Mar 30, 2015

Song Travels: Ainulindalë

Read the Introduction to this series, "Song Travels," here.

Listen to “Ainulindalë” (Track 11, “There was a Song”, There was Music 2011 version)

I distinctly remember the conception of this song.

It was a pleasant day—either a Sunday morning or late Saturday afternoon. The sun was warm, the air fresh. Birds were chirping. The scent of life was in the air: the leaves of whispering maple and aspen trees, thick tufts of grass, and grape vines consuming the yard’s chain-link fence. It may have been springtime. A lawn mower hummed nearby. I was living in Colorado Springs, sitting on wooden folding chair outside the backdoor of the Yampa House’s cement patio. The square-shaped area was sheltered by a corrugated metal roof, which was often a playground to a family of squirrels.

I was preparing and rehearsing a set list for Tim & Emily Duguid’s wedding. As sometimes happens when I “warm up”—playing whatever my fingers instinctively guide me toward—I entered a blessed time of unbound inspiration. The opening melody was more or less discovered by exploring the possibilities of the A-scale, which I was quite fond of at the time—and still am.

Side Note: I am mostly interested in fostering unusual chord structures. This has sometimes garnered a “What is that?” or “I have no idea what that chord is” kind of response. It is the result of my simply combining notes from a scale with a pioneering spirit, yielding such uninspiring names as “A-variant” or “E-variant”, which can actually signify a variety of different fingerings. Sometimes they do not work, but sometimes I come upon something intriguingly beautiful. Such is how I feel about the composition of “Ainulindalë”, though one of my favorite chords—featured in the “chorus”—is a simple open A-variant first used in the original chorus of “Follow Me.”

I originally composed the song with marriage in mind. I considered calling it “Union,” but thought the title might be too limiting. I did not want audiences to just associate it with sex. I then considered calling it “Pearl”, inspired by Jesus’ parable about the man who discovers a pearl in a field, and thereby sells everything he owns to acquire it. Such a title suggested finding something rare and precious, and sacrificing all to gain and nurture it. I wanted to convey a beauty that is real, that can be found, but that is also transcendent.

Having recently read J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Silmarillion, I found something very compelling about the title of the book’s opening segment, “Ainulindalë.” The first chapter is about the creation of Arda through the Music of the Ainur (the holy ones): the great song at the beginning of time. Arda was to be the dwelling place for the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). The Elves awoke in the quiet wilderness of Arda looking up at the stars. I remembered a painting by Ted Nasmith, “At Lake Cuiviénen” that depicts that scene, which had hung from my wall during high school as part of a Tolkien Calendar, and decided that “Ainulindalë” was indeed the right title for such a song. It is, of course, ironic how it actually requires more explanation than any of its potential predecessors. However, the poetry of the word alone conveys beauty even without explanation, which is a testament to Tolkien’s adoration of language. So that settled it for me.

There was a Song
Noting the version of the song linked above, “Ainulindalë” was actually first listed as “There was a Song” in my first musical sketchbook, There was Music. This refers to the story of There was Music, a novel I completed during the following year.

Overall, the story is about a woman’s long and harrowing journey toward freedom and healing. In prison and then a wilderness, she defies all hardships and oppressors through her survival. Yet survival is never easy. Furthermore, there is something deep and unalterable within us that knows that survival is not enough. Human begins need more. She begins to understand this through the gift of music that a mysterious traveler offers her. She is first drawn to him because of a song. Never named in the novel, “There was a Song” is an expression of that song. It is a song that she receives as a gift, and it is a song that she can nurture and ultimately share as a gift with others. It is about transcendence and frailty. As musical sketchbooks, both There was Music and Why are you here? tell that story.

The Recordings
Listen to “Ainulindalë” (Track 6, Between Meadow and Sky 2011 version)

In addition to There was Music, “Ainulindalë” is also included in my second musical sketchbook, Between Meadow and Sky (as Alaudidae). It features a beautiful piano accompaniment by Regina van der Eijk. In terms of accompaniment, this version probably works the best in maintaining a kind of detached ethereal sound. The classical guitar track is actually the exact recording from “There was a Song,” which had been given a softer, larger room effect using Garage Band by its original producer, Elliott Irby (Redwood).

Listen to “Ainulindalë” (Track 9, Why are you here? 2012 version)

The third presentation of the song is in my third musical sketchbook, and first album as Myshkin, Why are you here? “Ainuldinalë” was re-recorded at a slightly different pace with a rawer, more intimate emotional feel in its less produced sound. Angela Sawtell adds a stirring voice with the cello, which I would like to explore further because my low tech recording mic did not do the cello justice. I am also fond of the subtle additional layer of classical guitar that I provided during the swelling “chorus” lines.

Overall, there is an interesting distinction between the two essential versions of this song. I only realized this recently, which serves as further testament to the traveling nature of a song. One version of the song suggests a more spiritual, transcendent character: the mysterious traveler in There was Music. The other version conveys a more flawed, human character: the protagonist. In a way, that is perfect because the song in fact really embodies the gift exchange of those two characters - of any two people, really. This is the power of human connection.

This is the power of music.

No comments: