Songwriting Series: #6

Probably one of my most enjoyable pieces to listen to, “Proud” by Norah, was what I conjured from the composer’s lead sheet. “Proud” is the title I gave it as Norah did not title her lead sheet, but I felt that it was quite appropriate, as the song is constantly voiced in a parental or adult manner to a younger child, perhaps a familial, teaching the values of trust, confidence, and perseverance (wow, why can’t I write songs about such deep and applicable stuff…).

With this in mind, I decided that fancy instrumentation would merely detract from the lyrics, since, to be honest, they are infinitely better than anything I could write (and they’re somehow easy to memorize). Sticking to a more folk-like ensemble, I used mainly guitar and piano (and drum). I definitely felt that my singing wouldn’t do the song justice, so I asked for the aide of good friend, Deborah. I’m OK with my songs sounding pretty crappy, but I did not want to sully a classmate’s song, if I could help it, even though it’s my own version. Deborah’s voice sounds pure and kind in nature, which felt like the perfect type of voice for a motherly sounding song. This is partly why I also cast Deborah’s voice for the mother in another one of my songs, “Yellow Rain Boots.”

Instrumentation was pretty straightforward. The guitar repeats an arpeggio pattern, the piano blocks chords every measure (or half a measure, however you look at it), and a tambourine clatters in every so often. When the drum enters, a steady beat is held and acoustic guitar harmonics are added an octave higher. The hardest part was the mini-interlude, where more attention is instantly given to the instrumental parts. I wanted this part to build excitement to the second half where Deborah harmonizes her voice, so the piano part instantly shifts into sixteenth notes. There’s actually two pianos going at once, which probably adds to the “whoa, sounds complicated” factor, but that was done to add drive, as well as shape, to the more melodic piano. Guitar harmonics also take greater profile and respond to the piano chord shapes, helping lead the return to home key in the recapitulation.

At the recapitulation Deborah adds a second voice that harmonizes with the main melody. I have to point out that Deborah managed to not only record the main melody line in one to two takes (not counting the practice sessions), as well as improve the harmony part on the spot in one or two takes as well. In comparison to my 30+ takes for all of my songs…I feel ashamed.

Changes I would have liked to have done would be to rethink the ending string section and finding another drum set. EFuzzy has pointed out that when the strings swell into the final section and most of the parts fall away, the mood is soured. The excitement is there, and the intentional emotional finale is still present, but the atmosphere and style of the piece becomes inconsistent, and after numerous listening, I do agree that something seems slightly jarring or not unifying about the choice. The drum set, too, detracts from the initial style set by the soft piano and round guitar. Though this is not as obviously off putting, perhaps a more slow jazz-brush kit would have worked.

Regardless, the end result is really fun to listen, and Deborah’s singing completely pwned anything I had done previously, so I was anxious and excited to share this particular piece with everyone (especially during class).  Deborah complains about some out of tune notes, but the resultant voice quality and song mix are so lovable and thus far supersede any slightly wrong notes. After all, it is considerably superior to my own singing. Kudos, Deborah, and thanks.


Proud (2012)
Written and Composed by Norah Stephanos
Performed by Deborah Gayman

Arranged by Christopher Hsing

Waiting for the wind to change won’t make a rainbow in the sky
And searching for a new direction to go won’t make the past say goodbye
When walking around with your head on your shoulders is all you can manage to do
At least keep in mind for when you get older that walking this path will find you…

Keeping the world moving even when it doesn’t spin around
Keeping your head quiet when everything around you is so loud
Waking every morning just to be another in the crowd
But you know you should be proud
But you know you should be proud

Men will march over bridges, that doesn’t make the bridge fall down
And every day children are learning, to get up quickly from the ground
Cause walking around with your head on your shoulders is easily managed by you
But at least keep in mind for when you are older that walking this way will lead you to…

Keeping the world moving even when it doesn’t spin around
Keeping your head quiet when everything around you is so loud
Waking every morning just to be another in the crowd
But you know you should be proud
Yes, you know you should be proud

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