The Decline of Lyrical Craftsmanship – Part 3

Note: If you have not read my previous two posts, “The Decline of Lyrical Craftsmanship – Part 1 & 2” first, I strongly suggest that you do that now, if possible.

Mary Baker Eddy

So here’s where we left off at the end of Part 2:

So now along comes a new project, a new and exciting challenge that throws much of this out the window for me and confronts the very fundamental in me with spectacular defiance.  To be continued…

I choose to write a series of songs from the text of prose – prose where I cannot change a single word because I am quoting an established author and her historic work – Science And Health — With Key To The Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.

I’ve heard a few attempts at this in the past – attempts that I deemed unsuccessful because the songs obviously wandered in a through written, basically non-melodious style that did not capture my imagination.  Some ideas were more successful; however, it was an idea that did not tempt me, and I’ll have to admit to dismissing it somewhat haughtily as simply a bad idea.

It turns out I was wrong.

The Missus needed a song to sing Christmas morning at her church gig in Boston.  She came to me with the Biblical lines made famous by Handel himself – “And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace…” She also suggested to me that I look at Mrs. Eddy’s first paragraph from her book, Science And Health, which read, “The wakeful shepherd beholds the first faint morning beams, ere cometh the full radiance of a risen day.  So shone the pale star to the prophet-shepherds; yet it traversed the night, and came where, in cradled obscurity, lay the Bethlehem babe, and his name shall be called Wonderful…”

I’ve often worked with Biblical verses in composing Inspirational songs.  Though somewhat tricky with the original rhythms obviously lost in translation, at least the words of the Bible can be massaged and sometimes subtly changed to improve scan and even add rhyme.  After all, there are many translations besides the King James Version, so why not have my own version in lyrics.  No one has ever objected.

But the Mary Baker Eddy prose gave me pause because I knew that legally I could not change as much as a comma in her writings.

My first impulse was to throw out the Eddy prose and write my own lyrics that told the story of the nativity – until I re-read the above paragraph again, and then again.

Mary Baker Eddy was a poet herself in her time and she wrote often with a flowery sense of the prose style of the late 1800s, but also with her tremendous grasp of the vocabulary of the English language, she could write with powerful technical clarity.

The above paragraph is an example of her more poetic prose and it suddenly jumped out at me as a possible lyric.

The wakeful shepherd beholds
The first faint morning beams,
Ere cometh the full radiance
Of a risen day.
So shone the pale star
To the prophet-shepherds;
Yet it traversed the night, and came
Where, in cradled obscurity, lay
The Bethlehem babe,

And his name shall be called Wonderful,

In it, when laid out in this lyrical form, I began to see the inner rhythms of the writing.  This particular paragraph, when laid out, was surprisingly rhythmic.  It had real possibilities.

Once I had laid the prose out in lyrical form, the melody came to me fresh and invigorating.  The song was written in two days and orchestrated in four.  It helped me considerably that I could also use the Bible verses and change them here and there to uphold the rhythms of the song and maintain the necessary repetition of the song.

Julia Wade sang the song Christmas morning service and afternoon at First Church of Christ, Scientist, The Mother Church, in Boston.  Her performances were broadcast around the world on the Internet and the song became Watchfire Music’s best-selling Christmas song for the year 2011.  If you’re interested, you can listen further and even purchase this song by clicking here.

It was, for me, a most surprising success and one that taught me an interesting lesson while, at the same time, giving me an even more interesting idea.

If this could work, why not more?  Christian Scientists the world over grow up studying this book, Science and Health, and many of its passages are iconic statements of truth easily remembered and dearly loved by readers and explorers of the book and her teachings.  I grew up a Christian Scientist and have well within immediate memory literally a hundred or so such phrases just as many people in the Western World carry the truths of the Bible imbedded in their brains and memories.

I began to search through Science and Health to find my favorites and also ideas that might work as lyrics and possibly become church solo material.

A rainstorm of fascinating material began to pour down on me.  Songs about beauty and love and dominion and healing.  Songs that I had already studied all my life and knew and understood and will continue to consider for the years ahead.

I began to compile these iconic statements hers in separate categories  by concept – like Prayer, Government, and even a song needed by Julia for Easter.  Once I had collected Mrs. Eddy’s thoughts on these various subjects, I began to edit the material down to workable lyrics.

Please remember that when I say ‘editing’, I was always fully aware and respectful of her writings – never changing a word or even a comma.  There were some passages that simply did not feel like lyrical content, so I would not use those, but it was amazing how much of it did have a rhythm that felt lyrical or perhaps even musical.

I knew that I would not be able to use rhyme, but that proved to be not at all difficult for me.  The content of the prose is so rich, so demanding to the listener, that I felt that the repetition would come in the repeating of some of the passages in full.

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…

Yes, here we are again.  The cowboy lived through falling off the cliff because his horse saved him, but now he’s fallen into quicksand and Topper’s nowhere in sight!

Tune in soon for the next exciting installment – “Will Pete Figure It Out?”– Part 4


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One Response to “The Decline of Lyrical Craftsmanship – Part 3”

  1. Amy Duncan Says:

    Yeah, I thought that Christmas piece was brilliant. And as I think of it, several of Mrs. Eddy’s more poetic passages pop into my mind….hmmmm…..

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