Thursday, January 24, 2008


This song from Rehearsal for a Reunion is the first track on the Simply...Parchment CD collection. It's an interesting and significant choice.

I found myself in a car with a tapeplayer the other day and listened to Rehearsal straight through for the first time in ages. It's an under-recognised album, notable for its new songs and in particular for show-casing Sue McClellan's gift for melody and song-writing and her ability to render her own songs in a peerless fashion.

As if by coincidence I'd been in church the day before and we'd had a medley of the new worship songs. Now it's easy to sound fogeyish about new music and the truth is that in each generation, when there's an outpouring of new music, a lot of its dross and a small amount will last for ever. Nevertheless it struck me forcibly how badly constructed two of the songs were. In one case they had a verse and a melody that wasn't too bad but after a few lines it launched into the chorus. To sing the chorus - and I'm no musicologist - you had to launch immediately into a kind of ecstasy, singing in quite a high register. A lot of people aren't willing to do that, certainly not in a forced fashion. Then back to the next verse. And I thought, how much better it would have been if the song-writer had let the congregation build up gradually - singing the first verse, which wasn't too bad, and then just raising the pitch a little, allowing the singers to contemplate the words so they were ready for the grand finale of the final chorus...and then repeat it spontaneously if you like.

And then the next day I had Rehearsal on the tape and Vision came on. In the lyric sheet it seems to have just two verses and a refrain. The melody is driven by the metre of the words:
Slowly I stand, a vision I see

Taking my breath away it's open to me

Streets filled with life confusion and tears

Music so heavenly the heart only hears.

Then, lyrically, comes the five lines of the refrain (or perhaps not the refrain), No more you weep the angel commands.

Then the second/third verse comes in and the way that's treated, with harmony and playing with the melody, you think that's the refrain, building up to its last line.
When Jesus comes again be ready be wise

And it may be ..or maybe not.

For a second rendering of the refrain follows:
No more you weep the angel commands

Light like a mystery shines from his hands

Jesus is here, the waiting is done

Lay down your heavy hearts

A new world has come

Then the second verse is repeated twice, without the refrain, so that the line

When Jesus comes again be ready be wise

is the hook line.

So it's not a classic verse-chorus construction at all. In fact, treating it as if it has three verses, the construction is:

That's how you build a song!

Okay, this song would probably be murdered if used for congregational singing - but then I don't suppose anyone has ever tried to use the songs from Rehearsal for this purpose.

I would say that many of the phrases from Rehearsal have stayed with me all my life. They are those kind of songs. It was a good final album. Another example is Talking to You. Simple and to the point lyrics, beautifully rendered:

Talking to You is part of my day

I'm talking to you and all my fears wash away

Talking to You seems to make my dreams come true

And I know that I don't want anyone else but you

Once you've heard it on the album, it's unforgettable.

And the song-craft was later repeated when Sue McClellan wrote a series of songs for River. The same gift for melody and for rendering of songs is seen on the four River albums, probably most notably on the third short one, Shadow and Flame.

There's one other notable feature of Vision. It has a mandolin intro, making it an ideal candidate to kick off the compilation set.

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