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Let's Talk Lyrics

Hello, all. 
Jack tells me that I am the first one to enter a piece into the Showcase as a lyricist and not as the composer (although, the composer is also a member of the community).

Soooo...if any lyricists are lurking, do you always set your own texts to music, or do you sometimes collaborate with someone else? 
Replies (50): Threaded | Chronological
on November 22, 2012 6:19pm
Someone else has used my lyrics/poetry, but it's not something I seek out ...
on November 22, 2012 6:39pm
For a long time I was reluctant to set my own lyrics and poetry, even though I've been writing it for over half my life. I feel differently now, but there is definitely a cool down period from which I have to step away from a poem before I can treat it objectively. I've never sought out a collaboration with another composer, though I once had one express interest in a text.
on November 23, 2012 6:19am
Hi, Ryan.  I see that you have quite a few pieces listed on your profile page.  Do any of them include your lyrics? 
on November 23, 2012 9:17am
on November 23, 2012 3:26pm
Thank you for the links.  Where did you find the "ancient words" for the Christmas Processional ("tyrlow, tyrloo, tyrligh, tyrle")?
on November 23, 2012 7:39pm
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on November 25, 2012 9:40am
Excellent resource Ryan, thanks!
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on November 23, 2012 3:55am
For those of us who are not particularly poetically gifted, it might be of interest to create a resource here where budding poets could offer their lyrics for composers to set.  Only problem, I suppose, is that if they are not themselves composers, they're not likely to be in this community...
on November 24, 2012
Gordon, I would argue that one doesn't have to be poetically gifted to write meaningful lyrics. As a composer, I'm more often drawn to poetry and prose that were not intended to be set to music. Recently another composer and I collaborated on setting psalms written by our church's men on retreat. We found the psalms--written in just 30 minutes--to be very inspiring. I don't think any of the guys--with maybe one exception--think of themselves as poetic...yet the project was successful on several levels. 
on November 24, 2012 1:43am
I take your point, Robert. Indeed, I have occasionally set my own words, for example in a Christmas piece I wrote for a local children's choir, The Sleepy Shepherd Boy, where I started with the overall concept, and developed the words as I went along. It's just that some people have a particular gift for words and poetry, and might like to marry their efforts with a composer's ability to set them. I seem to remember that John Rutter has written a lot of his own lyrics (eg the ever popular 'Shepherd's Pipe Carol'). I suppose being a musician/composer/singer does give you a feel for the sort of language, metre, etc that is likely to work in a musical setting!
on November 24, 2012 7:30am
Hello Gordon,
You make an interesting point: "if they are not themselves composers, they're not likely to be in this community..."
Maybe the time is ripe for poets/lyricists to become a part of the composers' community. I suppose that's a little like saying that words are as important as the music, but that's not really the point. Generally speaking, choral composers need words, need poetry, need 'poets' in order to write their music! Yes, there are composers who do it the other way around, but they are generally also the poets for their own music, so who's really to say if it's the chicken or the egg that comes first?
So- let's formally bring poets/lyricists and composers together in the same community, as both groups need each other to function. It can only make for a richer community, and each group can still have its own threads when that is appropriate.
on November 25, 2012 9:52am
   I think a poet community on ChoralNet would be a great idea.  Logistically, it would be best as a sister community.   The nature of ChoralNet has most people receiving their posts via email.  I would hate to clutter inboxes of poets with articles and comments about which software sets rhytms the best.  How to get the word out I don't know, but I have a feeling that there might be many poet musicians already here on ChoralNet that would love to have their poems set.    Are you volunteering to lead this project?
on November 25, 2012 10:17am
I'll start you off with a poem I wrote not long ago:  comments and critique welcome.   Anyone used creative commons for copyright?  I think that's what this would be under:  


Afternoon Delight
A brighter light shown then
On brain canvas
Unblotched, unblemished
Undimmed by passing time or too much seen,
Music of now forgotten tunes streamed
From a black-chorded box filling the air.
She smiled.
“Come help,” I came
The hand-held pan 
My job
Collecting dirt and dust swept past her shoes
Turning till each dull line declining , disappearing. 
Red floor tile concealing what remains.
What remains burned forever in neat gray folds.
copyright me, just ask.
on November 24, 2012 6:23pm
I like this thread - it helps me feel not so odd.... I have rarely been able to set text to music. For some reason my mind works the other way -- I compose the music, and then have to write the text myself. Takes FOREVER most of the time. I glad to say that my lyric-writing has improved over time, although I still consider myself more of a tune-smith than a lyricist. For what it's worth, I started meeting with a group of poets at my mom's retirement center, mostly made up of retired professors, and professionals, and I might add, some very fine poets. This has been of tremendous help to me in setting free my poet's "tongue".
Starting with the music - the way I do it - is backwards of the way most composers work as far as I can tell, and I am in awe of those of you who can take a text and make it all seem as "one". I'm going to continue to follow this thread, and hope to get some encouragement and inspiration from it! And I do hope to see some lyricists jump in!
on November 24, 2012 7:03pm
Welcome, Kathy!  Your post helps me not feel so odd.  I was hesitant to start this thread because I was concerned that I was rather alone in this area.  Glad to hear there's a "kindred spirit" in the community. :-)  I hope to soon discuss the writing process you describe. 
on November 25, 2012 8:59am
Hey Kathy,
You might be interested in Terry Gross's recent Fresh Air interview with Michael Feinstein, who worked with Ira Gershwin during the final years of his life, cataloguing and archiving his music. He has many amazing tales. And apparently Ira preferred to write lyrics to tunes, rather than the other way around. Especially fascinating are his comments about "Fascinating Rhythm" and an amazing recording of it from the 1920s.
The show is called 'Gershwins And Me' Tells The Stories Behind 12 Songs, dated 11/22/12. It can be downloaded as a podcast from the Fresh Air site.
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on November 26, 2012 7:13pm
That was a great interview! Thanks for mentioning it. And he certainly does highlight the challenge of writing text to already existing music. I can't remember the phrase he used, but it was the idea that the words should be so natural that there's a sense of "of course" about them. The way I see it, if I have done it well, the listener should be tempted to ask, "What was so hard about that?" That's when I'll know that I got it right. Not meaning, of course, that they are trite, which is a whole 'nuther subject!
on November 26, 2012 11:26am
My "composing brain" works backwards, too!  With only three exceptions, I have always first composed the music for all of my pieces.  When I began trying to compose choral music three years ago, after a 30-year career as a technical writer/editor, I just didn't know any better because I lack a formal music education and didn't have the first clue about how to go about it the right way (if there even IS a right way).  I placed derriere on chair and tried to write down the music I heard playing in my head, and when a piece was complete enough musically, only then could (can) I write the lyrics.  The music tells me what it should be about, and with only one exception I've never even known what the general theme would be until the music was pretty much done--the melody, most of the harmonies, and the rhythms.  Sometimes the music tells me right away, while other times it takes much longer and I have to work on another piece for a while, but once it clicks and I know what the theme should be, what the piece should be about (the "Ah Ha!" moment), then I can start writing the lyrics and they usually flow really fast after that.  Of course then I have to tweak the music here and there to fit the words, like changing a half note into two quarter notes to fit a two-syllable word, for example.  But most of the time I'm very surprised at how easily the words just fit right into the music I've composed, maybe because I can usually think of a good synonym for almost any word because of all the years spent using them for a living (and of course my Thesaurus sits right next to me, too!). 
The three pieces that were exceptions include two composed with David Monks who has also responded here.  We "met" on ChoralNet, found we had much in common, and last year challenged each other to compose backwards from the way each of us normally did it; he would write the lyrics to a piece of music that I composed (end result:  "The Angels' Song"), and I would compose music to a poem he had written ("Sleep in Serenity").  It was a huge challenge for both of us, but I think the end results were pretty darned good.  Our piece "Sleep in Serenity" began as a poem that he wrote in honor of his late parents, and I felt very honored myself to be given the opportunity to try to set it to music.  A few months after it was done I suggested that we change a line or two to make the piece more accessible to choirs, mostly by changing the phrase "Nicholas and Alice, names sacred to their sons" to something else less personal--and he changed the line to read "Children of our nation, your battles now are done."  While we were working together we went back and forth on both the music and the lyrics to each piece, suggesting possible changes here and there to each other.  It was great fun and I learned so much.  But I'm still most comfortable doing it backwards! 
The final exception is "Song of the Klutz."  I wrote the poem in my head one day after walking into the same edge of the same wall three times, which was very unusual for me (the poem-writing part, not the wall-bumping part; I am NOT a poet, and it was the first stand-alone poem I had written since high school--I'm 55 now).  Then a few weeks later I thought I'd try to set it to music (this was not the goal when I dashed off the poem--it was just supposed to be something funny for family members who are all aware of my lifelong klutziness).  I tried to make the music fit the poem.  At least one choir director liked it.  
Anyway, it's good to know I'm not alone in composing backwards!  I am also in awe of the majority of composers who can take something someone else has written and set it to music. 
on November 26, 2012 5:44pm
Julie, your description of how you work closely resembles mine, much to my surprise. What you said about the music telling you what it is about is exactly my experience. Glad to know somebody else knows what I am talking about! I mostly write for children, although that's not necessarily my intention. It's just what seems to come out. I have written a few choral pieces and would like to write more. In fact my most recent choral piece was performed this past March, with large choir and orchestra. It's based on the Kyrie, from a Baptist point of view...! The lyric was the hardest thing I have ever written, and took a l-o-n-g time.
The process I typically go through is to "get" some of the music first, with a smattering of text, which helps me know what the music is about. I work out the basics of the music, including figuring out what type of piece it is - children's, choral, solo or whatever. I try to work on the lyric at the same time, but rarely make much progress until the music is complete... not usually the arrangement, but the basic tune and structure. (I am blessed to have an incredible arranger to work with, one with a much more sophisiticated musical pallette than I have.) Then comes the hard part for me, finding the right words to convey both the meaning of the song and the subtleties of the music. It's taken me a long time to be comfortable with writing my own lyrics, but I am so protective of the music I'm not sure I could give it over to somebody else; at least I feel that way about much of it. Maybe one of these days.... As you might imagine I have a bunch of "music without words" gathering dust in my computer.
As for the poetry I write, so far none of it seems appropriate (or worthy) of setting to music. But writing totally free-form, without the restrictions imposed by pre-existing music, has definitely helped me become freer more lyrical as a poet / lyricist.
on November 25, 2012 5:31pm
I like the poem Jack!
I don't seem able to set any of my own verse to musiic.  It's almost as though the creative impoulse of writing cancels the capacity to carry carry the text forward into a musical composition.  So perhaps there is a need to have a place for poetry linked here  I'm not sure how this could be done, though.
Here's a poem of mine.  As with Jack, I hold the rights - but a simple PM will suffice for whatever permission is needed.
Philomela and her sisters
Have come again
To sing their dithyrambic songs
Among the branching almonds.
Their sweet ecstasies
Make the Muses sigh
With impotent envy,
As all Nature stills to listen.
A veil of balmy velvet falls
Over a tremulous sky,
And chaste stars haste
To take their place
As the darkening evening air
Thrills with expectancy.
©  David Monks 
12 May 2009
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on November 25, 2012 9:36pm
Hello David,
I've thought and read long and hard about the very problem you write about. I think when one pours every available ounce of creative energy into a poem, there's quite possibly no more immediate need to further heighten the drama, or the emotion, or whatever, of that particular work. It's all been expressed. Game over; exhaustion of mind, spirit, and maybe body. I say 'immediate' need, as it just could be that if the poem were left dormant for a period - which I think I would measure in months or perhaps years - it could well inspire the same mind that created it to do something else with it, perhaps musically this time. It is 'new' once again, and the mind will hopefully have evolved as well in the meantime and view the ‘forgotten’ work in a new and different light. I think this is why it is often easier for a composer to set someone else's poetry. The composer is not poetically exhausted, so there's no 'cancellation'– to come back to your term. 
I'll have to admit that almost every time I arrange a folk song, the first question I ask myself is "Why am I doing this? Does this song 'need' arranging?' The answers is always a firm "No!". But I need to arrange it! Perhaps that's the answer. Likewise, when I start working with a text (never my own, with two tiny exceptions in 50 years): "Does this text need music? No!" So what do I hope to achieve with music that the text does not or cannot express without it?
Here's what the arranger/composer does: He (I'll quote myself) enhances the text; he has the extraordinary privilege – and the responsibility that accompanies it – of conveying his interpretation of a literary work via music to all who hear it. (I generally spend days absorbing a text before attempting to work with it. Same with a folk song!) Just as a fine actor or reader can alter the meaning of a line of text by emphasizing certain words, by modulating voice and tempo, pausing in places not necessarily there in the original, and so on, so can a composer give a variety of meanings to words, phrases and virtually every aspect of the text. The actor/reader recreates the text, takes it 'off the page'. Likewise, the composer can do this, perhaps even more so, in untold ways. Well, almost... The composer, let's never forget, does not actually compose music! Heresy? No, the composer as best creates a master plan, a blueprint, if you will, for eventual performance, at which time there is even more re-creation!
I guess that's the rub, David. When you wrote a poem, a text, and then read it, your understanding of the text (as with the writing of it) would be governed by your experience. This 'experience' would be virtually the same if you then turned around and attempted to set it to music. It would take someone with experience different than your own, to rethink that text in new and different ways. You have already made it as perfect as you could. Why try to improve on it?  
Now, what I have stated I am sure does not apply to everyone, but it probably does apply - more or less - to those who think they have permanent writer's block when attempting to set their own lyrics. Don't worry about it- give (sell/lend) it to someone else. I guess you came to the same conclusion. Bravo!
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on November 26, 2012 12:33am
I like the "Chaste Stars haste to take their place"  -faithful, always where they are supposed to be.  I hear a modern madrigal in the works!
On writers block:  Perhaps it is difficult for some poets to accept having their poem realized as a song.  This could include our own inhabitions about setting our own poems.   Goethe hated Schubert's setting of Der Erlkönig .  I think it is the perfect setting of a text to music.   It certainly changes the poem, and allowing your creative child to be changed may be what we are afraid of. 
on November 26, 2012 8:45am
Excellent point, Jack– "allowing your creative child to be changed may be what we are afraid of."
One of my greatest joys when I hear my music performed, whether choral or instrumental,  an arrangement or original, is the variety of interpretations that the work undergoes in the re-creative (and recreative) process. "Wow! Did I write that?" I ask myself, and then I realise I actually didn't! Nevertheless, it pleases me to think that something I wrote is rich enough to be performed – and heard – in a variety of ways. Once that 'blueprint', that score, is placed in the mailbox anything can happen to it. The composer must find a balance between explicit and implicit directives in his or music. It is possible to over-edit a piece, to try to force a conductor and choir to do exactly what the composer thinks is wanted. What's the fun in that?! Likewise with text. For the composer, a text becomes a word-thought pallette. The poet must realise - even rejoice in - the fact that someone else may understand what has been written in a way entirely different than the poet intended. It originally sprung from raw material, and it now becomes someone else's raw material. Earth to earth, dust to dust!
We can not hang on to everything forever; the best way to let (it) go is to share it.
Poor old Goethe!
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on November 26, 2012 9:32am
  I have been a choral lyricist since 1980 ..My first ever co-written song was (is) GIFTS OF LOVE with composer
Patricia Prattis Jennings (the keyboardist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) It was premiered  on December,20,1981at Severance Hall by the Cleveland Orchestra and Children's Chorus.It was arranged by the choral conductor Robert Page.Our song is about children who do not have Christmas.Since 1981, it has been performed by many choirs,choruses, orchestras and chorales all over the world.We feel so blessed that our piece is well received.
  In 1989,I wrote RIVER IN JUDEA;music by Jack Feldman and arranged by John Leavitt for Shawnee Press.
I write with many wonderful composers; I write before the music; after the music, or with the every case
 we "meet in the middle". I read Choral News every's always interesting! I would be pleased to meet any composers who are looking for a lyricist!
Linda Marcus
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on November 26, 2012 4:19pm
How nice to "meet" you!  I have always loved RIVER IN JUDEA!  It is such a beautiful and moving piece.  It would be wonderful if you could tell us something about how you wrote it.
COMPOSERS - What an opportunity!  I hope that some of you take up Linda's offer. 
on November 26, 2012 4:38pm
Linda welcome to the community.  You come with some amazing credentials.  
For members of our community that don't conduct choirs, RIVER IN JUDEA is a standard of the repertoire in various arrangments for elementary through high school choirs.  I advocated and convinced my district to purchace and use it in one of our district wide area choir festivals!  
Thank-you Linda for your work.
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on November 26, 2012 5:38pm
Jack, look who all came to this party! :-)  Are you sure you want to send the lyricists and poets to a "sister community"?  I'm planning to start another lyric thread and see who shows up. 
on November 26, 2012 6:36pm
How does the community feel about it?  Message me or comment. 
If Julie and/or Donald would like to be permanent editors here and lead discussions for lyricists that's fine with me.  Where I get worried is that I can see this becoming a place for hundreds of individuals to share recent and archived poetry, competitions for new poetry, poetry writing projects on specific topics etc.  This could easily outpace the rate of posting in our current community.  Maybe a wait-until-it-grows position would be appropriate?
I try to jealously guard that this forum not become cumbersome to our members.  When we had the planning for one of our big projects, a few people left due to the volume of comments and posts.  If it does get to be too much, you can turn off notifications under the "My ChoralNet" tab and just read their ChoralNet online.  
on November 30, 2012 7:16pm
Your piece River in Judea is incredible. I can see why it's such a favorite. I can only aspire to reach your (and your collaborators') level of writing. Did you write the lyric first, or was there another process? Any way it went, the result was a wonderful piece of music.
on December 1, 2012 2:21pm
Julie, Thank you so much for your help! I hope that this reply about the creation of RIVER IN JUDEA will reach CHORAL NET.
In the early summer of 1989,while I was sitting at my writing desk , the phrase "a singing-ringing river" came into my mind.Then the words continued to tumble out. I wrote them down as quickly as I could! I have never had this incredible experience before or after .I remember feeling at that time, as I still do today,that the words were a "gift"..they were meant to be shared.
I sent the words "unedited" to Jack Feldman and asked him if he thought they were lyrics. Jack is the co-writer of among other songs, "Copa";"I Made It Through the Rain and "Newsies" the current Broadway hit!
Jack said "yes..they are lyrics" and he immediately set them to music...He wrote the lead sheets in pencil on sheet music paper.
I sent the sheet music and a cassette of our song to the editor of Educational Music at Shawnee Press. I expressed my hope this would be appropriate for schools. Our editor answered "yes" and he sent it on to John Leavitt to arrange it . John received it on the 4th of July and he, like Jack worked very quickly.
Our song quickly became a "cross over' to both the secular and sacred markets.Not only are Jack and John extremely talented, they are sensitive, kind, gentlemen.We are most grateful that our song continues to touch the hearts and minds of many people from all parts of the world.
If anyone has specific questions, I will do my best to answer them.
Thank you for this opportunity!
Linda Marcus
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on December 1, 2012 8:23pm
Linda, thank you so much for responding with your wonderful story!  It's great to know how RIVER IN JUDEA came “tumbling out” like a gift for all of us to enjoy...and amazing that you had a connection to such a talented person as Jack Feldman (I hope he has given you a couple of tickets to see Newsies!).  Thank you again for visiting us and for giving us the "inside scoop" on this beloved choral work.
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on December 2, 2012 9:37am
Back in 1998, I was asked to fill in as "acting" choir director for a small church in Seattle while they searched for a "permanent" director. I'd never conducted before, but had the benefit of having sung with some very fine conductors.  I figured I'd better do some research and learn what I was supposed to do, so I attended an "anthem reading" session sponsored by a local music company, and led by .... John Leavitt (you see where this is going, right?) :-)
One of the anthems we read was the SAB arrangement of "River in Judea." I purchased it on the spot, and it was the first piece I conducted with this choir.  I went on to become the choir director there, and served for 8 yrs.
It has become a "classic" in the repertoire, and rightly so.  Another perfect marriage of text with music.
Thanks so much for the story of its origins.  "River in Judea" remains one of my all-time favorites.
Lana Mountford
on November 26, 2012 12:15pm
I've hesitated to share this experience (and I am not looking for "hang in there" support), but this thread has opened up the possibility of doing so in a perhaps not entirely awkward way.  A few weeks ago I received an email from a women's choir director; here is the salient part:
"I have looked at your choral work a number of times in the past two years when planning my programs because I am inclined to select music written by women, for women, in this century.  Frankly, your texts, while they appear on the surface to be positive and inspiring, do not strike me as poetry worthy of the rehearsal time and effort they would take to perform them well.  For me, your texts lack poetic depth.  If you are interested in appealing to women such as myself, I suggest that you set music to fine poetry written by women in the past century.  There is much poetry written by women available online on poetry web sites."
Yeah, ouch.  I clearly realize that one person's opinion is one person's opinion, and others may disagree with her assessment, but the simple fact that my compositions to date have failed to generate any interest from anyone (beyond a very few who can be counted on one hand) has made me step back and consider the possibility that most others may share her opinion. 
I remember reading a few posts in the past by composers who've said that there is a weird kind of prejudice in the choral community against composers who write their own lyrics.  Have any of you who write your own lyrics experienced this?  Do you see a difference in the level of interest from choral directors between your compositions that use others' texts versus compositions that use your own?  Has anyone else received the kind of feedback that I did? 
on November 26, 2012 5:35pm
I have run into a few people like the one you quote.  I want to share with you and the community my coping strategy for situations like these.  I hope that when anyone runs into an arrogant self-righteous person like this my strategy will help.  I am a Christian (stay with me this probably isn't going where you expect).  I frequently find that verses from the bible can help me in many ways.  Romans Chapter 12 is particularly valuable to me.  Read Romans 12:4-5 and then ask yourself "Which one am I?" and "Which one are they?"
Applaud if this might help you.
I LOVE your lyrics Julia!
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on November 26, 2012 6:16pm
Hello Julia,
Bravo for not letting this critique discourage you, and for pursuing the subject further so that we may all learn something from your chastisement. It takes someone of substance and depth to tell the world what another has said negatively about their creative endeavors.
On the other hand, I find it interesting that a few responses ago you wrote of yourself "I am NOT a poet", and so I find myself wondering why you are concerned that maybe you and your 'critic' may be on the same side of the fence, sharing the same opinion. I am sure you could become a poet, as you are obviously inclined to write poetry, as your non-poetic writings are sprinkled with insight and wisdom, as you obviously have something to tell the world, and as you are quite clearly not afraid to go out on a limb and bare yourself to the world. If I felt I wanted to set my own poetry, the first thing would do would be to study and write poetry until I felt comfortable with it, and only then - when I could declare "I am a poet!" - would I attempt to set to music something I had written. Personally - and this is just one composer's opinion - I would not try to learn how to write poetry and music at the same time, and since I am, and always will be, learning how to write music, I doubt I'll ever set my own texts!
One thing can surely be said about setting the works of a renowned poet- the composer can become inspired by the poetry being set. Can one become inspired by one's own poetry?! I do not have a clear answer to this, but I do think I would feel poetically straight-jacketed if I were to write music first and the text afterwards. There would already be a pretty strict form that the poem would have to assume and surely the cadence - the ebb and flow of the music - would place strictures on what I wanted to write. I'd be selling short myself and my music.
Food for thought... Thanks, Julia.
While I am on this subject- can anyone in the community give us an example of a fine choral work with a relatively 'empty' text? I am sure there are some, but I'll bet they're not on the tip of most people's tongues!
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on November 27, 2012 4:52am
"Empty" texts?  Ravel "Daphnis & Chloe;" Vaughn Williams' "Flos Campi" -- and probably Landes "Images," although the text does include "no words."  Also, "Alleluia," e.g. Randall Thompson, Robert Evett, Jean Berger, Stephen Paulus, Kirke Mechem.  But I akcknowledge that most choral music depends greatly on its text to be effective; and many composers, myself included, start with the text as the inspiration for our work.
on November 27, 2012 12:36pm
I have to disagree re: Alleluia, Christopher.  It actually means "praise Yahweh".  It's only empty if it's sung as nonsense syllables.
I'm with you, though, on this: text is where I start with any vocal composition, without exception or question.  Trying to fit a text to music strikes me the same way that the idea of arranged marriages does.  I have great admiration for anyone or any team that has convincingly done it, like the Gershwins.  
My $.02: the relationship of text to music has to grow organically from the start, and I know of no way to ensure that except by living with the text for a while before I set it.  George and Ira clearly did this the other way around with great success, and some folks here do it that way as well, but I can't imagine working that way.  Different strokes!
Joseph Gregorio
on November 28, 2012 5:21am
Thanks, Joseph.  Well, I agree with you; and I'm jumping back in to be clear that I understand the meaning of Alleluia and I share its reverence.  
What I should have said is this:  that a piece repeating only "alleluia" or "alleluia, amen" could be regarded as relatively "empty" (in the sense I think Donald intended).  That is, the text does not take the listener on a journey from beginning to end, nor does it create the interplay among sounds, rhythms and images to conjure up new associations.  To me the first aspect, the journey, is what makes a text literary and the second, the wordplay, is what makes a text poetical.  
By the way, I think the same applies to music.  The journey makes the sounds a composition and the interplay among musical elements is what makes them art.  But I digress...  I like your analogy of an arranged marriage.  I too live with texts and -- sometimes struggling with them long -- before starting to find the music that fits.  And then, as you noted, the music flows organically from the words.  If it doesn't, my work turns out not to be very good and I usually go back to the drawing board!  Thanks,  chris
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on November 28, 2012 7:17am
Well said, Chris.  Music, to me, is all about journey and narrative.  It's probably why I'm so obsessed with the study of form.  :)
on November 30, 2012 4:32pm
"Has anyone else received the kind of feedback that I did?"

Yes, Julia.  They are called rejection letters.

I would like to offer a different perspective on the response you received from this director.  While her tone may not have come across well, she has taken the time to respond, and her words actually contain encouragement.  I think you have mentioned in the past that you have been discouraged by submitting to publishers.  If we compare this director to a publisher and your piece to a submission, in the world of rejection letters that composers receive, this one is actually quite a helpful response–a big step above no response or a form letter, because it contains specific advice and an invitation to “resubmit” your work.

“I have looked at your choral work a number of times in the past two years...”

Unless you left it out, she does not say that she does not like your music.  In fact, she keeps coming back to peruse it.  You even have an advantage over many composers, because she is "inclined to select music written by women, for women, in this century".  It’s the lyrics that aren’t meeting her standard for her choir.  So she offers a solution:  "If you are interested in appealing to women such as myself, I suggest that you set music to fine poetry written by women in the past century..."

The choice is yours:

1)  Take the director’s advice and set a fine text that she might find appealing for her choir.
2)  Find another director who might be more open to your lyrics and music.

Be encouraged, Julia.  The director is treating you like a professional.  Sometimes it is the “hard word" that can steer us toward our compositional strength...and success.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 30, 2012 7:23pm
I think this is a really insightful reply. For someone in this person's position to take the time to critique your work does seem to show a real interest in it. How often I have wished that publishers would let me in on what they were thinking about something I submitted to them, other than that it doesn't meet their objectives, or however they may put it. I know they get lots of submissions and don't have the time to do this, which reinforces the point that Julie was making.
One more point -- it shows that you are out there in the marketplace. I haven't figured out how to do that with my adult pieces, so I applaud your initiative!
on November 30, 2012 9:35pm
Here you go Julia, a poetry opportunity for you (I spent about an hour looking for one for you to set).   Emily Dickenson might be a little older than your director wanted but certainly has merit and in the public domain. 
DEATH is a dialogue between
The spirit and the dust.
"Dissolve," says Death. The Spirit, "Sir,
I have another trust."
Death doubts it, argues from the ground.
The Spirit turns away,
Just laying off, for evidence,
An overcoat of clay.
Not that Julia needs anyone other than herself to write poetry/lyrics of merrit.  If anyone has read the text of her Song of the Klutz or her Water Cycle Song that she wrote for Chris Hutchings to set for me you will see an unusual sense of humor and value.  Both these texts are very intriguing and catch my attention as a conductor.  
Song of the Klutz
I have two left feet that trip, trip me up
I have ten thumbs and drop my cup
I'm so klutzy I despair, I'm telling you this isn't fair.
I'm so careful with the scissors,
Very cautious with the tools and knives,
I hope I'm like the kitty cats who have nine happy lives!
Yet I burn OUCH! slice, and poke OUCH! 
OUCH! OUCH! too many parts of me.
I keep the first aid things on hand and use them frequently.
So if you think you got it bad, you might look this direction.
Then realize you're not a klutz, and make a mood correction.
I have two left feet that trip, trip me up
I have ten thumbs and drop my cell phone.
I'm so klutzy everywhere, don't laugh at me it isn't fair.
Cans always leap from pantry shelves and land right on my toes.
Doors like to smash my fingers and whack into my nose.
And so I bruise, OUCH! break, OUCH! and bash OUCH!
OUCH! OUCH! too many parts of me.
Thank goodness there is nine one one for each emergency!
To those who still make fun of me, this might just be contageous!
So if you catch this stupid malady,
I won't seem so outrageous.
Paper cuts and bruises, broken bones and strains galore!
Will I ever just grow out of this?
I can't take anymore!
When I was just a little toddler,
OUCH! was my first word.
So please be kind and patient with this Klutz who can't be cured
(Taken from the music so sorry if not formatted right)
The Water Cycle Song (for children's choir)
Once I was a raindrop falling from the sky.
I trickled down a hill into a river rushing by.
The river full of raindrops washed me out to sea,
The currents took me ‘round the world, then sunshine set me free.
It’s called evaporation, and now I’m in a cloud.
A vapor soaring higher, and feeling very proud.
I’m floating in the troposphere, a lovely place to be.
If you were up this high as well, just think what you could see!
But, oh, it’s very cold up here, my molecules are freezing.
And soon I’ll be a snowflake, and maybe I’ll start sneezing!
But look, there is a mountaintop, I think I’ll float on down
And join the other snowflakes in their sparkly frozen town.
When it’s springtime and I’m melting, and all my friends are, too.
We’ll be flowing down the mountainside, in rivers old and new.
Heading for the ocean, but we’ll stop along the way
So all can have enough to drink, each and every day.
Water is my name, you can call me H-2-O.
I'm liquid, solid, vapor too, I'm flexible, you know.
It’s called the water cycle, all these changes I go through.
I do like being water, wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you?
I do like being water, wouldn’t you?
Feel free to repost any corrections Julia!
Song of the Klutz and The Water Cylce Song © Julia Laylander (reprinted with permission)
on December 1, 2012 6:19am
Julia, I wanted to clarify my statement:  “It’s the lyrics that aren’t meeting her standard for her choir.”

...the intended emphasis being for her choir.  Your lyrics that Jack posted do not have the “poetic depth” that this director is seeking.  But they are funny!  Jack's kids and others will surely enjoy performing them.  Keep writing more lyrics and more music.  I look forward to seeing them.
on December 1, 2012 6:57am
P.S.  Regarding the “hard word” I mentioned:  Perhaps your strength is in comedy! :-D

When people comment positively on your lyrics or music, is there a common thread?
on November 27, 2012 4:37am
I agree that community of poets and lyricists would be worthwhile.  But I would ask to please keep it separate from the composers' forum.  Yes, there is overlap and some of us wear both hats -- probably all of us at one time or another.  Still, the fundamental tasks, challenges and issues of each craft are different.  Especially since it seems most of the lyricist write to fixed music and the composers to an establshed text; that is, few develop both simultaneously in creating a new piece.  I can see a robust forum for poets and lyricists, and would welcome it, but I at least would prefer to check a composers' forum that is manageable and focused.  Thanks for listening!
chris hoh
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 27, 2012 11:45am
Very good point, Chris. I'll simply second it.
on December 2, 2012 2:50pm
Wow I jumped in late!  but it gave me a great opportunity to read the thoughts of others that are very similar to my own.
I tend to write emotionally, often started by a simple poignant thought--usually based on Biblical principle or human story element. The lyrics are not extraordinary (unless based solely on scriptural text) but when all is said and done they convey my thoughts and feelings. The one exception has been a setting of Mondnacht that my local choir will be performing this March. I wrote it because the lyrics have long reminded me of my father. When he passed away nearly 2 years ago, I set the poem in his memory.
I have the advantage of a hobbyist who writes for personal catharsis and enjoyment. I have had a few 'successes' as well--which are wonderful-- but my hopes are not set on commercial success.
And btw--twice the inspiration that sparked an entire piece was started right here in this forum :-)
All that to say-- sometimes it's the chicken, sometimes it's the egg, and the very best and profound thoughts come when I'm driving or in the shower. Shower crayons, anyone? You can fit a lot of solfege syllables on a big blank slab of polyurethane!
on January 17, 2013 6:32pm
Like a lot of others I have been away for awhile, reading what others have posted but not ablet to add much of anything. Sometimes life gets in the way! I'm still looking at the question of what makes a poem work for music? My poetry, while I guess I like it okay, just doesn't seem to work, at least to my ear. For one thing, it seems either too long or too short, or too personal or too specific, or too this or too that. I've been exploring totally free-form poetry in order to get away from the sing-songy effect when I try to write lyrics first; but now I think I'm ready to try my hand at writing something with the goal of setting it to music later. I assume it is obvious that I am one of the music first/lyric second composers..... Anybody have any thoughts about this?
on January 17, 2013 6:59pm
Hello Kathy,
Just an idea to take or leave. Maybe part of the problem is that you may be too close to your own poetry and cannot separate yourself from it when it comes to 'setting' it. (This is one reason I have rarely set my own poetry). Or maybe not... But, why don't you try setting say a Shakespeare sonnet, or a portion of it, and then maybe some 'Alleluias', and then something very 'contemporary' in free-form- lots of this around, even in the replies above. No problem with copyright if it is for your own instruction and does not go further than your mos. paper. Then, look at i.e. analyze what other good composers have done with similar (or the same) poems. This could be very revealing for you.
on January 17, 2013 7:23pm
I am a professional poet who sets her own poetry to music.  But on several occasions, I have written words to music that someone else had already composed.  I have found that it's easiest to write the words first.  For me, the words inform the music. 
On several occasions, other composers have set my poetry, and in general, I haven't been pleased with the outcome.  I feel they did not capture my intent in sound.  This is a long way of saying that you know better than anyone else what you meant when you wrote the poem.  So I don't think you can be too close to your own words, as suggested above.  (Sorry about that, Donald!) 
You should take this with a large grain of salt, though, because I am a "words first, music second" person-- the opposite of you!
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