Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Song Story: "Beautiful Truth"

Every once in a while, I'll say something while on the platform leading worship... and it becomes a sort of instant mantra.  Does that make sense?  Like a spiritually-infused slogan. Anyway, some of you get me, I'm quite confident. :) Regardless, those thoughts and phrases, musings and perspectives often eventually turn into lyrics.  Case in point, if you know your 'Mark Roach' history, which I'm relatively sure at least my mom does, 'The Least I Can Do'--title included--was inspired while leading worship on the platform watching a select few people count ceiling tiles in the banquet center that was our infant church.  Well, 'Beautiful Truth' was birthed in a very similar way, just more recently.

It was probably a year or so ago at this point... I remember sitting at the piano on our platform at MSC in front of several hundred people and we had just finished a worship song. Something happened that's happened hundreds of times over the last almost 13 years I've been leading worship there: people in the congregation applauded.  Now, this happens one of two ways at MSC... either the congregation--unified in the spirit and truth--erupts (ok, that may be a little strong. Work with me.) into a heart-felt applause after being moved by the spirit into the universally understood language of adoration aimed at our Creator... OR a few people clap--cause that's what you do at the end of songs at shows right?  Oh, wait, this is church.  Is it ok to clap?  Wait, maybe not.  They're not performing are they?  Are they expecting us to applaud them after songs?  Well, that's awkward!  No, they're not... I know their hearts are--well, a few people are, maybe I--no, I don't think I'm gon--yeah, I--oh, too late.  Now, if your church is anything like my church, that's all too familiar and you may even be chuckling a bit right now from wherever you're reading this.  Well, needless to say, it was more along the lines of the latter that day.  So... as I often do, I began to try and articulate when and why I think we as congregations--NOT audiences--should applaud and something like this came out:

"You know it's ok to applaud, right?  I'm sure you're not applauding us 'cause we're not performing... hopefully you're simply applauding because you've recognized beautiful truths in the words that you've sung--and that, my friends, is always worthy of that response."

Isn't that really so much of what worship is?  A celebration of beautiful truth?  The phrase stuck in my head and I was pretty sure it would turn into a lyric... maybe even a song title.  The thing is, we're called as Christians to worship our God "in spirit and in truth" and I think those are way too often compartmentalized.  The songs are spirit, the message is truth.  Praying is spirit and reading scripture is truth.  What if the word 'and' in that passage is the most important word there?  What if the point of worship is to get all wrapped up and emotionally invested in the beautifully true and timeless Word of God--not just the book, but the Son--His life, death, resurrection.  Worship, at it's best, should be us getting lost in the beautiful and epic tale of good and evil in which God wins and wins for the sake of that which He loves unfathomably... us.  Everything about the song 'Beautiful Truth' was written with that mind.


As a songwriter, in trying to take on a fairly vast, epic concept, I wanted to take a very specific approach.  I made lots of rules for myself on the front end of this one.  I wanted, first of all, for the character of the melody to be deceptively simple, but with some deeper complexity.  The verses immediately begin with yet another hemiola--this one a repeated four note phrase made up of five eighth notes each.  It quickly resolves the tension of the odd phrasing as the back end of the stanza cascades down to a close.  Lyrically, I wanted to emphasize the repetition of that phrasing by repeating not only the four notes, but the first few words as well.  This made for a very interesting challenge crafting all four verses with two of those phrases in each.  I think I ended up saying uncle with two of the eight instances, feeling like I still accomplished what I wanted overall with the phrasing.  The other lyrical boundary I wanted to stay within--particularly in the verses--was a sense of loft to the language.  While I certainly wasn't striving for yoda speak, I did want to achieve a certain richness in the language.  The verses (which are simply a few beautiful truths) needed to feel more formal, so the sentence structure is intentionally more complex and less vernacular in nature.  Harmonically, the song is overall very simple, with a few oddities thrown in to keep in interesting:  the alternating use of the four and five chord on the refrain at the ends of verses, the last also including a flat seven just before the four which tends to lift the listener's eyebrow a bit, the minor four that sneaks its way into the bridge and of course, my favorite oddity in this one is the silence that ensues the last time we sing the words "we're listening" followed by an abrupt, explosive chorus that interrupts that silence half-way through the measure.  If you're thinking that the brilliantly simple guitar line that slithers through the chorus after starting on the major seven of the first chord is the coolest part, I can't take credit... that was all Jake, the dude that played so much brilliant stuff on this project.  And I agree... the guitar work on this one may be his best on the EP. 

Well, this has been fun.  Hope you've enjoyed reading these as much as I've enjoyed typing 'em.  They're all up here now, so read, reread, share, like and comment as you will.  I hope that you'll enjoy and share the EP as well, and I pray the songs are able to bring listeners closer to the source of all beautiful truth.

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