Thursday, April 05, 2012

Behind the Curtain: Your House of Light

Last fall, I co-facilitated a book study at my church on The Fragrance of God by Vigen Guroian. This book covered seasons, gardening, and the seasons of life. The church book store was unable to obtain copies, so we chose to practice a type of Lectio Devina with the book.

My co-facilitator and I would agree on a paragraph to focus on. We'd bring the paragraph to the group, and the group would have two opportunities to respond to it. We both took careful notes during the discussion. The group would then spend 10-15 minutes creating a prayer based on the themes that came out of the discussion.

The response was positive, and it's a process I think lends itself to community building.

So, at the end of the four week study, my co-facilitator said, “James will write a song based our discussion.” Which came as news to me; but for some reason, I felt oblidged to try.

A phrase that came up in that last session was “God's House of Light”, and I really liked the sound of it. Somehow I knew it would be the chorus of the song. Another phrase that stuck was someone who said they felt the God's nearness when walking down a lane of trees where the branches form a canopy.

By January, I had a verse and chorus, but no melody and no idea where to go from there.

Sometime in late February I found the discipline to sit down with the notes from the class and copy down all the themes and phrases that came up. I quickly discovered it would be a great challenge to shoe-horn all that into a song.

About the same time, just to promote forward momentum, I decided I'd use an existing tune as a skeleton for the lyrics, with the goal of writing a new tune later on. I remember Elton John once said, “When in doubt, write a hymn.” Well, this song wasn't a hymn; my fall-back is the ballad. So I decided to borrow the tune from Bob Dylan's “Forever Young”.

I was still stuck by the second week of March, when I heard of an opportunity for a songwriting workshop with Bing Futch, who was going to be in the region in late March. I wasn't familiar with Bing's work, but I respected the promoter. And I figured the workshop would provide a deadline to work toward.

The remaining verses came in a sort of rush in the next two weeks. I decided I wanted the seasons to come in order, so the first verse I wrote became the second verse. In the days leading up to the workshop, I kept tweaking & futching with the lyrics, as reflected by the variorum version I posted on March 22.

I played the song at the workshop, and got some positive feedback from Bing. He was concerned about the use of the existing tune - he said the challenge was forgetting that tune to make way for a new one without losing how the lyrics and melody interacted.

So, he offered me a process to work around that. I really couldn't grok the process, but stumbled on another alternative. Playing with a different chord progression at a different fret position led me to a new tune.

This is possibly the cheeriest song I've ever written. I've had very positive responses to it, even from people who had not attended the book study. So I feel reasonably proud of what I've done.

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