Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blogging About Songwriting

I plan to use this space to write about songwriting. I’ve got essays in mind. Now all they have to do is find their way into my fingers and onto the keyboard – the computer keyboard. I have a lot of opinions about songwriting.

I started writing songs when I was thirteen years old. They weren’t good songs, but you gotta start somewhere. I don’t think I really started writing good songs until about 1996 or ’97, some 23 years after that first song. Not every songwriter – in fact, most songwriters – don’t take that long to mature. But I’ve always been a late bloomer.

I’ll write more about beginning and developing at another time. Right now, for lack of time, I want to share a little email exchange I had recently with my friend (and webmaster) Leon. Leon, a creative person in his own right, initiated this conversation and I was glad to bite. I want to illustrate – now, later, ever and always – that songwriting is a serious, detail oriented, to be studied, exhilarating, and sometimes tedious craft; that it’s not just throwing words together that rhyme; that it takes work, thought, and skill; that even if you’re born with “the gift,” you’ve got to take that raw talent and nurture it, work it, mold it, shape it.

I think this email exchange between Leon and my self may give you a small glimpse into part of my songwriting philosophy and discipline. It focuses on my song “Haruach.” (The Hebrew word “ruach” means both “spirit” and “wind.” The prefix “ha” in Hebrew is “the.”) Leon questions me about word choice and it’s a valid, observant and sensitive question. Exactly the kind of stuff I love to think about.

First, here are the lyrics to “Haruach.” Following are the emails, unedited:

Words and music by Noah Budin

We are moving with haruach
Like a whisper through the trees
We are bowing at the waist
We are bending at the knees
We will close our eyes in reverence
As our prayers are lifted high
We are moving with haruach
We will fly

We are soaring with haruach
Sheltered by the eagle'ss wings
We are a spark at Sinai
We are feasting with the Kings
We will walk into the sea
A leap of faith, we take a chance
We are soaring with haruach
We will dance

We are dancing with haruach
By the water through the night
Like Miriam with her timbrels
Like the joy of morning light
Like David at the Ark
Like the Ecclesiastic words
We are dancing with haruach
We will be heard

BRIDGE:To everything there is a season
A time to mourn, a time to pray
And I don’t even know the reason
But it moves through me every day

We are singing with haruach
Lift our voices to the clouds
We will sing a joyful song
Sing it strong and sing it loud
From the Garden to the Mountain
Ancient melodies we share
We are singing with haruach
We are there…

Subject: Dumb question on Haruach
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2006 23:36:55 -0500

This has been bugging me since you played it (twice) and I've been sitting on it, but I thought "now or never". If I recall correctly:
We are moving with haruach, like a …(rest of verse)
We are moving with haruach, we will FLY
We are SOARING with haruach, (rest of verse)
We are SOARING with haruach, we will DANCE
We are DANCING with haruach (rest of verse)
We are DANCING with haruach, we will be HEARD
We are SINGING with haruach (rest of verse)
We are singing with haruach, we are there

My point is that, being fairly compulsive about these things, I like the last word of the previous verse to match the main word of the next verse.

If we fly at the end of verse one, we should fly in verse two. We dance at the end of verse two, and dance in verse three. And although we will be heard at the end of verse three, the tie-in to four is good. And it would stand out more (to me) if all the other verse matched up.

I dunno. It just bugged me that verse two wasn't flying with haruach.

I'll shut up now.

Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2006 09:54:39 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Dumb question on Haruach

I love dumb questions about Haruach. It's actually not a stupid question. It is exactly the kind of thing I think about when writing lyrics. And I love to talk about writing lyrics, so don't get me started. Oops, too late.

I think what I actually did was NOT find another way to say "dance." Dance is the only word that does repeat in the following verse. The other verses have words that reference the verse before it - and there is a definite connection from one verse to the next. The last verse comes out of the bridge, so the connection is even a little further away.

What it came down to was 1) I liked the word -- the image, connotation, the shape and sound, etc -- "soar" better than "fly" to carry that verse. "Soaring" on the wings of eagles, or sheltered by them, as the case may be, is different than "flying" on them or with them. In an aesthetically linguistic sense, the word "fly" is not as pretty as "soar" when spoken or sung. "Flying" can get very nasal, especially for us Clevelanders, and just doesn't produce the same image as "soaring." And 2) There was no better word for "dance" than "dance." Boogie? Wiggle? We are shaking our booties with Haruach? I don't even want to think of the connotations that has. Say the word "dance." Go ahead, I'll wait. It's exuberant and sparkly and energetic...well, you get the idea.

It also has to do with the rhyme scheme, among a number of other elements. The word "fly" works at the end of the first verse 1) because it rhymes with "high," 2) because it IS only said once, and 3) because of where it takes us:

We will close our eyes in reverence
As our prayers are lifted high
We are moving with haruach
We will fly

First we're "moving," then we're praying, then our prayers are lifted, then we merely "fly'" then we "soar." It's a progression.

And you're right. It is a little jarring to me lyrically, but I willingly sacrificed that (this time) for meaning and nuance, and it wasn't all that jarring. Not so much that I couldn't get past it. Which, over the years, I've done. I'm willing to bet that the average (passive) listener will never notice. Even an active listener, who is not as OC about these things as you and I, may never really notice. Or care.

BUT, I do care. And that's good. It's good for my songs. And whether they care or not, it's good for my listeners. And it's good that you care. Because, like I said, I love talking about lyric writing in this trivial, minutia oriented, detailed kind of way. And It's a hell of a lot more fun than working.



Mom said...

Oh, this is how to reply - I found it! Nice blogging.
Bring me a tape of "Hallelujah Land" please.

Leon said...

Hi Mom! This is Leon. I figure both of us should leave a comment just so Noah feels loved. You are right, he's really doing a great job at this blogging stuff. I'm so proud of him!

Noah said...

No one's reading this one. Publish in the Metaphor blog. But thanks for your efforts.

Well, come to think of it, it probably has exactly the same readership.

Former Roommate Jeff said...

I take exception to your saying that you weren't writing good music at Kent State. I (for one) always loved your music...and even musical renditions of another person's music with still another person's voice (such as California Dreamin' by Leon Redbone). And you even sang some of your music at my wedding (of course, that didn't work out...hmmmmm). THAT could go on your next CD...and how do I get your CD's, by the by?