Some songs just get into your whole body.
The rhythm pulses in your blood, the melody lines hum in your muscles, the lyrics rest deep in your bones. The song feels as natural to you and as naturally yours as if it had emerged from your own mind and soul.
That’s how this one is for me. From the moment I first heard it, it made sense to me – from the 5/4 rhythm to the rolling musical phrases and the vibrant lyrical metaphors. I think I had this memorized before I realized I wanted to learn it.
I realize that not everyone has this experience with this song, by Jason Shelton and Mary Katherine Morn. Some, because it can be overused. Some, because their accompanists never got the hang of the 6/8+2/4 that is this particular 5/4 meter. Some, because the chorus goes high on the word ‘fire,’ a word that can be weird to sing because of its dipthong.
But for me, this song, written for the celebration of First Unitarian Universalist Nashville’s 50th anniversary in 2002, is practically perfect.
From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear
Guiding hands and hearts and spirits Into faith set free from fear.
When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul a blaze
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.
From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free,
Calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty.
From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new, prophetic voice,
Which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice
I think it’s so strong in so many ways. Morn’s lyrics are expansive, hopeful, and to me, theologically sound. Shelton’s music is alive with joy, energy, and anticipation. I haven’t studied music composition, but as a singer I know that just as there are keys that evoke certain mood, there are also certain feelings that you get from different time signatures; my experience with songs written in 5/4 is that there’s an anticipatory feel to them, like something is not quite finished – and that’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the song.
Anyway. If you haven’t had a chance to really hear the song the way it should be, check out the recording from Jason’s album – you can hear the addition of percussion helps keep rhythm; additionally, playing the accompaniment with the emphases in the right hand also keeps it driving forward.
I love this song deep in my bones, and I am grateful to Jason, Mary Katherine, and all who worked to bring this song to the fore and plant it in our living tradition.
“Fire Chalice” by PeacePeg – see this and more of her beautiful work at http://peacepeg.tripod.com/index.html
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