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  Write, Write A Song:
Connecticut Songwriters Association Turns 25

By Ben Johnson, New London Day
Published on 4/13/2004

Norwich, CT- Baseball ballads that play at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Tunes that waft across the decks of “The Love Boat.” Background music behind the continuous drama of the daily soaps.

You may not even know when you are hearing the work of a member of the Connecticut Songwriters Association, but chances are you have.

Over the last 25 years, CSA has grown in membership to more than 2,000 songwriters and performers from more than 12 states and five different countries, and the organization doesn't show any sign of letting up. This weekend, CSA will be holding a conference for songwriters and performers that promises to be a conglomeration of creativity.

The Songwriting and Performance Conference at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich on Saturday is in celebration of CSA's 25th birthday.

“The best thing we do at Connecticut Songwriters Association is probably the song critique sessions,” says Don Donegan, a CSA co-founder who lives in Glastonbury.

“Not only do we provide the only place where a 50-year-old librarian who writes lyrics and a 25-year-old who writes guitar riffs can meet each other,” says Donegan, who declined to give his age, “but we also create a supportive community where people can perform their music in a club setting and receive constructive, positive feedback on their creations. That is an emotional benefit for these people, and it helps them decide if they want to take it to the next level.”

Donegan and Will Ewing founded CSA in 1979, and for many years, the organization sponsored weekly showcases of local musicians in New London at Rudy's Pier One. Since then, the live music scene in Connecticut has suffered some, but the organization still holds two showcases each month, rotating among venues in Old Saybrook, Mystic, East Hartford, Danbury, and Waterford.

Donegan says that CSA was one of the first organizations of its kind, using some of the same strategies as groups like the Songwriters Guild in New York City and a group that sprang up in Arizona around 1976.

CSA serves songwriters in Connecticut by providing showcases as well as interactive workshops, song critique sessions, and guest lectures from nationally recognized artists, producers, and other big names in the music business.

As with the tradition of songwriting in which it was born, CSA is an organization that often attracts those committed to a cause.

This year's conference will feature Jen Chapin, the late Harry Chapin's daughter, who is on a national tour promoting her new CD, “Linger.” Chapin is also the chairperson of World Hunger Year, an organization founded by her father that in many ways was the inspiration for Local United Network to Combat Hunger, a Connecticut-based group founded by Bill Pere that uses arts, education, and community outreach to tackle poverty and hunger problems.

Pere, who declined to give his age, is a Mystic resident. He has been with CSA since its beginnings and acknowledges that the climate for socially conscious music has changed over the years.

“When I first came to CSA in 1979, protest music was all over the place,” Pere recalls. “Over the years, I have seen mainstream music change. The voice of social conscience is no longer there. The need continues to exist. In fact, I think the need has increased over the years, but the means and channels have changed. We've had to get creative.”

Creativity is rampant among the 200 to 250 active members of CSA. According to Pere, the one constant over the past 25 years has been CSA's commitment to the craft of good songwriting. What makes good songwriting?

“The essence of good songwriting is clear and universal communication,” says Pere. “You take an idea that can be widely understood, and put together a good presentation of that idea.”

Donegan agrees with Pere, and he says that “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers is a good example of this kind of songwriting.

“This song is about a gambler on a train. It's a simple story, and they made a whole movie about it. That's the kind of songwriting that works,” Donegan says.

Pere has seen some big names take part in CSA through the years. Nationally recognized folk artists such as Pete Seeger and Dar Williams, and famous songwriters such as George David Weiss (songwriter for Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley) have all been guest speakers at CSA events.

For Pere, this Saturday's conference will provide excellent elbow-rubbing opportunities.

“The conference is designed for the attendees to have personal contact with the presenters. Having an opportunity to have so many creative people in one place at one time is great. Every time you turn around, you'll have a good interaction with someone different,” Pere says.

Saturday's gathering will provide many venues for artist interaction. From vendor tables, to open mic performances, to song critiques, to workshops on songwriting, licensing and copyright, new and experienced artists alike will find useful information. The conference also provides continuing education unit credits for professional educators.

The Connecticut Songwriters Association Songwriting and Performance Conference will run from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at Three Rivers Community College Mohegan Campus in Norwich. A full schedule, list of presenters and performers, and registration information can be found online at or by calling 572-9285. “Music Only” passes are available for $10, and conference rates run from $30 to $50, depending on the package.  and

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