Thursday, October 21, 2010

Permission to Write Badly

Early in our Sunday morning services, the children are brought up to the front and then sent out to attend Sunday school until they return to join us for Communion. And every Sunday, the piano or organ improvises a hymn tune while the children leave.

One Sunday I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could sing a song for the children while they're walking out? Something that would let them know they're special, and remind us of the importance of caring for our children in the church?"

So I mulled it over, had a little inspiration, and wrote a very simple 4-line lyric.

Then came the melody. There would be no chorus, no bridge, so all the melodic interest had to be packed into those simple 4 lines. It needed to be simple enough for the congregation to sing, but interesting enough to make it an enjoyable sing.

The challenge began!

I had one idea that kind of stuck in my head, and I finished it, but I wasn't happy with it. It wasn't beautiful enough. It was the kind of melody that, in our house, we call a "na-na" melody.

I sang it for Gerald who confirmed my suspicions. But then I had to go back to square one - how do I create an interesting melody for 4 lines?

So, I gave myself permission to write a bad melody.

For two days, I sang the lyric in hundreds of ways, and none of it was pretty. I changed keys and time signatures in the middle of lines. I sang one note melodies and 2 octave melodies. I sang weird rhythms and atonal intervals.

And then, it came!

The beautiful, singable, 4 line melody I was looking for.

I sang it several times to allow it to settle into place. The phrasing felt very natural. There was a good flow, good prosody.

I sang it for Gerald, and his smile on the first line let me know I had found my melody.

Sometimes, as artists, we need to allow ourselves to make art that is messy, or weird, or just plain bad so we can discover the art that is truly beautiful, and that says what we need it to say.

Happy creative discovery, everyone!


ROB said...


Anonymous said...

I heard it and I love it!