“Bright Like a Diamond”: Shining Songwriting

Shining bright like a diamond

We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky

—Rihanna, “Diamonds”

Though it might be hard to believe, Wednesday marks the midway point of our Young Writers’ Workshop. Those who have been following along will recall that Monday brought us to new worlds and Tuesday meant exploring our homes and our hearts with poetry. Today, our transition from poetry to songwriting felt natural and encouraged further innovation from our writers.

To begin our morning, the writers spent several minutes picking apart various song characteristics in Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and playing with the lyrics to see if we could think of anything that might also fit the familiar tune. “Diamonds” allowed us to observe a multitude of songwriting features, such as repetition, catchy lyrics, an emotional presence, and lots of figurative language.

The line most often repeated throughout the chorus—“Shine bright like a diamond”—as we reflect both literally and figuratively, lets us think about what we value, not just from a diamond, but within ourselves. The question we started off our day with was “What is your best quality?” The writers answered with a variety of traits, which included friendliness, humor, confidence, and kindness.

Instructor Zian Butler, Luke, and Abby share a laugh while looking at the lyrics to “Diamonds”

The morning also brought us our second visiting writer of the week—Dylan Pyles. Dylan is a writer and musician from Kansas City, MO. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in multiple literary journals, and he has released three albums of music under his own name. He graduated from Kansas State’s M.A. program in Literature and Creative Writing in 2017, and he also served as an instructor for the Young Writers’ Workshop. We were delighted to welcome him back!

Dylan shared one of his own songs with us before opening up a dialogue on the components that make up a song. We chatted about recognizing the chorus and verses while listening to “Redemption Song” by…Bob Marley (throwback to our Monday blog post)! After talking about the different meanings behind the song, we then moved from talking about the lyrics to considering melody, which Dylan explained as “the most pleasing organization of notes” that we hear in a song.

Ever notice how “Ice Ice Baby” and “Under Pressure” have very similar hooks? Our young writers did! This example came to mind when we explored how many songs take “little bits and pieces” from melodies of the past. Dylan led us in making our own version of “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie, borrowing some of Guthrie’s lyrics and making up a few of our own.

“As I was walking, down to the drugstore. I saw above me, a thunderous downpour” —Jackson

We also got a chance to work with our small groups and collaborate on three separate songs. The instructors helped guide the writers in producing lyrics to three distinct, but familiar tunes.

“Hey there Chris Hemsworth, I saw you in The Avengers”

Apollo 11 decided on using the song “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s to write their ode to Chris Hemsworth, which also incorporated some exasperated assistants receiving their song as fanmail!

“Oh, I need you to love me”—girls;  “Oh, we didn’t sign up for this” —boys

The Aviators took another approach and wrote a song about…themselves! The group used Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” as inspiration, which takes the majority of its verse melody from another famous song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Their version of the song, however, instead of being about things, was about their writing skills.

“I write it. I read it. I edit. I share it.”

Our third group, Erb, journeyed back to Oz for their song, choosing to follow the tune to “Over the Rainbow” by Yip Harburg, as sung by Judy Garland.

“I dream of chicken nuggets”

The writers had a blast working on their songs and learning with Dylan, but we figured a little bit of quiet writing time was needed during the afternoon, so we journeyed back into the museum. We’re lucky to be at the Beach Museum for many reasons, especially because the artwork can stimulate our own creativity. Its cozy corners also provide an atmosphere our young writers love.

The writers discuss how they can begin writing a story by looking at a piece of artwork.

We’re all big fans of the bean bags when writing.

Writers jotted down their own stories during this exercise before exchanging with a partner, who got to continue telling that same story.

“She will forget about that monster of a man” —a piece by Ananya and Ashi

We finished our day by putting our own spin on one of the most popular songs in our current culture—“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas and Billy Ray Cyrus. The song exploded earlier this year, inspiring a copious amount of parodies across the internet. So how did we make ours unique?

Horror.

With horror as our theme, we broke down the song into verses, chorus, and refrain to write a dreadfully shocking version of “Old Town Road,” which was retitled “Lock Your Doors.”

The refrain read: “Can’t nobody catch the killer. You can’t guess the killer.”

We didn’t have time to make a music video for our song, which was probably for the best because we didn’t have any fake blood on site.

Fortunately, when asked our final question of the day—“What quality do you like best in other people?”—nobody gave any murderous answers, but we do value a good sense of humor, along with honesty, loyalty, and authenticity. Through their willingness to share their work, our writers reveal a very real, authentic part of themselves. We staff members consider ourselves fortunate to be along for the ride and have the chance to learn more about these young people.

You too can share in this experience by joining us for our reading on Friday at 2:00 p.m. at the Beach Museum. There you’ll see that our writers shine far brighter than diamonds.

—Noelle Braaten, Program Assistant

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