Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rewriting the Past

Back in July 1990 I was on vacation in Swanage, England, a small costal town on the south coast. I spent most of the days wandering the hills overlooking the beach, reading the book of Romans and a book called The Father Heart of God by Floyd McClung. The weekend obviously left an impression on me, in the fact that I remember it in such vivid detail.

Whilst wandering around the headlands I would spend time singing to myself, and I wrote a lyric for a praise song that goes as follows:

Lord Let me feel Your gentle touch,
A freely flowing healing stream
Filling my soul with all Your power
And bathing my heart with love

Pour out a waterfall (women echo each line)
Of love and light
pour out a waterfall
On me
Please let Your Spirit come
And flood my heart
A waterfall
Of love.

Lord let me hear Your gentle voice
That leads through my uncertainty
Shining a light where I should walk
And guiding me on my way

Pour out a waterfall...

Lord pour Your Spirit on Your church
As water on a thirsty land
Break down the barriers of fear
Until we are one in You

Pour out a waterfall....

In the Contemplative Service we frequently use a form of prayer that we call Waterfall Prayer. You image holding someone out under a waterall of God's love. It's a way to pray for someone when you really don't have the words to do so.

So I recently revisited my old song to see if it was usable. After playing through it I began to critique it with 21 years of song writing under my belt. Musically it never really makes it, the verses are in the key of C while the chorus is in F. Can you think of many praise songs where the verses and chorus are in different keys? I can think of a few that use the Relative Minor and Major, but not many, and there's a good reason for that. It sounds like 2 separate songs that have been velcroed together. It flows, but it feels uncomfortable.

The melody of the verses feels very 'hymn like', it doesn't lead into the chorus, and the melody of the chorus is rather hackneyed with it's echo and the shape of the tune. It feels borderline children's musical to me, it's almost too easy to learn, it's predictable, boring.

The lyrics? Well, they are ok, but they try to cover too much in the song. Verse 1 is about experiencing God in the present. Verse 2 about God guiding us...and note the mixed metaphor, "Let me hear your gentle voice......shining a light", how does a voice shine a light? Verse 3 suddenly jumps theme from personal renewal/guidance, to corporate renewal of the church. The pronouns switch from 'I' to 'We' and then of course switch back to the singular 'Me' for the chorus.

And so, a rewrite was definitely in order to make something usable.

The new lyric reads like this:

Love, like a waterfall,
Falling on us,
Flooding our hearts with grace and peace
Healing waters flow
Flowing on us,
Flooding our hearts with love.


Every moment of every day God is loving us,
Showers of mercy and waves of forgiveness are covering us.

Love, like a waterfall....

The first thing you notice is that the song is much shorter and focussed. The lyrics don't try to cover too much ground. It is also all in the plural, 'Us'. I made a conscious decision to write it that way, but also wanted to craft it in such a way that if we were praying for others we could change the lyric to 'You' instead of 'Us' and it would still make sense.

The B section of the lyric 'Every moment of every day' is actually optional, it flows just fine, but you can use the A section alone as a response. In fact the first time we sang the song I did the B section as a solo.

In a song this short it is difficult to maintain a rhyming scheme that doesn't sound forced, instead I chose to tie the lyric together through repeating sounds within the lines. " a waterfall, falling..." and "...waters flow, flowing..." for example. Also the use of  Falling, Flowing, Flooding helps give the lyric cohesion.

The melody of the A section 'Love, like a waterfall', mainly falls in stepward motion, illustrating the lyrics melodically - something that my original 1990 song attempted to do but was unsuccessful. The B section mainly climbs step wise twice, with 2 jumps down that mirror the A section.

Probably the most important change in the lyric is a shift in my understanding of God. The original lyric was a request for God to pour out his love upon us, the new lyric is an acknowledgement that God is actively pouring out his love upon us all the time.

Sometimes it's an interesting exercise to rewrite the past.

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