Songwriter Spotlight: An Interview with Wendy Beckerman

by Laura B. Whitmore
Posted Apr 1, 2014 at 11:41pm

In March singer/songwriter Wendy Beckerman won best song of the month at the West Coast Songwriters Contra Costa Chapter competition.

Her winning song, “Things the Times Haven't Changed,” is a beguiling recitation of timeless delights. It sounds like home in a most wonderful way.

Beckerman has been at this songwriting business for quite some time, and so I was delighted to find out more about this talented musician.

I understand you started on piano, what made you shift your focus to guitar?

My first instrument was actually player piano at about 3 years old. Not yet tall enough for my feet to reach down from the stool, I stood on the pedals, pumping my little legs, and holding on under the front edge of the keys.

Later, actually studying piano laid a good foundation of basic music theory, plus the challenge and satisfaction of committing to daily practice and occasional recitals. Also, my oldest brother Joel is a gifted pianist and composer, and filled the house with great sounds. At 19 years old I made the switch to guitar, largely inspired by singer/songwriters Suzanne Vega, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell, and the natural warmth of the instrument. It's a good fit for my voice.

You’re originally an east coaster. What brought you out to California?

Cupid's arrow!

How have you found the songwriting/performance scene out here? Is it more or less challenging?

The music scene in New York was a vibrant place for me from 1987-2000, including Fast Folk Musical Magazine, and weekly Songwriters' Meetings. In those days, I toured nationally and in Europe.

Since moving to CA in 2001, I have continued writing songs, and co-host (with Patrice Haan) a monthly Songwriters' Exchange here, but have mostly performed at a local community level while earning my living teaching Mindful Yoga and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. I've just begun to step out more again musically through West Coast Songwriters and other events.

Your songs have included some really unique thoughts. Do you keep a journal or list of song and title ideas?

I do keep a journal, more as a way to center myself, and I write songs regularly. Most of all, I find that writing on a self-imposed deadline of the Songwriters' Exchange keeps me open to ideas on an ongoing basis, and helps midwife each song.

Give us a peek into our songwriting process. How do you typically begin?

It may sound simple, but I begin by just making sound -- usually in voice. I find that one sound leads to the next, and if I keep making sound, and stay with it, it can be shaped into song. Unpredictable melody is important to me, so I always move the line in the other direction to see what happens. Same with lyrics.

Tell us the story behind your song that won February’s WCS competition. What’s the story behind the song?

Check out her winning song here:

The idea came when I noticed a classic barber's pole with the helical stripe as I was driving through my town. It harkened back to an early era, and occurred to me that cutting hair hasn't changed that much in the information age.

Then I wondered, what else has been relatively unaffected by technology in my lifetime? Thus the song: “Things the Times Haven't Changed.” When people hear the song without the backstory, it evokes simplicity, like the slow pleasures we experience in leisure time.

You’ve released several CDs. Do you have something new in the works?

Yes! I'm getting ready to record my best writing of the last 13 years (my last CD, Canyon Heart, was released in 2001), and bring a more mature voice and perspective into the studio to make something beautiful to share.

What’s next for you? How can people hear your music?

My music can be heard at CD Baby, and upcoming performances are posted on my website ww.wendybeckerman.com.

I'm excited to be rehearsing for a concert with Louise Taylor and Karen Almquist on Friday, April 4 at Lamorinda Music Store. Luscious 3-part harmonies, original songs, and long-time friends stirring up fun making music together. We're expecting a full house, so we're encouraging people to buy tickets in advance at 3voices.brownpapertickets.com