Stormin' Bob Swanson

Blogging Bob

Just under the surface

Each summer I try to offer a slightly different show to go along with the summer reading program theme of the year. For example, in 2018 I played my “Music & Meteorology” program to go along with the “Libraries Rock!” summer reading theme. In 2019, I presented an “Out of this World” astronomy show to go along with the “Universe of Stories” theme. Even during the COVID-affected summers of 2020 (“Imagine Your Story”) and 2021 (“Tails and Tales”), my “Sky Stories” show fit in nicely. So I’m super excited to take my “Dive into Science” show to libraries this summer as part of their “Oceans of Possibilities” reading programs.

The way I see it, the benefits are two-fold and cut both ways. The libraries and their patrons benefit because I can return to the same library two years in a row, and the patrons will see a different show each time. I enjoy the process of leveraging my strengths (meteorology and astronomy) and figuring out how I can work them into a new show each year.

I see it as a bit of a creative challenge — educationally, scientifically and musically. I try to come up with new, fun demonstrations that will help me teach the theme more effectively. (For example, this year I’ll be playing around with beach balls more than in years past.) Musically, I push myself to play new instruments. I added the piano accordion to my arsenal in 2019 to play “Just a Phase” and learned to play “The Weather Safety Polka” on accordion for my “Sky Stories” program. This year, I’ll be bringing a ukulele with me.

“But Stormin’ Bob, you don’t have any songs that feature a ukulele . . . .”

That’s right, I don’t . . . until now.

In addition to adding new instruments, I try to write at least one new song for each new show (I also dig into my repertoire for tunes that might fit the theme). Songwriting for me is a fun, but slow process. It always starts with the words, and very often simply starts with a title. For example, casting about for marine themes (and being a dad, “dad jokes” come second-nature to me), the song title, “Punderwater,” leapt into my head several months ago. And that’s where it sat for weeks, if not months.

I procrastinate as much as the next guy, but with summer approaching I knuckled down and put pen (I should really use pencil more, as I edit a lot) to paper. Part of writing the lyrics is not only making rhymes, but establishing a rhythm to the rhyme scheme. Once I have most of the lyrics and a feel for the rhythm in my head, I start to form a melody for the chorus. With the rhythm and melody in mind, I’ll finally pick up an instrument (typically guitar) and work up a chord progression that matches what I’m hearing in my head.

So when you see me this summer and I play “Punderwater” or “The Tropical Twist,” know that, no matter how easy I might make it look to sing and play these songs, I’m treading water just under the surface — hoping you dig these new tunes as much as I do.

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