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Songs of Thanks

Getting in touch with our gratitude.

Is there a better time to express our thanks in a song than during the month that hosts Thanksgiving? Whether it’s appreciation for family, a partner, a teacher, or food and shelter —  and even if life isn’t going the way we’ve planned at the moment — writing about being grateful for what we do have can help us count our blessings and maybe even land us a lovely song at the end of the day.

The concept of songs-of-gratitude goes back decades and knows no boundaries when it comes to genre. The Beatles did it (“Thank You Girl”), as did Alanis Morissette (“Thank U”), country’s Carrie Underwood (“Thank God for Hometowns”), even classic rock’s Led Zeppelin (“Thank You”). Oh, and there need not be a “thank you” in the title — check out Aretha Franklin’s (“You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” or Chance the Rapper’s “Blessings.” Everyone’s doing it! Because it works, it’s cathartic and worthy of our attention.

Professional songwriters often have to conjure up material when we’re writing to a brief (like, for example, if you’re writing music for a film or television show), and if we’re working with a recording artist, we need to lean in to their point of view. But expressing our own gratitude is right at our fingertips. It isn’t something we have to calculate, since most of us already have something that we’re thankful for. (Hopefully, anyway.)

Even just listening to these kinds of song can put us in touch with gratitude, for reasons that are chemical as well as emotional. In a recent online article, author Kate Wight points out that “Listening to a song that reminds you of happy times may lead to a release of dopamine. That’s a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good.”

I suppose it’s like following your smile.

On Thanksgiving there’s traditionally a post-turkey jam session in my living room. We play fun-loving joyful classics and debut our originals. (For those of us who aren’t musically inclined there’s a box of percussive accoutrements — tambourines, maracas and an array of ganzá [those egg-shaped shakers actually have a name!]) It’s a highlight of our holiday.

In that same article, Ms. Wight also states that “Music is inextricably linked with human emotion. If you’ve resolved to try and be more thankful this year, consider using music to get you there.”

We all can agree it’s been a challenging couple of years. It’s been difficult to carry on our normal routines, like traveling and visiting the people we love. Not too long ago when I was missing my daughter terribly, I made a decision to be optimistic. I sat down with my Yamaha baby grand and then … a song came out. (Video below.)

Notice I didn’t say I “wrote” a song but that it “came out.” That’s because writing a thank-you song wasn’t necessarily the plan. It doesn’t have to be. Instead, my heart was in my hands and my hands landed on the keys, and the song simply happened.

Gratitude is a powerful feeling. It’s a natural and selfless place to begin and quite the fodder for song.

Simply the process of writing a song of gratitude will remind us of what is easy to forget during uncertain times or in the fog of life. There’s always a story to be told about a friend who lifts us up and pulls us out of the darkness … or a child who reminds us that the best day of our life was the day they were born. This the time of year we take stock.

Here’s my thank you:


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