Bernice Lewis, Bard of the Omega Institute, Performing in San Miguel
By Bernice Lewis
Wed, Dec 7, and Sun, Dec 11, 7pm
Shelter Theater, Vicente Guerrero 4, Col. San Rafael
Tickets sold at the door
By Emily Pickrell
Bernice Lewis teaches songwriting at Williams College and led music as an Artist in Residence at the Omega Institute for five years. She will be performing her own music—praised by Rosanne Cash—at the Shelter Theater on December 7 and December 11. (Interview by Emily Pickrell)
Emily Pickrell: How did you become a songwriting teacher?
Bernice Lewis: I spent five summers at the Omega Institute as an Artist in Residence and could teach any class I wanted. I learned more about teaching the arts at Omega than at graduate school. I found techniques for helping people be creative by giving people permission in a much gentler way. When I got to Williams College, I took what I got in retreat centers, and I brought it into an academic setting. What I found in these heavy academic settings: they are desperate for a creative outlet and not to be in the mold. I learned it by studying yoga, by studying to improve with David Darling and Bobby McFerrin, and by observing the impact and interaction with my students. No one formula is going to work for everyone. I take 14–15 kids a year and at the end of the month, they perform a song they wrote. I have never failed to get them up there and have a good experience, and I’m proud of that.
EP: Do you have a favorite song of your own?
BL: I have a song that I think might be my best song, based on my daughter: “She’s Going to Learn How to Love from Us.” Parenting a girl is so intensely important, but it is also tricky because none of us have perfect relationships, but we pass that on to our kids. Many things you can get from school or friends or the Internet, but love—you often get that one from your family. I’m proud of that song.
I also have a song that is very popular called, “I Need a Wife, Too.” It is about how overwhelmed we are as women leading these two lives, which disallows creativity.
EP: What is your philosophy on teaching songwriting?
BL: When you are teaching writing, the hardest thing to get people to do is to coax them into the non-editing space.
I don’t think you can be creative and edit at the same time. I think you have to go into a free fall for a little while in order to get it out there, to allow it to exist. Then you can go back and try to shape it—meditate on what you really want to say. The initial seed of existence happens in this altered state for most of us.
Then I have a couple of techniques to go back in and find the nuggets. You can write songs without an instrument—many of my students at Williams College have never written a song before. Places like this workshop provide people with the time and space to turn these nuggets into something before they lose their momentum.