As Robert C. Atchley, I enjoyed a very successful career as a university professor, research center director, author and speaker. I won awards for my teaching, writing, and mentoring. I published 28 books, including the all-time best selling textbook in my field. My most recent book, Spirituality and Aging, was published in 2009.

In 2007 I retired from my academic career and took a year off. During that time, I didn't take on any new projects and let myself relax into finding my natural rhythm. What time did I naturally get up in the morning? What kind of pace seemed natural for me during the day? Among the many things I like to do, which ones raised my energy most?

In college, back in the late 1950s, I sang folk songs at local bars and at parties as part of a Kingston Trio "copy band." From then on, I never went long without playing through my set list and adding new songs. I played at talent shows and often took my guitar to professional meetings and played at parties. In the 60s I got most of my material from the Old Town School of Folk Music song book, and in the 70s I added several John Denver songs.

In the mid-70s I wrote my first songs and began to perform them. Not a Soul to Hear Me Cry (originally titled On the Road Again, but Willy Nelson upstaged me on that title) was one of the first songs I recorded in 1976, along with Lucky Man. The blues song Not a Soul to Hear Me Cry was based on my experiences of life on the road as a lecturer, spending time in impersonal hotels in towns full of strangers. Lucky Man is a love song I wrote about my wife, who has been my love-song muse for more than 35 years. Just before we married, we were teaching at different universities and saw each other only every couple of weeks. I wrote Lucky Man in part as a way to put into music what I loved about her. I got into a habit of writing songs about our relationship and playing them for her as another wavelength to communicate on. It was heart to heart communication, and those songs still put us in a great place.

When I retired I started to play guitar more and began working on my set list, mixing old stand-byes with my original songs. I performed at sing-alongs and at open mics. I found that whenever my energy got a little low, I could pick up my guitar and start playing and within five minutes my energy and vitality would be exactly where I wanted them to be. At some point, I realized that I had been dabbling in music my whole life, but now I felt drawn to take it to a new level of commitment. I did not expect this to be easy. My guitar skills are limited by my motor coordination. No matter how much I practice, I can only play so fast and do it with grace. My voice is pleasant, but not remarkable. My greatest strength is based in my writing ability. I have a way with words. Or better yet, words have a way with me. I seem to be able to channel emotions through words. I have learned a lot from life and have things to say about that. I love the blues form deep in my bones.

In 2008 a friend of mine, Steve Clark, urged me to try the Song School. I live in Boulder County, Colorado, so the Song School at Planet Bluegrass in nearby Lyons was easy to say yes to. The Song School brings about 175 aspiring singer-songwriters together with about 30 professionals--song writers, touring singer-songwriters, producers, voice teachers, guitar teachers--for four long days of intense learning. The students were from all age groups and a good mix of women and men. They came from all over the country, as did the instructors. Workshops dealt with various aspects of song writing, performing, and the business end of being a working performer and song writer. 

It was great being with a large group of people who were all pursuing similar dreams. I was impressed that we ALL had something to offer. This experience was the beginning of my inclusive philosophy of teaching song writing. I also learned that I had something to offer. In my first mentoring session with a big-name touring singer-songwriter, she cried (in a good way) when I performed my song Time Goes Too Fast. In the workshops, I got good response to my song I Miss Your Gentle Voice. People liked what I had to say and how I put it to music. I was often paralyzed by stage fright, but this was a very patient and forgiving crowd, and I began my journey of pushing thorough fear--which has steadily gotten easier. Just when I think it's past me, it comes back and bites me on the ass, but I know now that I can get through it.

At the end of my first Song School experience, I knew what my next career would be, and I had clear ideas about how I might make it happen. My view of a career is very different now from what I thought about careers in my twenties. I have none of the pressures to make a living doing music. I see it as a way of serving myself and others. I bring happiness, insight, and body motion to my audiences. In return I have a sense of purpose and meaning that resonates deeply in me. I am very lucky to love what I do in my current career as a singer-songwriter, performer, and song-writing teacher. Life is good.



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