The songwriter: A dying breed

“If you really want to know what’s going on in the world, listen to the songs,” said Peter Slack, presenter of Songwriters Unite!, a concert held Sunday night at Maxwell’s Music House.

Songwriters Unite! – an event that began in 2004 – is a North American collective musical initiative that encourages songwriters to create and perform original music.

Initially, the collective union of musicians wrote pieces on a monthly basis on specific themes chosen by Songwriters Unite!

The creative catalyst brought together a group of over 550 members from across the continent.

The event has since moved away from prescribing a specific theme.

Slack told The Cord in an interview before the show that the move away from this kind of limiting songwriting has allowed for songwriters to “serendipitously come together anyway.”

Six such artists came together on Sunday. The event, which began its experimental local showcase at Maxwell’s Music House, strives to positively change the world’s collective conscious.

“The concert series is intended as an experiment as we are usually based out of Toronto,” said Slack, adding that his hope is to absorb the global community eventually in this effort to change the global mindset.

Slack also spoke of the importance of such an organization not only contributing to music but of its “benevolence towards community projects such as schools,” stating that “a focus on the development of communities was one of keys to the success of Songwriters Unite!”

The line-up for Sunday’s show included Noah Zacharin, Laura Fernandez, Jon Brooks, Jake Willis and presenter Peter Slack.

Laurier alumnus of the music faculty Jacob Moon was scheduled to perform, but did not show up to the event.

There was a clear mix of songwriting capabilities and genres in the room. The first performer of the night, Jon Brooks, set the tone for a night of folk music.

He discussed diverse contemporary issues in his songs such as the war in Iraq and Vietnam draft dodgers.

His social commentary ranged from quoting the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, stating that Canada was previously a “haven from militarism,” and explicitly denouncing the country’s changed political situation. 

He poignantly fought against pro-military ideologies, singing “what’s freedom worth if it’s bought with a gun?”  

The atmosphere of Maxwell’s felt as if one had stepped into a friend’s living room; everyone was consumed by the relaxed environment and creativity flowing from the stage.

Old friends chatted speedily inbetween sets, cheering each other on and eagerly awaiting each coming performance.

In the crowd one could see Noah Zacharin clapping fervently during Jake Willis and his ensemble’s set; and when speaking to presenter Peter Slack, it was clear he often tuned out, focusing on the music being performed.

“What is so great about Songwriters Unite! is that it’s a focus on the song, the songwriter and the music,” said Slack.

He explained that it is the message of the songs and the ability of the songwriters that makes Songwriters Unite! limitless in terms of creativity and possibility.

Slack began this local feature in Waterloo because he wanted to step outside of the bounds of a metropolis and really implement a community focus that encapsulates the event’s purpose.

This kind of politically driven creative energy is part of a dying breed Songwriters Unite! wants to revive as Jon Brooks sung in his homage to the Tragically Hip: “Bring on a brand new renaissance.”

It appears that Songwriters Unite! intends to do that and has begun that renaissance right here in Waterloo.