtney was trying to relax. Incidentally, it’s very difficult to relax when a young man is trying to put moves on you. In fact, it doesn’t just prevent you from relaxing; it can stress a person out.
So after one of these nights, Courtney left my apartment frustrated, and I sat on the floor with my guitar and started to write a song. I remember working through the chords and humming a sort of half-melody. A refrain began to form:
You kiss me after the day is done
And you wonder why lazy laughter
is my favored response.
I’m just so tired at night,
and I wonder why you try.
Over the next couple days, I added a verse and sat down with Courtney. I played her what I had so far, and then we started working together on a melody for the verse. In my more recent attempts to write songs for Courtney, I’ve tried writing everything without her. That’s a mistake. Sitting down with her and letting her be part of the melodic process gave her ownership of the song. It was something she’d created, even if only a fragment of the track. That, for her, was enough to connect her to the core of the song.
There are other songs I’ve written for Courtney, songs she loves very much. But she’ll often forget the words to those songs, panicking if she doesn’t have the lyrics in front of her. She’s this way with many of the songs I’ve written - a little standoffish toward them, a little lackadaisical. But I’ve never had to help her with the words to Lazy Laughter. She knows them by heart - by soul, even. And I think that’s because, in essence, she really did write it. Not just with the melody bits she worked on, but the whole song. It came from her. Sure, I transcribed the words and the emotions, but she had lived them out, night after night. They were part of her existence before I’d ever penned them.
This revelation gave me a glimpse into the collaborative process. Ownership, however minute, is of great importance to performers. If you try writing songs for someone else to sing, find a way to include them in your writing process. They may not be good with words, so let them help you with the melody. They may not sing well, so let them offer advice about the chord structure. You may be surprised by their contributions, and you’ll assuredly appreciate the loyalty such inclusion inspires.
P.S. Yes, those of you who smirked, the song has provoked a somewhat different interpretation now that we’re married. But you know what? Such is life.