Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,
Steven
unzeugmatic

Putting a Song Together

I grow wilder all the time with the liberties I'll take with an existing song. I've been working on a new song for tonight's Pub sing at Merlin's, and in this case I'm doing some major reworking of actual published old poetry, in the service of a workable chorus.

I recently came across a musical setting of a poem by Cicely Fox Smith. This is the original poem:

I wish't I was in Lancashire huntin' o' the hare
All across the wide moorlands an' the hollows brown an' bare,
Hearkenin' to the good hounds' cry, hearkenin' to the horn,
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.

I wish't I was in Lancashire along o' folks I know,
Rangin' o'er the countryside in all the winds that blow
As they blew when I was yet a lad, in the place where I was born,
Far away in Lancashire on a good huntin' morn.

There's gradely hounds in Lancashire, as such there always were:
There's gradely hills in Lancashire as how they're bleak an' bare:
There's jannock lads in Lancashire, and that I tell you true,
An' I wish't I was in Lancashire all the day through!


The melody is simple and singable -- pretty, despite a six-note range. Maybe a little too simple, but with words that are difficult this is a good thing. But this is a poem, not written to be sung (as, say, the works of Robert Burns often were). So the metrical things that give this interest, that stretch and telescope meters and accents, work against the singability. That's in part why I'm ok with changing some things.

So step 1: That first verse works as a chorus. The second line will be hard for people to pick up, but it will be ok.

From there, I change something small in the second verse. You can't sing "on a windy morn" in the chorus and then, in the first verse to same melody, sing "on a good huntin' morn". That extra syllable (semi-syllable really) gives a nice twist in recitation, but (unless it's an art song setting) throws off the singability. But after singing this a few times I realized that if I just sang "on a windy morn" as the last line of that verse I've got a nice hook for people to sing at the end of the verse, that they already know and can join with. Plus when you go right from that verse back to the chorus you pick up the hunting theme so it doesn't get lost. The goal here is not to show how smoothly and passionately I can sing a sentimental song, but to find a way to draw people in. Changing that line I think will help.

Ah, but there's the key and the road to ruin: From there I realize that I wanted the last line of the second verse to be the same as well. So this is what I now sing:

There's gradely hounds in Lancashire, as such there always were:
There's gradely hills in Lancashire as how they're bleak an' bare:
There's jannock lads in Lancashire, on this I've always sworn
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.


If there's an adjective you don't know, it's a Lancashire dialect word meaning "excellent". Or a topographical feature of the landscape, depending on context. I lost a little bit of the poetry in my change here, but I think in the song this is fine.

So now I have a two verse song. I could try writing a third verse -- it would certainly not be the first time I've tried to write in the diction and style of an existing poem/song. But I think aiming for quaint and charming archaic Lancashire wording is a little beyond me. So I went looking and found another poem by Cicely Fox Smith about nostalgic pining for Lancashire (although not hunting in particular) that includes this:

Still runs the brook, the trees stand up
By yonder cloughside still:
You can see your father's barn
Look over the windy hill.'

'There will I go, and there shall meet
Old ghosts of joy and pain,
And the folks I knew in the time that's gone
Shall greet me once again.


It's a slightly different, more melancholy feel, but the raw material is there like clay for me to rework. This is what I added as the third verse:

There will I go and there shall meet old ghosts of joy and pain
And the folks I knew in the time that's gone shall greet me once again.
Still runs the brook, the trees stand up, the cloughside to adorn,
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.


I don't like the word "pain" there -- it's just wrong for the tone of the rest of the piece to my sense of things. But I'm leaving it and hoping it will add a little twist that doesn't rattle things too badly. "Cloughside to adorn" may not be the smoothest line ever, but it gets boosted a bit by the melody there and by adding to the rhyming refrain-introducing structure. And cloughside? Remember the guideline about meaning? It's a local word for a topographical feature, in this case a ravine.

So this is what I'll sing, and if I hadn't told you this story you wouldn't know what hand I had in this -- oh, and I made a slight change to the gradely hills line, but actually I stole that from the place I originally heard the musical setting:

CHORUS:
I wish I was in Lancashire a-hunting of the hare
All across the wide moorlands and the hollows brown and bare,
Hearkening to the good hounds' cry, hearkening to the horn,
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.


I wish I was in Lancashire along o' folks I know,
Ranging o'er the countryside in all the winds that blow
As they blew when I was yet a lad, in the place where I was born,
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.

CHORUS

There's gradely hounds in Lancashire, as such there always were:
There's gradely hills in Lancashire, their summits bleak and bare
There's jannock lads in Lancashire, on this I've always sworn,
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.

CHORUS

There will I go and there shall meet old ghosts of joy and pain,
And the folks I knew in the time that's gone shall greet me once again;
Still runs the brook, the trees stand up, the cloughside to adorn,
Far away in Lancashire on a windy morn.


I sang this for Jim and Denise and Anna Bean last night and it seemed to work. We'll see how it goes tonight.
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