There are few places where adults listen to suggestions from an 11-year-old, but at this monthly songwriting meeting, everyone has a voice.
At Songsalive! Long Island, seasoned songwriters come together to present their work and receive constructive criticism. The group meets at Sam Ash in Huntington Station, surrounded by recording equipment like mixers, amplifiers and speakers.
"You want to have someplace to go where you can get that feedback without having to enroll in college," says Mark Prigoff, 59, of Huntington Station, who plays the keyboard and composes music. "It's encouraging to be able to have someone critique your music who you're now friends with through the social aspect of this group."
ABOUT THE GROUP
Songsalive! Long Island is a local chapter of the international nonprofit organization, Songsalive!, which advocates for songwriters and composers. Steve Archdeacon, 34, of Commack, says he founded the local group last May because "Long Island's mostly known for cover music," and he wanted to encourage artists to create their own material.
At every meeting, performing original songs takes center stage -- it's a prerequisite of presenting work to the handful of participants who typically show up. Music industry guest speakers also attend periodically.
Perhaps the most important tip Archdeacon tells newcomers is to introduce only the title of the song before playing it, rather than explaining what the song is about. "If the people don't get it with the lyrics, that should say something to the writer," he says.
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That was true for 11-year-old Alec Schmigelski of Melville, who performed at a meeting last month. Before playing acoustic guitar while singing a catchy ballad -- "I'm fallin' for you/and I've loved you from the start" -- Alec says he appreciates the honest critiques. In this case, members suggest he mix up the melody, but keep the rhythm.
"I don't want them to sugarcoat it . . . just because of my age," he says. "Every month I'm trying to make it better and better."
When it was Alec's turn to dish out feedback, he recommended a fellow member tweak the chorus of his song. "I actually wrote the same thing," Archdeacon agrees. "Great minds think alike."
AT THE WORKSHOP
Josh Huizing, 29, appreciates the different perspectives that emerge. "The group kind of let me see that I was writing songs that at least people could appreciate," says Huizing, a music and youth ministries director from Riverhead.
His quirky time-traveling guitar tune is met with applause, as well as a suggestion to condense the storytelling in the lyrics. It's advice he'll consider for the next song, he says.
"Presenting your work for critique is something humbling and something necessary for any artist if they want to grow," he says.
"Any time you expose your creative side, it takes a lot of courage," says Lahey, 51. As for the response from the group -- "It's very warm," she says. "I feel it's a learning environment."
Songsalive! Long Island