The Lyric Tells The Story

As I grow older, I appreciate more and more the beauty and solace of singing a song. Nothing is more comforting than vocalizing an old favorite. The difference now is that I really concentrate on the meaning of the lyric. I study the words without listening to the music in order to derive what the lyricist really meant to convey. I look at the narrative that is being set to the music. There is a story contained in those words. It is up to me to interpret the lyricist’s meaning and see the contextual richness that he is trying to achieve.

Throughout my entire life, I have often sung a portion of a song to convey a message or mood by inserting it within a conversation. This habit of breaking into song has caused some to think that I must be crazy. I have had my wife give me the eye more than once. Expressing my meaning through song has always been natural to me. That is why the lyric has grown more and more important as time has gone by.

I have always been a fan of the “American Song Book”. As a teenager, my friends were listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of Frank, Bing and Ella. But it was years before I stopped and heard the artistry in the words which flowed through those glorious melodies. The composers and lyrists were telling a beautiful story using the incredible talent of these musicians playing their voices as the instrument.

Now with the internet, I can download lyrics of almost any song such as the Fayne/Kahal 1938 classic “I’ll Be Seeing You”. While it was written for an ill-fated Broadway show, it perfectly evoked the longing of soldiers and their sweethearts during the Second World War. The song exemplifies the yearning not only for a time when two lovers will be reunited but also for those that will never see each other again which is how I have interpreted the lyric. This is readily seen by how the song actually begins;

“Cathedral bells were tolling and our hearts sang on;

Was it the spell of Paris or the April dawn?
 Who knows if we shall meet again?
 But when the morning chimes ring sweet again…

I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…”

To me, it connotes that the lovers had an intense romance that may or may not ever be rekindled. But they will always carry in their hearts a bittersweet remembrance of this love when they see and hear the things enumerated in the rest of the song…a love and emotion that will be evoked and continue for the rest of their lives. When remembering at times a smile will cross the face or a tear will roll down the cheek. This love will define their souls going forth.

Any lasting song needs its lyric to evoke an emotional response. Otherwise, the song will and should fade quickly and not be remembered. Shakespeare, Marlowe and Donne all had their poems set to music. The meanings of the words are the conveyor of emotion and truth. The music drives that truth and emotion into our very soul. If a song does not do that, it is at best mediocre and will not speak to future generations.

If you truly want to understand how a lyric can affect you, then study those of a religious hymn. “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” is an old hymn that has been covered by artists such as Mahalia Jackson, Dr. John and Elvis Presley. This gospel hymn is quite simply a plea to lead a righteous life in order to obtain salvation. The first stanza is all that is needed for this to be verified.

“Just a closer walk with Thee,

Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,

Daily walking close to Thee,

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”

A prayer in four lines that says so much more than any sermon could. Redemption lies by the singer following the teaching of Jesus. The lyrics proclaim that the ability to be saved has a clear path if one just walks with the Lord. That ultimately is the power of words in music.

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