Catching Up with Award-Winning Songwriter John Schindler

Catching Up with Award-Winning Songwriter John Schindler

“We’re really happy. Great town, great people,” John Schindler, 71, says of the life he and his wife Jane have made in Boothbay Harbor. They moved there full time four years ago. Twenty years earlier, they had laid the foundation for this move, by buying the property on which their newly built house now sits.  

John’s journey—as a successful songwriter, musician, and volunteer in the service of community—stretches back even further, to his youth in the Midwest. Then the priesthood seemed to be his calling.  Throughout all the time spent in seminary, and then later through a long and satisfying career in the high-tech business and scientific world, John’s music and songwriting have been steady constants.  

I so enjoyed talking to John Schindler and learning more about his music. It forms an important thread that runs from the past, to the present, and on into the future, touching and connecting many people.   

 

Mary:  What has your path been to get to Maine?  

Well, I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. For high school, I was in the seminary, in La Salette Seminary in Jefferson City, Missouri, beginning at age 13. I studied to be a Catholic priest for about nine years. When I came out here to get my philosophy degree, I went to Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. All the seminarians went with Merrimack College. And everybody knew who we were because we wore black. I moved around a lot. I lived in Ipswich and Newburyport. So I’ve been up here in New York and New England quite a while, since I was 17.  

Later, after leaving seminary, I moved to and lived for a long time in Southern New Hampshire after I got married. We lived out in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, in Jaffrey. We were there for 27 years. I don’t know how many times I’ve hiked the Monadnock itself. We really enjoyed it there.  

But at one point my wife wanted to get back to the ocean. She is from Stamford, Connecticut, and she grew up right next to Long Island Sound. She started scoping out places up here in coastal Maine. And when we retired, we came up here; we had this house built. We had an old cottage up here about 20 years ago, and we took that down and built a new house. We have moved up here since our retirement, and it’s beautiful. 

Mary: 

What was it like for you at La Salette Seminary at 13? 

John: 

I was from a very Catholic family and one of six kids. And I think when I said, “Oh, I am thinking about being a priest,” they put you up on a little bit on a pedestal. So I followed through on that. Actually, I wouldn’t say at that early age that I knew what I was doing, but [this path meant] I was also going away and living away from home. It was a little bit dicey—homesickness and that type of thing. But I really actually enjoyed it and kind of blossomed, I think, when I was in the seminary, as far as school goes. When I was in grade school, I wasn’t very much of a student. By the time I got out of high school and on to college, I was a much better student. 

Mary: 

What were the steps you took towards becoming a Catholic priest?  

John: 

I was in the La Salette seminary while I was in high school in the Midwest. Then I went to a La Salette seminary and a junior college in Altamont, New York. Then I was in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where I was in novitiate. I took vows there, and I was a brother in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Then I moved, stationed in Ipswich. I had La Salette fathers there in Ipswich. I was there for a couple of years, and then I left the seminary. I didn’t take my final vows.  

Mary: 

Why did you want to leave? 

John: 

I had changed. I started losing confidence in the Church for my future. I still had some faith. And one thing I liked about Catholicism, and later my wife felt the same way, is that you can’t just believe in something; you have to actually do stuff for people. So we volunteer for different things here in town. I always thought that the way to be a real Christian was to do things for people.  

But at that point, I was really conflicted. I thought my parents would be really disappointed. And they were not. They basically said, “Whatever you want and would like to do,” they were in favor of.   

So then I became a musician. There’s an old exchange I think of. A little kid says to his parents, “When I grow up, I want to be a musician.” And the parents say back to him, “Well, you can’t do both.” There probably is a lot of truth to that. I’ve never really depended on music. I’ve made some income from it, but I’ve never relied on it for my income. I’ve done it because I really love music. I first played folk masses in the seminary and used to play for different parishes and things like that. That’s how I started playing music. 

Mary: 

You had a different job than being a musician throughout your life?  

John: 

Yes, I worked for one company for 34 years, and then I went back twice as a consultant. And my last time until last June, working from here, on computers. I was a purchasing manager for a high-tech company that makes ground penetrating radar that looks into the ground and looks through things, with a lot of really cool applications. I really liked the company, and it was a manufacturer in New Hampshire. It was a cool job.  It’s called Geophysical Survey Systems. 

Mary: 

When did you begin song writing?  

John: 

I started in the seminary. I always liked a lot of music. I liked pop music and folk music and rock and roll. I started writing back then. They were fairly primitive songs. After I left the seminary, I played in a couple of different bands. We would do cover material, but we’d also do my songs. Then right around, I’d say my late 40s or so, my friends who I was in bands with moved out of the area. One went to Washington State, and other one moved to Ireland. I decided that I would try to go out and play just my songs as a solo act. It was a little scary, but I had good response right away. And within a few years I won the Boston Folk Festival Songwriting Contest. 

And then I won of Rose Garden Contest a couple of years after that, basically because of my songwriting. I have always enjoyed songwriting, and I would do that, even if I didn’t have an audience to play to—which was like this last year. actually. I did post a lot of songs on Facebook, and I had a lot of people for the first time from Europe and the UK and all around. I was in fact, at one point, a feature at the Texas Songwriters Association, which I am not. I mean, I don’t live in Texas, but they asked me if they could feature me for the week. 

While I’ve been up here in Maine, I was on the board, vice-president, of the Maine Songwriters Association, for about three years, until last year. And so, I’ve been songwriting for a long time. I imagine I’ve written hundreds of songs.  I really enjoy it. I have even taught songwriting. I just enjoy writing songs so much. 

Mary: 

Do you have a favorite? 

John: 

I don’t know. The one that won the Boston Folk Festival Songwriting Contest was called “The Start of the Freedom Trail.” It is about the immigrants that came across in the back of a tractor trailer into Texas. They all died in the heat of Texas. I make a comparison between that happening and the way our country started. The Freedom Trail in Boston tells that story. 

But, in terms of favorite, I don’t know. I have a song I wrote for my wife. It’s called, “Don’t You Know,” and it’s Jane’s song. That’s my wife. 

Mary: 

How did you and Jane meet and marry? 

John: 

I was 37 and she was 35. We were both marrying for the first time. And we’ve been married now for 35 years.  I actually knew her back when I got out of the seminary. She was at Merrimack College as well. She was an acquaintance who I knew back then. Then 15 years later, I ran into her at a party, and we haven’t looked back, actually.  So, it was nice. It is, it is. It’s the best part of my life. I’m a lucky man. 

Mary:  

Do you perform on a regular basis?  

John: 

I have not performed out for a while because of the COVID—a lot was cancelled. Now things are just starting to happen again. I’m going to play it at Wilson Neck in Freeport coming up. And I’m doing some streaming online, live playing. I really haven’t booked much out to the future. Everything was so tentative for so long. But I do plan on getting back out and playing more live, which I miss. 

Mary: 

Have you ever tried to sell your music, your songs, to other performers? 

John: 

You know, I have not. People have suggested that to me. I mean, people have done my songs. They’ve asked for permission and that type of thing.  

I remember seeing Elizabeth Cotton, “Libba” Cotton. She was probably in her eighties at the time. She was an older African-American woman, and she wrote “Freight Train.” You know that old song–(singing): “Freight train, freight train, run so fast/Freight train, freight train, run so fast/ Please don’t tell what train I’m on/They won’t know what route I’m going.” 

She had never copyrighted it or any of that. And she said, “I’m just so happy when people do my songs.” She could have probably made some big money off of that because there’s so many people doing that song. But she said, “I’m really just happy when people played my song.” I kind of have the same attitude, to a certain degree. I mean, I get airplay and have CDs and that type of thing. I still get downloads and Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes. I do have an income stream from people listening to my songs. 

Mary: 

When you are writing a song, do you write the music first or the words first?  

John: 

I write the music first, most of the time. The tune is first, and then everything else kind of falls into line. Sometimes I have a germ of an idea, but most of the time the music comes first, the tune. You have to have the hook in the tune. It is the tune that hooks you in.  

You have to have a hook in the idea, too, and you have to have a hook in the lyrics somewhere. For me, it’s got to have something more or less meaningful to hook you in as well, and you have to be smart lyrically. But it’s usually music first because I sit playing guitar or piano, and usually it’s music first. 

Mary: 

Do you see yourself in the future writing more songs? Or do you see yourself sitting back and looking out over the water in Maine? 

John: 

Both. I don’t see myself stopping writing music or playing music because I really enjoy it. For me, writing songs is like reading a good book. You don’t want it to end. You could see how many pages you’ve got left, but I really like to work on a song, and sometimes I just don’t want it to end. I do see myself continuing to write, as long as the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, as they would say. 

 

For more information about John Schindler, his performing schedule, and his music, please visit his website JohnSchindler.reverbnation.com.

 

Author profile
MFB
Mary Frances Barstow

We strive to bring our readers the best content possible and provide it to you free of charge. In order to make this possible we do utilize online ads.

We promise to not implement annoying advertising practices, including auto-playing videos and sounds.

Please whitelist our site or turn off your adblocker to view this content.

Thank you for your understanding.