Before Winter; The Back Story

My songwriter business this morning included a correspondence in which I needed to think back to about ten years ago when I wrote the song “Before Winter.” At first, I wondered if I could take myself back, but, like a mother describing the birth of a child, or an athlete describing memorable game play by play, I was able to remember in vivid detail. There was license to speak or write poetically, so those who prefer textbooks over novels, sorry, not sorry. Here is nearly what I wrote as the description to go along with the lyrics I had submitted today…by the way, as I make this post winter is raging outside…and the passage of time and the fragileness of life are bearing down hard.

The story behind the Song:
I had just been at the funeral of someone I’d known for a very long time. Her brave husband delivered a eulogy using this quote by Louisa May Alcott from “Little Women” on the death of Jo’s middle-sister Beth :

” There are many Beth’s in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind “

My heart was pierced. I was one who had not had enough conversations with her before it was too late. I left the service unable to say a word. I went home and sat down at my piano to work through my feelings. My life had been a busy torrent of activity and wanted to question it all. It was as if those who are facing mortality and those who are braving the storms of life are assigned different valuations for time, and I wanted to learn how to hold both at the same time. I wanted to be changed. I could not force my thoughts to slow down, and process the feelings I was having. There were many thoughts running through my mind, not unrelated, but it was also as if I could not bring any of them into focus. I narrowed my thinking to contemplate just the sound crickets make, and wondered if I could re-create that sound, a single atonal rubbing together of wings, a collective modal orchestra, but using the wester intervals on my piano. Two tones came to me, a two-pronged message -pleading and warning, sometimes-three tones if winsome and hopeful … Suddenly, my fingers and my pen were moving with rare rapidity, as words tumbled out, not in a jumble, but surprisingly clear and linear. It was one of the fasted songs I’ve ever composed. The melody, lyrics, and elements were all there right from the beginning, complete, simple, and calling for minimal accompaniment. At the time of recording, I choose for the introduction to be free-form, unyielding to any guiding click-track or beat. There are several tempo variations throughout the song, rises and falls, where the pace slows and picks back up, and slows again, each accented by pauses and or a simple two or three-toned melodic trill on which the song concept and all my phrasing were rooted. A solitary cricket, a small fragile insect, a concertmaster cueing a final opus which slows after sunset on cool evenings near summer’s end, a harbinger of its own death and the coming of winter’s bereavement.
The lyrics:
Before Winter                     c 2011

Is there a cricket on your hearth[?]

But you don’t hear it

From where you are

Lost in your dreams

Now winter has come

And stolen her song

Winter has come

< >

Hidden in a corner

Singing into the darkness

Pleading with her song

Come near breath it in

A transient fiddler

On paper wings

A rapture of wonder

In the smallest of things

Invisible movement

Ephemeral symphony

Dissonant, honest

And speaking to you and me

“This life is a vapor!”

A steady twilight melody

Listen with your heart

To a song could set you free

Cricket on my hearth

Sing into my darkness

Let me hear your sweet song

Lead me to where you are

Before winter comes

And steals your song

Before winter comes….

Fleeting fading

Summer is waning

Slowly and clearly

she warns       < >

Before winter comes

And steals her song

Before winter comes

Before winter

Where to Begin: “Turn A Light On”

Singing is primal.

It began…

in my crib…

6-8 years younger than my siblings, I resented going to bed earlier than they, who were downstairs enjoying laughing at television and who knows what else. I understood that my tiny closet of a bedroom, shared with a sibling, needed to have lights out, but a light left on in the hallway was not only a comfort, but allowed me to continue being awake, and playing in my crib. Consequently, and rightly, it was usually tuned off, to encourage sleep.

Who remembers these things? I do, with recollections connected to all my my senses. I would lie there, and say over and over, like a chant, Turn the [hall] Light On, until I fell asleep. Tribal and monotonous, but none the less, that may have been my first song.

Note: Please do not read into this. It was not wrong to let my litany of petition go unheeded, I would have been awake all night otherwise, I never wanted to miss anything, and I was not frantic, I was literally saying it over and over until I burnt out and fell asleep…it would wind down, slower and quieter until I was “out” and…it must have been a funny (and slightly annoying) thing to hear…Ok…not busting on the parenting choice. My Mom reads this. Hi Mom!

One evening, several years into this songwriting journey, I was sitting t the piano, fooling around with notes, what I would now refer to as a written session, but trust me, I was just de-stressing and doodling melodically…I asked myself, what was the first song you ever made up Becky? And the phrase came to my mind, as clear as if spoken out loud…Turn the Light on…It came flooding back to me…the song fell out intact, in minutes.

The first half of the song talks just about that, singing that line “to anyone who might listen, to anyone who would pass by” because I was afraid, and I was also plagued with re-occurring nightmares.  The second part, however, was inspired much later. It can be interpreted as a song promoting foster care, or care for those who provide foster care, or care for those who care for any impressionable child of children, who are struggling under the weight and need encouragement and support…it is about welcoming those who struggle with the past, with the present, and making space for them, which encompasses hospitality and time, and giving of yourself, however you can. I have attempted this, through supporting struggling young parents with housework help at times…at times, I have been on the needing end. Everyone has been. Everyone can be both, needy and needed. Everyone should take some time to meet needs, if possible.

People often wonder what goes into a song. This one, it just rolled out, like my pen was gripped by a force other than my own hand. I could hardly write the words fast enough, the melody was there he whole time. The same one that was with me when I was in that crib and calling out, or later, struggling to parent and feeling like a failure, and spending myself in attempting to elevate others…attempting to Turn a Light On. Of all my songs, this one reaches people at personal levels and depths. Music is that way. It cannot mean to each listener the very same thing it means to me. Some songs come with a “film-reel” that could just about turn out the same no matter who holds the camera, but there are other songs which change like a chameleon to fit the background of each listener, this is one.

Enjoy…let it take you where you need to go. Where does this song take you? Feel free to drop a comment, or contact me personally via my website.