Another adventure – I knew immediately that I had to do it.
Songwriting Masterclasses for a week in Tuscany? What’s to ponder about that?!
I have to say my husband did ask me that if this was happening in Macclesfield, would I still feel so compelled to go?
Good question. No offence, but I don’t even know where Macclesfield is exactly, so as they say, ‘it was a no brainer!’
Just the thought of singer songwriter Beth Nielsen fabulous Chapman leading a week of songwriting blended together with visits to art galleries, ancient forts, a family run vineyard, a bespoke olive oil making factory, an Italian cookery lesson and all the while residing in a grand villa, was irresistible.
So I booked my place!
Waiting to greet me at Firenze airport with my name boldly written on a large card, was Alessandro, the best looking taxi driver I’ve ever come across. How do these Italian men do it? Immaculate suit, effortless elegance and utterly charming, he whisked me to my fancy car with blacked out windows.
Just the name Ah…lessaaandro.
Didn’t Christina Aguilera sing a song called Alessandro? Or was it Lady Gaga?
Who cares? I have my own driver and bodyguard with that name, so I’m happy!
We weave in and out through early evening traffic to Sesto Fiorentino, a small town about 15 minutes from Florence.
The deep orange sky at dusk, creates a dim haze around those oh so familiar cyprus trees which pop up proudly leaving me in no doubt that I really am in Tuscany!
Fiona went to Tuscany for Songwriting Masterclasses
We draw up to the large iron gates at Villa Il Paradisino with its substantial fort-like walls protecting a huge garden full of aromatic herbs and vegetables and the adjoining olive grove and vineyard.
This Renaissance house dates back to the 1500’s and has been lived in by the Bellini Filippi family since 1839. It is brimful of antiques, beautiful paintings and oh yes, a huge chandelier in my bedroom.
This is our HQ: our music and gastronomic oasis.
Although I’ve been writing songs for years, I have never done anything like this before. But I’m in good hands with the wonderfully warm, Nashville-based Lydia Hutchinson, the organiser of these Creative Workshops and the founder of Performer Songwriter Magazine in America.
She is an expert in all of this and has rather brilliantly created a week which she hopes we will always remember and will transform our songwriting.
Serena, one of the very beautiful and capable daughters of the owners, is to look after us and is also going to to teach us to cook Tuscan style in her family’s glorious kitchen. There is also Francesca, a wonderful guide who is to take us to art galleries, forts, churches and a vineyard in Chianti.
I need to reiterate, this is work!
We are a small, eclectic, apprehensive group of 10: 1 Scot, 1 Canadian and 8 Americans, all of whom have flown across the world for this experience.
Fiona with the songwriting group
There are some established singer-songwriters, 2 businessmen, a visual artist, a stand up comedienne/inventor, a paediatric nurse, a music therapist at a children’s hospital, a mother of 7, and me!
The songwriting process is a fragile thing, no matter whether you’re an old hand or new to the game. What we all have in common is simply a desire to improve our craft, write good songs and tell good stories through our music.
We’re more than fortunate to have Beth Nielsen Chapman, award winning Nashville based singer songwriter, performer and all round great lady to lead this week of fairly intense classes. She is not only a superb songwriter herself, but also has a rare ability to share her expertise with great generosity of spirit.
Beth has been through a lot: she is a breast cancer survivor, endured surgery to remove a brain tumour, and lost her first husband twenty years ago to cancer leaving her to bring up their son alone. She is now very happily married to a wickedly bright New Yorker named Bob, who is a psychologist and superb photographer.
Beth weaves her daily magic potion, a mixture of personal stories, her own writing process, many tips, transforming vocal lessons and unconditional encouragement together with some tasks and challenges.
We eat divine food for the God’s and drink superb local wines just about every 3 hours to sustain us. We certainly will not be going home hungry or underweight!
Fiona went to Tuscany, Florence, for creative workshops
We’re told to write every morning the moment we wake up for exactly 10 minutes, it doesn’t matter what it is, just whatever comes into our minds.
“You never know what pieces of gold dust might emerge from this,” she tells us. It’s an interesting exercise especially when you have to read what you’ve written out loud to your fellow songwriters. Lordy, I can barely read my own writing — what is this gibberish? Did I really write this?
I’m a candidate for Bob!
So here I am now on the second to last day, feeling sad to be going, but hugely buoyed and enriched by an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much, written so much and shared lots of great stories with some new friends. We’re all very different and yet have so much in common. I feel like I’ve found another family; another mad tribe! And who knows where this creativity will lead me next?
My song choice this week ‘May you Never’ was written by superb Scottish Singer-songwriter John Martyn, whom I had the privilege of interviewing a few moons ago on BBC Scotland’s ‘Live at the Lemon Tree’, a weekly radio show which I co-hosted with Phil Cunningham.
This is from my album ‘Maiden Heaven’ available on Amazon.