Saturday, July 2, 2011

Prayer For Peace


(lyrics are below)

The challenge for Round 2 of SpinTunes 3 is to write a topical song. Verbatim:
BREAKING NEWS! - You‘re writing a topical song. The challenge is pretty wide open, but there are some restrictions. Topical is going to be defined as something from a headline in a newspaper no older than 2 weeks from today. You can use your local newspaper or a major publication. You‘re even allowed to use the online versions of major publications. You will be required to include a link to the story that inspired your song, or attach a scan from the newspaper. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due July 3rd 11:59PM)
Now I'm going to play barracks lawyer and note a few things about the challenge.  First, the fact that it's to be from a HEADLINE in a newspaper. It doesn't actually say anything about the story itself, so fiction and extrapolations inspired by that headline would appear to be OK. The use of the word "inspired" in the challenge would tend to confirm that, as does the assertion that the challenge is "pretty wide open". (After I wrote this, I see that some interpretation of that was posted by SpinTown to the effect that it should be about the story. If you wanted that you should have put it in the challenge.) It also states "in a newspaper" and "online versions" which tells me that online sources aren't allowable unless the story is print on dead trees somewhere.

That wasn't terribly good news for us. Neither William nor I subscribe to a newspaper, so we went online to scan the headlines.

One early idea was to write a lively barbershop quartet, sung by four reporters from The Weekly World News, extolling their latest scoops. I had selected several stories, then learned that the WWN stopped their print edition several years ago. Not wanting the instant disqualification, that idea was dropped (though we might pick it up later). Some folks have suggested we use the National Enquirer instead, but that would be like getting a glass of water when you asked for champagne. There is nothing as tawdry and cheap as the WWN.

William then wanted to do a war song (protest or anti-protest, depending on your point of view). I thought "Army of One" might be a good idea, with the theme revolving around troop reductions in Afghanistan. We could include some snare drum, which I'm not half bad at, and also get some use out of the electric guitar I bought a couple of weeks ago. William provided me with a lyric sheet entitled "News Real". It took the reporter angle and commented on several areas of the Middle East, but I thought it needed some focus. We found the focus by removing the US from the song entirely. I had a couple of stories from foreign sources: one dealing with the Israeli government spending a day in a nuclear fallout shelter, and others dealing with a rabbi on the West Bank who advocates the pre-emptive killing of gentiles by Jews.
Israeli Leaders Spend Day in Nation's Tunnel
Israel Must Maintain Itself As A Law-abiding State
Rabbi Jakov Yosef Endorses Killing Non-Jews
The idea for the new song was to eschew narrative entirely, focusing on only how we felt when reading those stories. As a result, I expect that we may have some negative commentary from the judges on the density of the lyrics. Our goal with these words is to make you feel, not to make you feel good. What we felt when reading the stories was not good. It was the sort of dread and helplessness mixed with determination that older Americans only remember from hiding under school desks in the Cold War (the real, scary Cold War... not fictional spy movies), and about which younger American know nothing at all. That may not be the best tactic in a competition, but it's where the song wanted to go.

Musically, a song about Israel cries out for a Phrygian Dominant scale, so I used it, though I fudge it a bit for Western ears. If you're wondering what the Phrygian Dominant scale is... well, it's what makes Jewish music sound Jewish. And as God is central to all things in the Middle East, He features prominently here.  This can only be done respectfully as a prayer, so the new piece is Prayer for Peace. I translated a number of lines into Hebrew, of which I know almost nothing, so any errors are mine alone. I'll add the translations in parentheses in the lyrics, but these parenthetical translations are not sung.

About the Hebrew phrases used... the first line of the chorus, "Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim" is "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem", as stated in Psalm 122:6. I further translated Jerusalem into English as "City of Peace" in the last line of the chorus so that an English-speaking audience can appreciate the irony of Jerusalem's name, give its history (I think the actual translation more like, "point out the way to peace"). In singing it, I'm not pronouncing the glottal stop in "sha'alu", but then again I've often heard it spoken without the stop. Though "shalom" does mean "peace", in Hebrew it has a larger sense of bringing restoration or completeness. The first verse is a recognition of every Israeli's duty to public service (including military service), so the name of the Lord invoked in the first chorus is "Adonai" (Lord).  The second chorus is a prayer for protection, so the name used is El Shaddai (God of All, or God of Sufficiency, but in the sense of God Almighty). The final chorus replaces the line with "Elohim hu ahava" ("God (on high) is Love") in part as a declaration, but in part as a reminder and rebuke to those Jews who advocate violence of their own.

(I've updated this twice meaning to add this comment, but didn't get around to it... in the verses you'll note repetition. Repetition is very important in Hebrew poetry. Often you'll see things repeated two or more times, often with synonyms and sometimes verbatim. That's what we're shooting for here. The bridge is sung, but in the first half of the following verse the vocals are silent in contemplation of the revelation in the bridge.)



PRAYER FOR PEACE
06/30/2011 by wmh and dfl

Every mother, every father
Every daughter and son
Pledges eternal vigilance
Until the victory is won
Pledges eternal vigilance
Until the victory is won

Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
(pray for the peace of Jerusalem)
Halleluja Adonai
(praise to God, the Lord)
Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
Pray for the peace of the City of Peace

Cradled in our Nation's Tunnel
In darkness as death rains from the sky
May the Lord protect us
That today we will not die
May the Lord protect us
That today we will not die

Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
(pray for the peace of Jerusalem)
Halleluja El Shaddai
(praise to God, the God of All)
Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
Pray for the peace of the City of Peace

I stand on the West Bank
Amid the pain and tears
As a rabbi prays for violence
I can't believe my ears
As a rabbi prays for violence
I can't believe my ears

May the Lord remind us
Not to spill our brothers' blood
May the Lord remind us
Not to spill our brothers' blood

Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
(pray for the peace of Jerusalem)
Elohim hu ahava
(God is love)
Sha'alu Shalom Israel
Pray for the peace of Israel

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