After a restless night in January, June Bjorge had the words of an 1830s poem on her mind.
The poem was by Sandord Tracy, the great-great-uncle of a friend, and, after reading the verses about finding rest, the Adrian resident said she knew she needed to turn it into a song. On that January morning, when she looked at the pond in her backyard, a chorus for the poem came to her, she said.
“It’s amazing how God works, because when I sat down to write this, I had no idea what the chorus would be,” Bjorge said. “I prayed for that, and one day, it came out of the blue. But they don’t always come that way.”
For days like that, Bjorge said she is thankful to be a part of Songwriters Grounded in Grace. The group of local songwriters, who range from years of experience to newcomers, meets the first Monday of every month 6:30-9 p.m. at the Grounded in Grace Coffee House in the Jonesville First Presbyterian Church. Participants learn about the songwriting process, collaborate, get feedback on pieces, and seek to take their work to the next level.
Three years ago, Laura Dickey began Songwriters GIG with a few other women she met at a songwriting workshop in Spring Arbor, after a Nashville Songwriters Association International group in Coldwater stopped gathering.
“I missed having a local meeting to go to,” Dickey said.
The group chose Jonesville for its central location between Jackson and Coldwater and has worked with many artists of different abilities and skills who have come and gone over the years. The ability to read music, play an instrument, or sing well is not required.
Songwriters GIG has connections in Hillsdale College’s music department and at the Gospel Barn in Hillsdale. It promotes workshops across the country for members to attend and receive critiques of their work and make connections within the business. The group also holds an annual concert with pieces from its members and an annual songwriting workshop. On May 20, songwriter and publisher Dave Clark, who has written more than 25 No. 1 Christian songs, will lead the group’s workshop at Camden Missionary Church.
On Monday night, the group members discussed the importance of devoting time to songwriting, as they sit around a table covered in lyric and musical composition sheets and cards that read a Suzy Kassem quote: “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” After, several shared songs on which they had been working. The artists provided feedback, offering suggestions on structure, diction, and music.
In addition to improving local songwriters, the group encourages its members to pursue this love, whether it is just a hobby, for a performance at church, or perhaps preparing for something more, they said.
“It’s pushed me to do something with it,” Cheryl Newton of Walden said. “It gives you more direction and passion for what you’ve been doing. They encouraged me. It gives you hope, and you’ll see what happens.”
For some, the group also teaches its members what oes into writing a song from rhyme scheme and rhythm to structure and flow.
“I had no idea songwriting took so much effort,” Bjorge said. “I had no idea I had to consider so many things.”
For that reason, Songwriters GIG offers a supportive community for people who express their creativity in a similar way, Dickey said.
“You find out, ‘I’m not just weird — there’s people like me,’” she said.
Although Dickey originally worked in education, as her love of music grew, she said she decided to audit courses at Spring Arbor University to learn more theory and composition. She said she goes to songwriting workshops to learn as much as she can to share with the group.
“The Lord convicts me, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do,’” she said. “And as I teach others, I grow.”
Most recently, Dickey wrote a communion song and solicited the help of Debbie Wyse, a Hillsdale College music teacher, to do a piano arrangement so Dickey can submit the song for a formal critique. Wyse had come to a Songwriters GIG meeting in 2015, where she said she learned a lot about songwriting, though she does not do much of it herself.
“I know how much time it takes to get anything polished,” Wyse said. “It was really positive time. I think we worked really well as a team. It’s really uplifting to put together something that can give glory to God.”
The group’s members said songwriting benefits them in different ways. Newton said it is her therapy.
“My best stuff has just come from when I’ve been burdened,” Newton said. “I write out my thoughts and feelings. Then, you share it with someone else, and it’s a double blessing.”
For others, it is nostalgic and allows them to become involved in music. Connie Janes of Somerset recalled how his father would sing and dance every morning, when he was a child.
“It’s fun to create something and write something down that’s never been heard,” Janes said. “For those who can do it, you’re blessed.”
Although Songwriters GIG is a Christian group, artists can share songs of all genres so long as they are clean, Dickey said.
For her, the group strengthens her voice in the songs she writes, she said.
“It’s about getting your story out,” Dickey said. “We help you spread the message that you want to present.”’