Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers didn’t think sending a guitar around Syracuse for artists to create a song in a week would work.

“Oh, wouldn’t it be great?” he thought, musing on the possibility.

It was 2013, and Rodgers, an adjunct professor in creative nonfiction writing and songwriting at Syracuse University and the founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, was talking to David Adams, who founded The Acoustic Guitar Project in New York City the year before. But believing there was a great community of songwriters in the Syracuse area, Rodgers still proposed the idea.

Adams didn’t hesitate in his response and said yes. Ten Syracuse-area songwriters participated in 2014, the project’s first year, and five have participated every year since — all on the same guitar, a handmade acoustic with each songwriter’s signature from the last five years.

Now, on Nov. 15, five songwriters will each perform a few original songs, including their project song, at a concert at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse.

Adams created the project to prevent songwriters from fussing over songs for a long period of time, Rodgers said.

“It’s meant to capture the song in its raw form,” Rodgers said. “It tends to just bring something different out of people, playing a guitar they haven’t played before and having that kind of time pressure. You just have to see what you’re inspired to do in that time.”

Additionally, Rodgers said the project celebrates the local community and its music. As curator, he finds a diverse group of songwriters to participate each year, both in background and genre.

For the Syracuse Acoustic Guitar Project, songwriters share a guitar and write a song in a week.Courtesy of Jack Bocchino

Mark Wahl, a luthier and president of the Ontario Center for the Performing Arts in Oswego, was the first songwriter to receive the guitar this fall. The song, titled “Your Lovin’ Man” cautions the listener about desiring perfection in a relationship and is inspired by his daughter, he said.

Wahl also values the relationship formed between songwriters and the audience they perform for.

“The opportunity for songwriters to do their own stuff is precious. To have a listening audience— an audience interested in the creation of new material — is hard to find,” Wahl said.

Jess Novak, an SU alumna, got the guitar second. She’s a singer and guitarist who characterizes her genre as pop rock and soul. Novak is in a duo with her boyfriend but also has her own band.

She said she writes songs constantly — having thousands of notes for songs in her phone — and performs close to 300 times a year. But when she received the guitar at the start of the week, Novak said she froze.

Her inspiration finally came while playing a show with her boyfriend on Friday night of that week. Titled “Anchor,” the song, is about her not needing to compare herself to her boyfriend and being herself, she said.

For Novak, being part of the project was both an honor and overwhelming, she said.

“You want to show why you were picked for it,” she said. “You don’t want to disappoint—not that anyone is looking at it that way, but you always do … when you’re a perfectionist and a songwriter.”

Another alumna of SU, Catherine Cadley describes herself as a lifelong musician. She describes her music as a mix of Americana, bluegrass and country. Over several decades, she developed her skills as a musician by directing and singing with a church choral group in Fayetteville. It was there where she met her husband, John, with whom she is now in a duo and a four-piece band with.

Cadley admits some apprehension when she got the guitar.

“There’s a little fear that goes with that deadline,” she said. “Here’s your guitar. See you in a week.”

But the deadline ended up providing her with focus, and she wrote the song about the guitar itself, referencing her relationship with the instrument and guitar players. The song is titled “Wood and Wire.”

pulp guitar

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SU College of Visual and Performing Arts professor Leo Crandall labors over his lyrics, refining them with a personal editor. His studies of poetry and degree in English are major influences.

When he received the guitar on a Monday, Crandall said he didn’t want to touch it. He decided to wait until he could pick it up and start writing the song as a single moment.

The song he wrote, titled “Handbreadth,” is about his friend who had recently passed away. The opening was inspired by an Irish funeral where people shakes everyone’s hands.

“It wasn’t meant to be morose, that was the poetry on my mind,” he said.

Syracuse native Phil Grajko, singer and guitarist for local roots-reggae soul band Root Shock, was the last to receive the guitar. Grajko said he had gigs every night of the week and very little time to write. But he wasn’t nervous, he said, because he knew he’d write something.

“It was just a crappy rainy day out, and I was stuck in the house and just thinking about how nothing really lasts. And that’s kind of where that song came from,” he said. The song is called “The Dew.”

Rodgers said that the project is about encouraging the artist to get in touch with the spark of creativity that starts the songwriting process.

“The music that’s being made by the people here is as good as it is anywhere in the world,” Rodgers said. “It just celebrates the community and the original music that’s coming from right here in this area.”

Contact Austin: [email protected]