I am hardly the expert to write on such a subject. I know a little about music but I am anything but an accomplished musician. I can strum chords on a guitar, play the melody one note at a time on the piano with practice, once played the baritone horn (the causality of my mother’s dislike, she had perfect pitch and my playing offended her), can read music, could, at one time before puberty sing five octaves, now limited to about one and a half, and in general a frustrated want-to-be musician. Like I say, I am hardly to one to talk about music. I wouldn’t know much about composition nor would I make a great lyricist. I did, once, take a Spanish guitar arrangement called El Condor Pasa and write a bit of poetry to it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the piece, Paul Simon wrote the lyrics to an Andean tune of similar nature he called I’d rather be a hammer than a nail, or something close to that. Whether El Condor Pasa was inspired by the Andean folk tune or it was an original Spanish composition, I cannot tell you. But it was an exercise in hearing music speak to me, suggest words, and put them into some sort of order and rhyme.
Right now I am listening to the composition of Jerome Morass, the sound track from the film, The Big Country. I can hear the words throughout the composition but they are so indistinct. It is difficult to make them out. I feel that way about quite a bit of music I hear. The mind wonders and tries to imagine what the sounds are trying to tell you, thoughts drift along in a kind of randomness that I can’t really explain. I feel I have wasted my youth by not having learned enough to sit and let the lyrics pour out like some river ready to overflow its banks, like watching the old sailing schooners catch the wind and heel to hard, driving the bow wake before them, gleaming water rushing sternward, rushing into the past as time sails ahead. The score from Shane, the western with Alan Ladd, great film, great score from Victor Young. The music opens with Shane riding into the valley, descending like a god from Valhalla, his visit on earth short but with purpose. I am in awe how a man or woman can compose such music and tell so great a story. It is an art beyond my comprehension. The scenery, the actions, how they suggest this dialogue with strings, brass, and timpani. I wish I had studied music, wish my mother hand made me take piano lessons.
Well, perhaps had I the gift life might have been different. I think the first piece of orchestral that truly intrigued me was Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. I remember hearing it on Walt Disney Presents back about 1955 or so and became enthralled with the tunes. I could visualize the graphic representation through, at that time, animation, that would protra what I saw in my mind. For a long time I threatened to do the animation frame by frame, this was long before computerization made animation as easy as pie, assuming pie is easy. I could picture the colors pouring out of my mind, flowing from one frame to the next as the score progressed. But you see, music tells stories. Music strikes our emotions in a way that words can’t, music paint pictures with colors only we can imagine, music moves our actions through rhythm, through movements of dance that propels our feet and imbues our souls with the physical rush of activity that releases the endorphins in our brain cell receptors that says, Ahhh. When we sing it is an act far beyond the capacity of mere words uttered to break the sound of silence, it is a song of life, of living, of being.
You want the power of song with word, listen to Hi-de-high, hi-de-ho by Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Listen to the choir as the sopranos reach that highest C and hold it with bravado. Then suddenly the voices stop and all comes back to the solo again. It was never about the words, it was about the notes. The walls of Jericho come tumbling down, tumbling down. A voice reaches into the sky and the words of the lord appear. Being able to write the words is a small part to ask, a small task to accomplish, yet the talent is far from small. Maybe I will write a few lyrics, I doubt it, but I can hope. Always I have hope. That is what music gives us, hope. The words merely reflect what the music gives, what touches our souls and gives us our daily bread. As long as there is music man shall not eat of bread alone. Can’t you hear it? Can’t you feel it? Can’t you see what that music is doing to me (my apologies Marshal Tucker)? What we say with music, what we proclaim with music tells so much about our society, our civilization, ourselves.