John Wesley Harding song-writing students perform in Princeton

To readers of his novels, he is Wesley Stace. To fans of his music, and listeners who tune into his National Public Radio variety show “Cabinet of Wonders,” he is John Wesley Harding.

This semester he teamed up with the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon to teach a class at Princeton University called, simply, “How To Write A Song.” The fruits of that class will be performed Saturday night at 9 at Small World Coffee in Princeton.

Every week he and Muldoon would write a song together for the benefit of students, taking cues on how to collaborate with each other on their own songs.

“We chose not to write songs in genre, which I think is a boring way to do it,” said Stace. “You end up writing pastiches of other songs, like a torch ballad or a rap song. We structured the course through 14 emotions, a different one each week: despair, joy, lust, anger. It made it less about the genre of song and more about the kind of emotion you were writing.”

On the subject of loneliness, Stace and Muldoon wrote the song “Hard to Get.”

Please drop me a line, occasionally.Sing me a note, throw me a rope, send me a sign.Let me know you’re mine.Drop me a line.

“A good rock music lyric has in no way to be as perfect as a piece of poetry you would read on the page,” said Stace. “One could argue that ‘a-wop bop a-loop bop, a-wop bam boom’ is a perfectly appropriate — and good — rock music lyric. There’s a whole way of thinking about how things should be presented when you’re putting a melody behind them, because melody changes everything.”

Harding wanted a wide variety of students in the class, so the two dozen participants are majoring not only in writing and music, but also unrelated subjects such as biology. They all will present their best song of the semester at the Small World Coffee shop.

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