This morning I sang “Gratitude” by Nichole Nordeman (#womencomposers!). at a church service. I’ve sung it at three different churches, and people always go out of their way to tell me how much they like it. I like it, too, but for some very specific reasons.
Here is the first verse and chorus:
Send some rain, would you send some rain?
’Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again,
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade.
Would you send a cloud, thunder long and loud?
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down.
Surely you can see that we are thirsty and afraid.
But maybe not, not today.
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways,
And if that’s the case . . .
We’ll give thanks to you
For lessons learned in how to thirst for you;
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If you never send us rain.
The melody is low and oscillating. It feels quiet and internal, like you’re muttering, speaking under your breath, or, you know, praying. Until “but maybe not.” There it stretches up, becomes broad and open. I think it communicates some ambivalence about the possibility that the prayer won’t be answered. Like, “oh, yeah, sure, that’s fine. Except it might also be extremely hard for me... So...”
Then the chorus returns to the low, simple oscillating melody made of as many nonharmonic tones as chord tones.
It’s a prayer, obviously.
But because it’s art, it could be a lot of other things besides a prayer. Nichole is talking to God (Jesus gets a name check in verse three), but the meaning struck me most personally as a conversation with depression.
I spent a lot of years really hating my clinical depression, wishing I could fix it and it would go away. In therapy and tai chi practice, I learned to appreciate that it was giving me information and insight. I learned to… “bless the very sun that warms our face,” as Nichole puts it.
This is what makes it feel really personal to me, what gives me the strongest connection to it while I sing so I can perform with the most intense sincerity possible. If I could easily transpose it up a third, that would be awesome, but whatever. I pretend to be an alto for three minutes. That and the muttering, mumbling melody makes it easy to feel like a conversation with my own pain.
Here’s a recording from the organist cam (rear facing camera showing the front of the church from the organ bench). Complete credits: me singing Nichole’s song, and that’s my super sexy husband playing piano.