Cecilee Linke

I can write you a story, teach you French, sing you a song.

Girl and Piano #2 – Imagination (Clan of Xymox cover)

I may perform with just a keyboard and my voice these days, but I always have a soft spot for 80s synth pop.

In some cases, songs don’t hold up without the production. But in many cases, if you strip away the production, you have a song that can stand up on its own.

Like this month’s song.

If you grew up in Europe or went to dance clubs in the mid-80s, you probably heard this song at some point. Clan of Xymox (or Xymox) are a Dutch group whose music I’m honestly not familiar with beyond the music on their third album Twist of Shadows. I heard Imagination on a compilation CD of Dutch music, and this song stood out to me. It’s dark and danceable in a kind of New Order way, but with a female singer (Anka Wolbert). The danceable vibe grabbed me, then the lyrics did, and I was in love. This is one of my favorite 80s songs ever. The rest of the album is in much the same vibe as this song, but with a male singer instead (Roony Moorings).

Imagination was the third single from the Xymox album Twist of Shadows, released in 1989, and it only reached #85 on the Billboard charts. Their two other singles, Obsession and Blind Hearts, all did well on the Hot Dance Club and Alternative song charts in the US, however. Imagination remains the biggest commercial success of the group, and it’s my favorite song by them.

I didn’t use sheet music or even guitar tabs to learn this song. Instead, I began teaching myself how to play this song by ear. A few years ago, someone who I thought was a dear friend (and had been my friend for about a year at that point) ended up ghosting on me. Rather than talking to me about whatever it was that was bothering her (and I still don’t know to this day what I did wrong), she blocked me on Twitter, stopped returning my phone calls, and basically acted like the biggest coward I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

This song gave me a lot of comfort during that difficult time. Her betrayal forever changed me. Because of her, I have major trust issues and am afraid to get close to people.

And when she comes to mind, this song helps me.


Thing A Week #8 – Celestial

I tend to write a lot of songs about space, it seems!

Like Nebulous, this song doesn’t mention the title in the lyrics at all! I’m honestly not sure what I will do this this song, though I do like how pretty it is! I wrote this as a part of a personal songwriting challenge to write a song in one hour, lyrics and music. Rather than using the title as a hook, I decided to write something that described the title. I thought about memories and how everything you go through makes up who you are, makes up your own personal sky.

Et voila!

Click below to listen to this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe!


Thing A Week #7 – Spirals

Since Valentine’s Day is this week, I figured I’d share a love song of sorts!

I say a love song because while this does talk about a romance, it’s unfulfilled.

This week’s song, Spirals, was inspired by a story I read in a book about French culture. I think it might’ve been French or Foe. I can’t remember now! I’ve read a lot of books about France! In this book was a story of an American who was visiting France. While he was traveling on a bus, he locked eyes with a beautiful woman who was sitting toward the back of the bus. Without even saying a word to one another, they shared a mutual attraction. Then, the bus stopped, she got off the bus, and he never saw her again. But he always remembered that beautiful woman and the moment they shared together.

So this song is about that fleeting feeling you get when you see someone you find attractive, and you do it all without even saying anything to each other.

Click below to listen to this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe!

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLoFK_zWbCVUyzrTV88bV_e4zH8HG37H5m


Thing a Week #6 – Ballerina

Where some songs begin with an interesting word, other songs begin with a picture.

This week’s song, Ballerina, started as a songwriting challenge. Last year, I attended a local chapter meeting of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), which some of you reading this (all maybe six or seven of you!) will already be familiar with. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an organization for songwriters looking to better their craft. You can have your songs evaluated, attend workshops, and all sorts of wonderful benefits all to help you be a better songwriter, whether for yourself or for other people.

That night’s songwriting challenge was to write a verse and chorus for any number of pictures given to us. Six different pictures were laid out on a table and we had fifteen minutes to pick a photo and write about it. The picture that stuck out to me was a black and white photo of a ballerina dancing on a rock in the middle of a calm body of water. I’m not sure what it was that struck me about it, but I ended up choosing to write about that picture. Maybe it’s because I took ballet lessons for a few years when I was a child, so I felt drawn to it.

Either way, I chose that picture. And I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the picture I used as my inspiration, but I did after poking around on Google Images.

Here it is:

On the back of that month’s meeting syllabus, I began writing the required verse and chorus based on that picture. In fifteen minutes, I wrote in a stream-of-consciousness, and ended up with far more than was required. But that’s how I am (I was the kid in fourth grade who wrote a dozen pages for an assignment when all that was required was one or two pages). I still have the paper I wrote this on, though I’ll have to find it! And what came to mind was a song about standing strong when chaos is going on around you. And no matter what, you continue to be yourself, even when bad things are happening.

When it came time to share what we’d written, Michael King, one of the chapter heads, told me he was sure I was going to pick that ballerina photo. How he was right!

Click below to listen to me talking about this week’s song and to hear my performance. And don’t forget to subscribe!


Thing A Week #5 – Nebulous

Sometimes I’m inspired not by an idea but by a word. How it sounds. What it means. One of my favorite artists, Mylène Farmer, often picks words and phrases because they sound cool.

Everyone has depths that they hide from other people. I come across as pretty open in this blog series and in my videos, but even I have things that I never show other people. It’s those hidden depths in others that fascinate me to no end.

This song is about wanting to reach out to someone. You know someone who seems to hide a lot and you’re just trying to be friendly, not become BFF, just friendly, but they turn you away all the time and so you just give up on them because what’s the use. “You’ll always be……,” as I sang in the song.

I worked with someone whose mysterious nature inspired this song. I never got to know her very well because every time I tried to be friendly, her attitude was really off-putting. She answered in short sentences and wouldn’t even look at me when she did talk to me. Very strange. So much for being her friend. I gave up, but always wondered why she behaved the way she did. Whatever she was going through, I hoped she was OK. I never want the worst for anyone.

This is an instance where the title is NOT in the song itself. I enjoy the music of New Order, an 80s band known for not putting the title anywhere in their lyrics most of the time (songs like Shellshock aside). Blue Monday. Bizarre Love Triangle. Love Vigilantes. None of those titles are anywhere in their respective lyrics. I felt like making the title more like the main idea of the song and using the lyrics to describe someone who is the title, rather than making it the hook. I’m all about trying new things when it comes to music: not putting the title in the lyrics, not having a traditional verse-chorus structure, not having a discernible chorus (I wrote a song recently that has no real chorus!), or even trying to write something in a time signature I’ve never written in before. What’s the point if you aren’t trying something a little different? 🙂

Click below to listen to my story about this song and to watch my performance! And don’t forget to subscribe!


Thing A Week #4 – Amerrir

The first time I ever sang in a non-English language was when I took voice lessons in high school. One of the books that my teacher went through with me was a book of 101 Italian art songs. After Italian songs, we moved to French and German songs. Of course, my favorite songs to sing were the French songs. I hardly ever sang in English. But that’s the nature of classical singing: you learn to sing in languages other than English. Because actually, singing in English is quite difficult, but when you’re a native speaker, you don’t think about it. You’ve been speaking the language since you were a kid, so it’s natural to you. I do notice how difficult English is as a language when I’m watching clips of native French speakers singing English songs on the French version of The Voice. Why they don’t sing in French more often I will never understand (cultural imperialism aside). The contestants sound so much better in French!

But I digress.

Why all this talk about singing in foreign languages? Because this week’s song is in French!

Mais oui!

I wrote so many French-language songs between 2015 and 2017, that I’ve been taking a break from writing in my second language. I do love writing in French. In some ways, I enjoy it more than writing in English. The sounds flow together so beautifully, more than in English, and the overtly nasal sounds lend themselves to singing higher, head voice notes. It’s for that reason that I enjoy singing in French more than I do in English.

When putting together my list of songs for my Thing a Week series, I realized that I only had one French song that I’ve written in the last few months! And it’s this week’s song, so youpi!

But don’t worry, I have included burned-in English subtitles so you can follow along with what I’m saying! It’ll be like a foreign movie, but with me singing!

I wrote this song after I learned a new word while watching an English movie with the French subtitles on: amerrir, which means splash down. It’s usually used to refer to planes making water landings (a Google image search for amerrir brought up a lot of screenshots and promo pictures of the movie Sully, that Tom Hanks movie from a few years ago about the Miracle on the Hudson!) I love how the word literally means “to the sea” (mer meaning “sea”). As I thought on this word, I got this idea of someone who’s always lost in their own emotions, maybe even letting themselves be carried away by them, and this person always has to be brought back down to earth by a loved one as a reminder that “hey, I’m here for you whenever you’re done.”

I don’t write love songs about needing someone desperately, I can’t live if living is without you, etc etc. The sort of “love” songs I write are more about being there for someone. I suppose that makes them more like “friendship” songs, but to me, love is a deeper form of friendship. I know that’s what Andrew and I have.

More often than not, between Andrew and me, I’m usually the one who has to be brought back down to earth. I tend to get lost in my own thoughts. But occasionally, Andrew becomes emotional too. So this is my version of a love song, but one that’s not “ooooh baby I love you and need yoooooooou.” It’s not co-dependent like so many love songs. It’s more realistic, more like a “hey I”m here for you when life gets crappy” kind of song.

Click below to watch and listen to this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe too, while you’re at it! 😀


Thing A Week #3 – Hurricane

Hurricane

When compose a song, I don’t think about just the melody and words. I also think about the atmosphere I want to create. Am I writing a happy song? A sad song? Something in between? How can I convey the theme and mood of the song? Am I writing about myself or a character?

To me, a song is more than just words. It’s a story set to music. And they’re like people sometimes. They have ever-changing moods.

Hurricane was something that I wanted to create as a mood piece, something that carried you along with the words, made you feel like you were in the midst of something.

I’ve known a lot of different people who have been exhausting to be around. The kind of people who say hurtful things without realizing what they’re saying, who don’t care about what comes out of their mouths, and who I have grown too old to have in my life as anything more than a passing curiosity. I’ll be friendly when I need to be, but otherwise, I don’t want them around because they’re too negative.

I wrote this in late December 2017. When I wrote this, I’d originally written the lyrics completely differently. They were good, but I wanted to try something different. So I experimented a little with a rhyme scheme and I liked the result! Many of my songs are blank verse; there’s no rhyme scheme to speak of because I find it too restricting. This time, however, I noticed that rhyming brought out other images I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of!

I also wrote this while my husband was sick on the couch downstairs right after Christmas! I remember plugging my keyboard into Logic and my headphones into my computer headphone jack so I could hear the piano and composing the song directly into Logic. I knew this was going to be loud and emotional and I didn’t want to wake him up as I worked on this song.

Also, I’d been listening to a lot of Depeche Mode, and I know that affected my writing in this song! I wanted something moody, that shifts and changes like a hurricane.

And I think I accomplished that!

To listen to my song, click the playlist below. And make sure to subscribe! Many more videos to come (49 more just this year, EEEK! 😀 )


Thing A Week #2 – The Language of Dreams

The Language of Dreams

Not every song I’m doing for this series is a completely new song. Some of these tunes are things I’ve been playing around with for a while but just haven’t done much with yet other than playing them live and watching people’s reactions.

I wrote this in September/October 2016. I remember because it was a chilly fall day when this song came to me, the leaves were changing and so was the relationship I had with the person I wrote this song about. There’s someone on the periphery of my life who I had hoped to become friends with. Unfortunately, they made some hurtful comments about me that I heard about secondhand. Things like, I hum too much, I talk too loudly, I’m too this, too that. Whatever, I’ve heard worse.

But of all those comments, “I don’t know how anyone can stand her,” was the statement that hurt the most. So much for being friends. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

I acknowledge that I’m always in my own little world (and the people like me there, what can I say?). I’m a bubbly person and I like that. I’m not going to spend my life wallowing in negativity. I speak my own “language of dreams,” and sometimes people get it (my husband, my close friends, etc), and some people don’t. I think of someone who “speaks the language of dreams” as someone who has their own thing going on that no one else understands. I’ve reached the point of my life where I love who I am, I have people who actually do like me, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to hang around me. I am who I am and I spent years changing that to try and please people. And I’m done with that.

I was a bit meh on this song at first, to be honest. I liked it but I wasn’t sure it was notable enough to show people. But I started playing it out as a way of changing up the rather atmospheric and more thoughtful songs in my repertoire, and I noticed people paying attention.

Click below to watch the introduction and performance of The Language of Dreams, and make sure to subscribe to my channel! Many more videos to come! 😀


Thing A Week #1 – Diving Bell

This year is the start of a huge project: every Friday on my YouTube channel, I’ll be putting a live performance of an original song on my YouTube channel. 52 weeks in a year, and I definitely have more than 52 songs!

Last week was the start of this ambitious project, with a live performance of my personal absolute favorite song Diving Bell.

This song was a turning point in so many ways. I really feel like after this song was written, I became more dynamic with my songs. I put in more stops, starts, and passages that start loud, then soft, then back again.

These days, I go into a trance when I sing this song. I recall so many memories and feelings as the words tumble out of me. This song has taught me a lot.

And yet the inspiration for it was simple: a conversation with one of my closest friends.

My friend Valerie and I have never lived in the same city, so it was by chance that we even met in the first place (that’s a story for another time!). She and I were talking about how our relationships with others, especially loved ones, has changed as we’ve gotten older. That both of us have begun to see people in a different way, we see more of their humanity and we realize that not everyone is completely good or completely bad. Most people are in between. And realizing that makes us realize more about ourselves as humans.

I wish I could always have the kind of inspiration that came with this song. The kind of inspiration where the song comes out fully formed with perfect lyrics and a perfect melody. Most songs I have to work on for weeks or even months to get to this point. Not Diving Bell. That conversation with Valerie immediately got me thinking of a song about seeing the humanity of other people, how my perspective on people has changed as I’ve gotten older. I did my teaching job as usual that day, then came home, and immediately began writing the music to this song. I had the whole thing in a matter of about thirty minutes. I played it for Andrew that afternoon, and he told me it was the best song I’d ever written. He didn’t think it was one of mine. He thought it was something from Charlotte Martin, one of my favorite singer/songwriters and a HUGE inspiration for my own work, one of the biggest compliments he’s ever given me.

I absolutely love this song and I will never tire of singing it.

You can watch the playlist that includes my performance and a short introduction video, right here (and don’t forget to subscribe, many more videos are to come this year!):


Finding Your Own Singing Voice (Part 4)

I’m going to start this off by saying that by no means am I a professional voice teacher. I haven’t gone to school and studied voice like many professionals. I’m merely an enthusiast with a ton of practice and experience who wants to impart that knowledge to others.

Even more than having a decent range and writing a decent song, one of the most important elements of singing is a little thing that makes a big difference: confidence.

Singing is about more than just singing notes. It’s about bearing your emotions and letting others into your heart. And if you don’t have the confidence in yourself to believe that you’re good at what you do, you won’t get anywhere. Your audience will be able to tell that you’re not really feeling it. More than that, you won’t sing nearly as well as you could.

I should know.

I loved singing when I was a kid. Then, when I was about sixteen, not long after I joined the choir, I lost my confidence and became shy about singing in front of other people in a solo capacity.

I could’ve quit choir. But I stayed because I could hide behind everyone else. I did sing some solo performances at our yearly talent shows, but those always came with a lot of trepidation. I only did them because I was trying to push through my confidence issues. Unfortunately, I was so into my own head that I didn’t sound great at all, which only led to more frustration at my own abilities.

It took me years of mistakes and growing as a person in order for me to not get scared singing in front of people. I couldn’t even do karaoke until a few years ago. Now, I’m happy to sing to myself, even when other people might be nearby. I can roll the windows down on a nice day and sing with my music without caring what people think. I’ll hum as I’m going about my work at the store too. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally slip and go into a negative spiral. Old habits die hard. As I type this, I’m coming out of one of those. I’m not perfect. Fortunate for me that it only lasts a few days.

It’s been my experience that you could be the worst singer in the world, but if you believe in yourself and THINK you’re great, then you’re going to sound great even when you really aren’t. I’ve seen it at karaoke night. I’ve seen it at open mic nights too. I once listened to a guy whose whiny, nasal voice made the guy from Blink 182 sound like Frank Sinatra. I cringed at and hated his voice. But that guy owned the stage. So it made all the difference, even if I didn’t come away a fan by any stretch of the imagination.

One of the hardest things to do when you’re trying to build up your confidence is getting out of your head. The moment you get on stage and think you’re going to screw up, you will. It’s the power of negative thinking.

When I realized I wanted to get through my confidence issues once and for all, I began taking voice lessons again in 2010. The first song my teacher gave me was Plaisir d’amour. I looked at the sheet music, saw the higher notes in the song, and immediately clammed up. I went, “no way, I can’t sing those high notes, I can’t do it.”

And guess what?

I couldn’t sing those notes very well at all. I believed that I couldn’t do it, and therefore I couldn’t. That first lesson was almost a disaster because I was so into my head and feeling negative about myself that I physically could not sing that note. I’d warmed up past that note, but I couldn’t sing it in a song. My throat always clammed up when I got to that section of the song. It took me months to be able to hit that note with ease.

Most of my problem was that I was always too much in my own head. I was so focused on what I didn’t think I could do that I allowed it to affect my performance. I couldn’t understand how people like Kelly Clarkson or Janis Joplin could get on stage and own it. It took my voice teacher reminding me, “you can sing higher than you think you can, don’t be so scared, you can do it,” practically every week, before it finally set in. It took a while though. Several years.

A way to help you get out of your head is to just know the song or songs inside and out. Know them so well that you could sing it in your sleep. Get the melody well and embedded in your head. Then, as you’re singing, close your eyes and focus on an image to help you convey the song’s message. It will help you to concentrate on something besides yourself. I do this all the time when I’m singing, even when I’m not feeling too much in my own head. Rather, this helps me to emote more. I have a few images in mind when I sing my songs.

You can also pretend that your song is a monologue. Think of what you’re singing about. Are you supposed to be happy? Sad? Languid? Sing that song like you’re an actor giving a monologue in a play. Then emote those lyrics with the emotion you want the audience to feel. If you’re singing a sad song, sound sad. If you’re singing a joyful song, sing with a brighter tone. You may just be surprised at how much more emotion comes out.

Something else that helped me to grow my singing confidence was to practice practice practice. Know those songs inside and out. Sing scales to warm up your voice before going into singing songs. Perfect your singing technique with a teacher who can give you good feedback who knows what they’re talking about. Breathe deeply, drink lots of water, and sit up straight. You won’t sound good all slouched over. Believe me.

You should also be proud and accepting of your own voice. If you don’t like your voice for any reason, it will show on your face and in your body language. Be accepting of your own vocal quirks. Think of all the famous singers who really don’t have great voices, but who own it.

Learning to accept and be proud of my voice was a difficult process. Until a few years ago, I had trouble appreciating what I have. And it showed in my vocal performances. I listen back to my old music and I sounded so timid and strained. I disliked my own voice, and it showed.

Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Singing should be fun. Start out singing with a few close friends and family, and when you feel you’re ready, venture out for a night of karaoke. People will be too drunk to care what you sound like. And if someone laughs at you, just shrug it off. Not everyone is going to love what you do, but if you truly enjoy singing, keep doing it. The more you perform, the less you’ll worry about what other people think. If you feel a little nervous, concentrate on people who are truly engaged with your performance.

On that note, if you make a mistake while you’re singing, just keep going. Pretend like it was part of the performance. I mess up all the time, especially if I’m playing a difficult piano part. I’ll play a wrong chord and just keep going. Or if I forget a lyric, especially if it’s in French or another language the crowd doesn’t understand, I’ll just make something up. I screwed up a French song once when I blanked on the lyrics and I sang the French equivalent of, “I can’t remember the lyrics here, but that’s OK, you can’t understand me anyway.” Don’t stop in the middle of the song.

Learning to sing with confidence takes a while. You won’t get better instantaneously. I didn’t. It’s taken years to get to where I am now. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to be able to have fun singing with friends at a karaoke bar on a Friday night instead of being scared. It’s worth it to have a hobby that you’re proud of. Not to mention that singing offers many great health benefits, as seen here.

No matter what, make sure you’re always having fun with what you do. And the rest will follow!