Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Power of Music

As I read over Toni's thoughts about our music I am again reminded of why I hooked up with her in the beginning: She has such a beautiful, poetic way of conveying gospel principles that soothes the soul, uplifts the heart, and brings hope when life feels gray. How grateful I am that she has this gift and way with words. Also, with Toni writing the lyrics, I can focus on writing music, which is where my heart is.

Having insightful lyrics is the first step in creating music that resonates within, but then comes the challenge of setting the lyrics to music that is equally stirring. Soulful music coupled with lyrics bearing truth is especially powerful because it has a way of slipping through the back door of one's heart, quietly, unannounced, and melting away emotional barriers that otherwise would remain in place. When composing heart-felt music, it is important to match the emotional depth of the lyrics with the style of music. Have you ever heard a song sung where the lyrics were intense, but the music just didn't fit? Or, the music was so beautiful, but the lyrics were trite? Creating lyric-music unity is something Toni and I feel strongly about and try to achieve in our music.

For the greatest musical effect, the climax of the music needs to align with the climax of the lyrics. All accents should come together at the same moment: lyric, agogic, dynamic, metric, and tonal. I like to have the vocal part/parts begin a piece simply, with thinner musical textures and harmonies, build to the climax utilizing these accents, and then simplify again, bringing emotional resolution and peace (closure). Hopefully, the heart of the listener is gradually softening as the song progresses so when the music and lyrics simultaneously peak, the spiritual message is deeply felt and internalized. That's the goal.

When Toni and I first began writing music together, we had to learn about these concepts through much trial and error, and through the graciousness of choral directors who were willing to subject their choirs to our first pieces. Though many moans and groans were expressed by those choirs as they tried to read hand-written scores, learn unfamiliar tunes and lyrics, and put up with editing changes along the way, it was through their patience and tolerance that we were able to grow as writers. We will be ever grateful for them. Zelma Kinnison is one choral director who will always remain an angel in my eyes. Another person whom I will forever thank is Anna Carson (her voice is not of this world). I probably sought her opinion of my music with a self-defeating motive--if she thought it was bad, I would quit writing. But...she liked it! That vulnerable beginning opened the door for me to believe a bit more in myself, gave me courage to continue on, and even allowed me to meet Toni. I often wonder what I would be doing today had I not risked asking Anna what she thought of my music. This has taught me to always encourage others in their artistic endeavors, no matter what their level of ability, believing it is better to inspire than to judge.

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