Sometimes I wake up with melodic ideas in my head. They dance around in my brain until I finally give up hope of doing anything else than writing them down. The melody forming in my thoughts the other morning was very similar in character to one of the Alfred Burt Carols. I thought I'd better look up that song's melody and lyric to make sure I was not plagiarizing in any way. But, no, my melody was unique enough. But I really did not know which direction to take for the lyric. It could have been a jolly secular Christmas song as easily as it could become a sacred Christmas Carol.
I needed some direction. So, I called my sister and asked if I could play something for her. She is a great sounding board. Come to find out, her husband and daughter, both good singers, were also there. They said that they'd be happy to give their opinions, too. After I finished playing the lines I had ready, they all said that it sounded more like a sacred Christmas Carol to them. "Ah ha! I can do that."
Then came the brainstorming. I knew that I wanted too use the title "Ring! Glad Christmas Bells." That would give me plenty of reasons to create parts for handbells. My sister interviewed me as to my ideas for the structure of the piece. "You want an opening that sets the mood and a strong joyful statement. Right? But then, how about a contrasting section where the meat of the message is found?"
We discussed how sometimes songs for Advent (the time leading up to Christmas) have very little in the way of sure doctrine. Sometimes the lyrics are mostly fluff. The words might paint a picture of the silent night when Christ was born or Mary with the baby in the manger, or speak of shepherds and wisemen or even the animals in the stable, but never mention the glorious mission of Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer; to save mankind from sin and to give hope of salvation for those who repent. The lyrics might talk of the angels delivering a joyous message, but not say what the message was.
Trial lyrics were bantered around, but I knew that I needed to do some research to help me find the right message. For me, writing by "committee" just doesn't work. After some searching of sacred articles and scriptures, I found words that seemed to fit. But molding the words into a suitable rhyme scheme is difficult for me. Fortunately, I have access to the rhyming dictionary and that helps a lot. Sometimes the alternate words actually steer the topic along a sight detour, and the developments can be rather exciting. The new lyrics might actually determine the form of the piece and help uncover hidden patterns. These patterns, repetitions and variations reveal themselves a little at a time until suddenly you realize that the song is finished. Like Miss Potter says, "There's something delicious about writing the first lines of a story. You never quite know where they will lead you."
Well, the little melodic nuggets I woke up with the other day led me to create a new sacred Christmas Carol. Hope you will enjoy it!
"Ring! Glad Christmas Bells" - SATB, Piano, Handbells
"Ring! Glad Christmas Bells" - Flute Quartet, Piano, and Glockenspiel