I’ve been writing music for a while now, but only began attempting to write lyrics in the last couple years. It has been pretty instructive, mostly in realizing how difficult it is to write something well and with substance. I’ve decided that at least for now I’ll have to accept that I will write slowly and with sweat and tears. 🙂 There’s benefit to this though, I think, since we’re surrounded with so much information, noise, music, news, etc., nowadays even without leaving our house (and I’m not talking about kids.) It doesn’t even have to be audible noise, it can be visual noise as well. (Like reading this blog, hah!) I don’t mention this to be critical of the modern world so much as to say I don’t want to meaninglessly “[add] to the noise” as a great Switchfoot song puts it.
My husband and I watched Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et des Deiux) last night and after we finished it he remarked how he was hearing every little sound in the house and off the street. The film is so quiet. For one thing it is about monks who seem to refrain from unnecessary speech; for another, the filmmakers told the story with a lot of space. What struck us is how the silence caused us to listen more carefully. Constant sound on the other hand ironically tells us to stop listening. I remember several professors in college bemoaning the fact that no one actually listens to music anymore, because they hear it all the time. “No one” is a generalization of course; the point is that so much music is produced and then played 24/7 everywhere we go, that we don’t treasure it particularly, and subsequently pay it much careful attention.
There are plenty of proverbs such as Prov. 10:19: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking…” and Prov. 17:27: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge…” that encourage us to let our words be few. However, many of the proverbs have a parallel phrase about the value of wise and gracious speech: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24). There are times when we must speak: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8). When Jesus entered Jerusalem “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'” There is also Prov. 25:11: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” There is “…a time to keep silence and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7b).
My personal tendency is to be silent when I should speak, to let the moment go by when I should have offered encouragement, and to hold back when a word was needed. I hesitate to write music out of fear, instead of wisdom.
I’ve been reading novels and essays by Wendell Berry lately, most recently “Standing by Words”. An excerpt for you:
One of the great practical uses of literary disciplines…[is] to slow language down and make it thoughtful…verse checks the merely impulsive flow of speech…; by inducing the hesitations of difficulty, it admits into language the influence of the Muse and of musing.
I hope that as I work through the difficulty of lyric (and music) writing, the result will be something worth saying. I also hope that I will learn to speak when words are needed and not remain silent.