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Throwback Thursday~A Musical Passion

In the year 2000 I got a crazy idea to write both the script and songs for a fully staged musical drama entitled YESHUA. It was a wild adventure that began with a small, one act Good Friday presentation at our church, then ballooned into a two and a half hour two act show, complete with sets, dancers, a full choir and lots of bells and whistles (including a 500 year old dried out tree).  We presented YESHUA for 3 consecutive years at a local performing arts center.

My goal in writing this production was to do something different with what we commonly refer to as the Easter story, so I flavored the show with elements of the passion story’s historically Jewish roots through Hebrew dance, authentic Hebrew costumes, and a musical score laced with Jewish melodies.

Early on in the creation of YESHUA, Nathan and I decided that we wanted music to back the entire show, as if it were being presented on film.  More than orchestral accompaniment for all the songs, we wanted scene music that would set the mood, the time and place; music that would enhance the emotional ebb and flow of the story.  As I wrote the script I worked with Nathan on the timing of scenes so that the action would move smoothly from scene to scene, the pace driven by music.  It was, at the time a novel concept, made possible because Nathan was able to create the entire score on his keyboard.  During our work sessions I would read through the scenes aloud, and together we would decide what type of music the scene and dialogue required, how much music there should be, and when to leave blank spaces.

Nathan Allen Pinard
Nathan Allen Pinard hard at work.

Nathan then created CDs that contained all the scene music and song accompaniment.  We began rehearsing with the CD right from the start so the actors could learn their cues and work out the timing of their dialogue, scene changes, and the dramatic flow.  This was especially effective in the trial scene where I required the actors to speak their dialogue in a rapid fire confrontational style.

Going into rehearsal, we were not at all sure how this would work, but the entire cast and crew were thrilled by the result! As the director of the play I was able to get more out of my actors because Nathan’s music is very emotive.  There is gorgeous scene music when Yeshua (Jesus) prays in the garden and when he sings the modern aria I wrote for him.  A suspenseful percussion-heavy score beats behind the trial scene, and the crucifixion scene allowed Nathan to compose the music of tears.

We are happy to share this clip from the crucifixion scene; with music by Nathan Allen Pinard and dialogue by Corey Bretsch and Brian Knapp with Vocals by Bonnie Pinard.  This particular piece of music contains a lot of dark sound and vocal design with a celtic feel at the end, because well-Nathan likes to work outside the box!

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Music and Lyrics ~ The Birth of a Song

Photo by docentjoyce under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I often wonder what the circumstances were when the very first song was created by a human being, and which came first…the lyrics or the melody?  Who discovered that one could combine a melody with words?  Were there instruments involved or just a voice and a thought, a feeling, an idea or a story?  No one knows for certain.  Somehow the notes and words merged into one and something remarkable happened.  A song was born.

Each individual songwriter works under their own process, but I can only tell you about mine.

For me the lyrics almost always come first, I suppose because I began writing poetry long before I became much of a singer.  Like many songwriters, I started writing poems as child to express myself and to explore the world around me.   I find songwriting to be a fantastically personal, spiritual and intimate experience.  I never start out writing a lyric or poem for anyone but myself.  I never even think about whether or not there is a commercial market for a song idea, and I never give a thought to following a certain set of rules or strong structure.  I simply write about what moves me, what I care about and what I am feeling.

This is perhaps why I have never had a “hit” song?

For me the lyrics are either inspired or they are not.  I don’t formulate or force song lyrics-they just come into my head.  An idea for a song will strike me, then I’ll sit down with my computer, set up a file and type the first few lines and a title.  From there the words start to flow, with most of my song lyrics written in a matter of 5 to 10 minutes!   Once the flurry of emotion has been expressed and I get across what I am trying to say, I will then break the song down-work on the language and images, work out the cadence as the melody often begins to emerge at this stage.

There are times however, when a song idea just doesn’t work.  I get the initial inspiration, but for unknown reasons, it doesn’t go any farther than that.  Those go into my “pending” file, and I have been known to revisit old song ideas to “borrow” from bits and pieces of rejected lyrics.

I find writing the lyrics much more enjoyable than composing the melody, but there have been rare occasions when a melody floated into my mind, so strong and so pervasive that it begged for a lyric, reversing the process.  I can think of once such instance.  I was standing at the sink doing the dishes, just staring out the window.  Suddenly out of nowhere comes this melody into my mind.  I start to hum it.  It sounds vaguely familiar.  I think to myself, “where have I heard this before?” I flip through the catalogue of known music in my brain.  Can’t name a song or piece of music that sounds like this, so I figure it is original.  It is mine.  I stand there humming this melody with tears streaming down my face because it moves me so.

The melody was eventually paired with a lyric, which then became a prayer, then a fully orchestrated song performed by soloists and a choir in our musical drama, YESHUA.

But that was a rare happening in my songwriting life.  That was special.

To compose songs, to write song lyrics that tell stories, explore human emotion, and make people feel something is an honor and a joy!

I would like to share with you a a song lyric I wrote a few months ago.  It is a “music orphan” and has no melody as of yet-but when it does it will become a song, clothed in Nathan’s exquisite orchestration, recorded by a beautiful voice and featured on our next  CD.


The Acorn Box
Bonnie Anne Pinard
copyright June 6, 2013

She removes the box from a secret place
Opens the lid with a smile on her face

The metal flashes in the window’s light
Soon the pain will make everything alright

Father in the next room, drunk and unaware
Plays the starring role in every nightmare

The box hides the blade like her smile hides the fear
No one else knows what goes on in here

Chorus: A shiny blade, the ribboned skin
To keep the pain from seeping in
A slash of red is all she needs
She’s pure again when she bleeds

Her friends only see the smile she fakes
They all believe in the lies she makes

A made up dream, it’s all pretend
She believes in magic when she cuts again.

Her mother’s gone, left the acorn box behind
Her friends don’t understand, seems the world is blind

The only way out is to feel the purge
She tries to stop but can’t fight the urge

Chorus: A shiny blade, the ribboned skin
To keep the pain from seeping in
A slash of red is all she needs
She’s pure again when she bleeds

She rolls up the sleeve, marks her aim
Takes a deep breath and welcomes the pain

She closes her eyes, starts the fall
It’s better to hurt, than feel nothing all

(interlude to change the tone)

Outside her window, it’s mid July
She spies the flash of a butterfly

She turns her head for a better view
Watches it swirl in the sky of blue

Bridge (an angelic choir repeating) :
hold on, stay strong
choose life, choose hope
fly free soar high
like the butterfly

Monarch wings reflect the light
She drops the blade to watch its flight

She stands to her feet, sets the box aside
Unlocks the window, opens it wide

She holds out her hand, the creature comes near
Through the window it flies, it has no fear

Ever so softly it lights on her arm
Where the blade tore her flesh,
Upon the scars of self harm

(an angelic choir repeating) :
hold on, stay strong
choose life, choose hope
fly free soar high
like a butterfly