Art is at the heart of who we are
It’s the window to our soul
It’s the piece that makes us whole
It’s where our body and our mind unwind and are combined, and by far
Art is at the heart of who we are
Aren’t these words lovely (and true)? They look like they’re from a poem, but they’re actually a sample of lyrics from the custom song that local musician James Bergman recently wrote for The Arts Partnership. The Fargo musician specializes in writing custom songs for local nonprofit organizations, special causes and individuals in the area, so when he generously offered to write us a song shortly after joining the partnership this spring, we couldn’t pass it up!
The process was simple: We filled out a short questionnaire to help James write the song and tell our story. He whipped out the first round of lyrics in only a few days, and after some feedback between us, he performed the full song to our office a few weeks ago. Not only is this a first for The Arts Partnership (at least in my experience), but this also was a great way for us to better understand how James is making a difference in our community through this uniquely creative service.
The full video of the song is available here. Learn more about James Bergman and his custom songwriting process through the Q&A below:
1. When did you start writing custom songs? Why did you start?
I’ve been writing for over 20 years and for a long time, each piece I created helped me tell my own story. I’ve written songs to help me mourn the death of my uncle and celebrate the birth of my children. I surprised my wife with a song at our wedding and even though a lot of what I write is from personal experience, I try to write lyrics that other people can relate to.
Before 2016, I had written songs for specific events, but after the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in June of that year, some community members were planning a vigil and looking for some music. I found myself writing a song while processing the emotions of that tragedy. I shared the song that night at the vigil and again at the Fargo Pride Interfaith Service that year. Since then, I have been asked to write songs for several specific events and it seemed natural to work with individuals as well.
When a friend asked me to write a song for her husband’s birthday, I was honored but intimidated. She was restoring a guitar her father in-law had given to her husband, but the two of them had a complicated relationship. Finding the words and melody to capture those emotions and tell that story is the beauty of custom song writing. I love it because it gives me a chance to connect with people, issues, and organizations and help other people connect with them, too.
2. When creating lyrics for the song on The Arts Partnership, you first did a questionnaire with us and then kept us updated as you wrote the lyrics. Can you talk about the creative process itself for songs after you receive some direction from your clients?
When I am collaborating on a song, I love having a conversation or questionnaire to start with. It always feels like there are one or two lines that jump out at me during the initial writing or researching process, even when I am just writing something for myself. These lines often provide the theme or message I’m trying to convey. From there, I try to figure out how to develop that idea in a way that a broader audience can connect with. But the writing process also feels like ongoing conversation. I love getting input along the way and will usually ask people what they think about a certain word or phrase. Sometimes it might sound perfect, but if doesn’t get to the heart of the message we have to find a word that does.
3. What was your favorite part about writing a song for The Arts Partnership? The most challenging part?
My favorite part of writing a song for The Arts Partnership was reading the feedback you provided along the way. I always feel so vulnerable when sending first drafts to the people I am collaborating with. Getting guidance and positive feedback is so helpful.
As an artist, it is very difficult to capture and convey the essence of an organization that does so much. That was the most challenging part of the songwriting process. You provided so many amazing ideas and possible approaches, the most difficult part was narrowing my focus.
4. What do you find rewarding about writing custom songs?
I love including someone else in the process. Writing a song seems like making something from nothing. Having another person to witness it as it is happening makes me appreciate it even more. And it feels so amazing when they hear it performed for the first time. It is such a dramatic shift going from just words on a page to music filling the air. And it feels amazing when someone else is as excited as you are about something you are creating together.
5. How do you hope your service as a custom song-writer continues to evolve? What are your goals?
The biggest change that I would like to see is for more people to know that this service is available. Collaborating on a song specifically written and performed for an event or person is such a meaningful experience and I would love for people to know about it. My goal is to find new ways to include more people. I am looking at starting workshops that could be held at non-profits, businesses, and conventions. These workshops could include a whole roomful of people in the songwriting process. But my ultimate goal is to help people and organizations tell the stories of our community in song.
Thanks again, James! To find out more about James Bergman or to contact him about a custom song, visit www.artistjamesbergman.com/your-song.