March 8, 2010

Thoughts on Old Work

Sunday evening was singing night for our congregation, being the first Sunday of the month, and one of the songs sung was "How Great Thou Art." The song has never failed to drag "Oh What a Grace" from the recesses of my memory. Not that I compare the songs but because I had a tune similar to its melody running through my head when I penned the first draft.

It's hard to believe that was nearly a decade ago now. I don't remember exactly which Sunday it was, but I seem to remember it being sometime in late spring or early summer of 2000. I was listening to our preacher speak on a particular Psalm one Sunday morning when the words started nagging me. By the time we were heading home, I was desperate for a piece of paper and a pen. The lines came tumbling out, and a half hour later, I had the first draft.

I spent a few weeks trying to put music to it to no avail. I asked a friend for help, but nothing seemed to work. So I asked the congregation's preacher if he knew of anyone who could put music to lyrics, thinking he might be more familiar with local talent considering the years he'd helped organize The Musical Explosion. He gave me Mr. Stevens' name and number, and the rest is history.

Looking back on it, it feels like ancient history. I was barely out of high school, only in my second semester of college. I was still smarting over having to swap a chemistry major for English because I was having these uncontrollable shaking spells that nearly resulted in a big accident in the labs. I had yet to meet Hubby and was just starting to seriously consider writing as a career.

Even then there was a surreal feeling about this piece. It came quickly and with an ease I rarely associate with any bit of writing, let alone anything outside of fictional prose. I'm not a poet. "Little Eyes" (pg. 13) and "A Day in the Mind of a Child" are flukes. I found it difficult to believe I'd written this one then, and I find it next to impossible to believe now. I barely remember it, and what memories I have are more impressions of where I was, the need to get my hands on paper now, and the scratch of graphite across the page. I don't remember the writing of it at all other than the occasional feeling a word was off and counting the measure.

Maybe that's why I was so embarrassed when song leaders would make sure to point me out when they'd lead it. What did it matter I happened to be there? What did it matter who wrote the words or the music? The song was meant for the praise of God.

There are three things these three works have in common. First is their form. These are the only poetic pieces I have ever done and not immediately destroyed. Second, they come from a different place. I don't know how to describe it, but I was in a different head space when I wrote these poems/lyrics than I'm typically in when I write my stories. Instead of brainstorming, painstakingly building them up a concept or a word at a time, I saw or heard something and they seemed to spring fully formed onto the page. And finally, they have a different purpose. While I did feel the need to share them through publication, I haven't seen them as work to be sold. The poems were published in nonprofit college journals, and the song was spread from hand to hand. As far as I know, it's never been put into a songbook, but it's not like I'd ask for payment if it was. That's not why I asked for Mr. Steven's help finishing it. I just want it to be sung somewhere by someone, by congregations or just someone going about their daily work, I'm happy either way.

I've heard it's still sung at some congregations around the Tennessee Valley. Personally I haven't heard it in years, and I doubt I will. Mom told me years ago song leaders find it intimidating to lead a song when someone that wrote the words or composed the music is sitting on a pew. I suppose she might be right, though I find it disheartening to think they'd believe I'd be insulted or something if they didn't get it note perfect.

Though remembering how much of a nitpicking Grammar Nazi I used to be, at least when it came to pet peeves like double negatives and subject/verb agreement, before I grew up and learned to control those knee jerk reactions, I can see where they might think I'd be a little snippy. But really, as long as it can be followed, it's good.

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