Note: If you have not read my previous three posts, “The Decline of Lyrical Craftsmanship – Part 1 2 & 3” first, I strongly suggest that you do that now, if possible.
I also had to throw out any notions I might have had about scanning verses simply because I could not change anything. This proved to be the most difficult of obstacles and at times left me wondering if I wasn’t simply barking up the wrong tree. To be continued…
As discussed in Part 1 of this amazing tale, scanning (the ability to match perfectly the word rhythms and accents from verse to verse to keep the repetition of the melody intact) is a crucial part of good lyric writing. Without perfect scanning one loses his melody in a confusion of listener choices.
Writing from prose that offers me no possibility to change words, edit words, or move words around in a sentence, made good scanning an absolute impossibility. This was a disappointment to the composer side of me because it meant that the use of the most powerful tool in music, repetition, would have to be forsaken. Would this also mean that I would be forced by the prose to write songs where we would never hear the same melody twice in the performance of the song?
As it turns out, no.
As I worked compositionally, sometimes naturally, sometimes miraculously, I would find words that would fit previously stated melodies within the song and allow me to bring back melodies. These melodies would not always scan perfectly, but often enough would capture the essence of the previously stated melody without jamming as long as I worked the words into the melodies naturally – the way one would really say them when speaking. I began to term these kinds of melodies “reminiscent melodies” – melodies that would remind the listener of previous melodies, but were not, in fact, perfect repetitions.
When there were too many syllables and jamming would occur, I would simply open up the bar and add another beat to the music.
A simple solution for the lyricist, but then a rougher one for the composer. Going from a 4/4 meter that has been established into a sudden 5/4 or 6/4 bar meant that I, as the composer, had to be extra smart and make the melody and song still flow naturally so that the listener would not even notice the change of meter. Not an easy task…
But I figured that if Stravinsky did it so beautifully, the why not me?
So that became my method to eliminate jamming (too many syllables in a musical line). I believe it has worked, by and large. To me the songs feel natural because the prose is spoken/sung naturally with the original intent of meaning within the music.
It makes it, perhaps, a bit rougher on some singers learning the music if they are not accomplished professionals with experience in changing meters, but even the amateur will pick up the nuances of the music by careful listening and not have to worry about whether they are singing a 5/4 bar or a 3/8 bar.
I’m very fortunate to work with a highly trained vocalist, Julia Wade, who has had years of experience singing some of the world’s greatest music as an opera performer and even sings in 5-6 languages. With her, I have to remind myself to write more simply sometimes so that many others can sing the songs as well because Julia can handle just about anything I throw at her.
As to rhyme, I have written many songs over the years that do not particularly rhyme and if the content is solid, you don’t miss the rhyme. In the case of Mary Baker Eddy’s prose, the content was always solid, the phrases illuminating, the spiritual reach magnificent and the logic sound. Working with this lady was a thrill of a lifetime and I’ll have to admit enjoying it more than working with her poetry.
The endeavor has also brought with it a new form of original composition for me. I’ve been fascinated with the way it has expanded my musical language by constantly throwing me out of the normal melodic box created by iambic lines. Iambic, or repeating rhythmic lyrical lines, have been written and re-written by composers down the centuries so much that it’s near impossible to write a melody that hasn’t already been written before.
Here I’ve been forced by the flowing prose to move out of the box and into unknown territories. This has been most challenging, yet exciting for me and has proven to be a great adventure that has certainly expanded my music.
This is why Stravinsky’s music was so original when it came on the scene – because he broke through repetitious meter and simply wrote nature in his Rite of Spring the way he heard it with little regard to forcing nature out of its own flowing rhythms into man-made rhythms. At first many were thrown, angered and incensed by his music because it was so different, but after a while, people got used to it and now, in modern classical music, it’s more the norm.
Perhaps some will respond to my music like that. It’s the chance one takes in original creativity. Will the listener understand this? I’ve never been much of an avant-garde musician. One could call me a fairly commercial writer. As a teacher, that’s what I teach: the art of writing commercial songs. I’ve always thought that composers ought to eat. So I’ve tried to teach songwriters how to write good songs that the public would ‘get’, the public would want to hear again and again, and then the public would purchase.
So bringing to this new music a more simple melodic structure, even though were breaking some time-honored rules here, I feel, is a mixture of the popular song writer’s sensitivities with a dash of truly original creativity brought on by the more natural rhythms of prose.
Don’t let this make you turn your nose up. Listen first. Decide later. Does it speak to you? Does the music illuminate the ideas? Do you see these iconic phrases of Mrs. Eddy’s now in a new fresh way because of the addition of musical values? I hope so, for that is the intention here. Illuminate the power of her words. Spark a new slant of thinking on an idea that was written nearly a hundred and fifty years ago. Heal.
So now I’ve written 10 of these songs in the past 6 weeks. I’ve done little else. The endeavor has fired me with excitement and promise. I will continue to write more. The songs are bold. The music is a mixture of Classical, Pop, Jazz, Folk and even gospel elements giving us an interesting and fresh originality.
Yesterday Julia and I recorded the first of them. That’s another most interesting story. To be continued…
Yes, here we are yet again. Saved from the quicksand by a damsel in distress, our cowboy now faces yet another exciting adventure. Will she or won’t she?
Tune in soon for the next exciting installment – “Will Julia Figure It Out?”– Part 5
Even More Inspiration
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