Henry Gaffney was a brilliant man. He taught me Lyric Writing I and II at Berklee and even talked me into taking Songwriting I when I admitted to him my personal shame of not being able to transcribe music.
He told me that he thought I’d be making a terrible mistake if I didn’t get past that block because lyric writing comes so naturally to me.
And he’s dead. A man who could inspire a kind of joi de vivre in the most homesick, depressed freshman, simply by talking to that kid about how sharp the depths of that freshman’s pain must be and how the sound of the words the student uses should use should sound sharp and also hiss so that other people can feel the pain they’re trying to express in a song they’re writing about being alienated and alone.
I had such a crush on him. Not one of those “naughty professor” crushes, but I seriously thought he hung the moon… and if there were other classes that he taught that I could have taken without getting through more prerequisites, I would have taken them. But that’s the problem with school and life and learning… there are hoops you have to jump through to get to where you want to go– to get to spend time with the people you want to spend time with. And at the time, I thought I was going to be a multi-millionaire with AudioXtacy… which, only now seems like something that would be interesting to people.
I’ve been thinking about songwriting every day for months now. Some days I actually do it. But at least it’s a consistent thought. At least I’m consistently moving towards music. At least I consistently carry my memo pad around again. Henry would be proud of that. It’s because of him that I sleep with one next to me and carry one in my purse.
Thanks for believing in me while you were around, Henry. And thank you for never having class at 8:45 in the morning. Rest in Peace. You’ve earned it.
Faculty Biography – Henry Gaffney
Title: Associate Professor
“Songs play a magical role in our lives. They travel with us, marking important events and emotions, and connecting us to others by offering a social identity. Songwriting is doubly magical. It is an opportunity to express the inexpressible and, with luck, touch others in ineffable ways. Teaching songwriting is exponentially magical and a source of much joy for me. I like to believe that the many years I spent as a professional songwriter and recording artist make a real difference to my students’ understanding and afford them a unique inside view of this profession.
“Music seems far more congruent with the expression of human emotion than any other art form and, consequently, songwriting is a highly personal activity. Sharing your work with others can be wrought with anxiety. My first priority as a teacher is to create an environment in which my students feel comfortable to make mistakes, comfortable to explore and expose their imagination to others without fear of judgment. Writing is a process, a journey, not a destination with a preordained outcome. Songwriting has no rules, just consequences. We write to understand what we are writing about, not the other way around. Along the way we create bits and pieces of a puzzle; some we keep, others we discard. It is a messy business. The final outcome is the result of choosing the most metaphorically consistent puzzle pieces.
“The collaboration of words and music is where this art form comes to life, so it is very important to me that students view songwriting as a rhetorical art: the coming together of two channels of information to make a third quantity, the parts of which do not necessarily suggest their combination. Music spins words, adding tone and nuance that does not exist on the page, and therefore the musical choices we make communicate as much information as the lyric itself. The medium of song is phonological—we listen to songs, we do not read them. What the eye reads is not necessarily what the ear hears. Consequently our ears are the final arbiter of what works and what does not, and this marriage of words to music, when done well, is beyond the reach of analysis.”
* Former RCA (Waiting for a Wind) and UA (On Again Off Again) recording artist
* Songs recorded by Roberta Flack, Judy Collins, the Pointer Sisters, Jennifer Warnes, Tanya Tucker, Lynn Anderson, the Four Tops, Glen Campbell, Stephanie Mills, Nana Mouskouri, the Marshall Tucker Band, Chris Thompson, Camilo Sesto, Peaches and Herb, Daiquiri, Engelbert Humperdinck, Faye Wong and many others
* Wrote numerous songs for the Emmy Award–winning TV series Fame and other TV features
* Composed, arranged, and produced the original score to Sidewalk Stories, 1988 winner of the Prix de Public at the Cannes Film Festival
* Platinum and gold records for various recordings
* Adjunct associate professor at NYU’s Clive Davis School of Recorded Music, Tisch School of the Arts
* Part-time faculty member