Research for a Song, Part 2

Back in February I posted about doing research for a song I’m writing about the Sharon Temple, and the breakaway Quaker sect that built it (it was completed in 1829).

First draft
At that point I had just sent my first draft to John McIntyre, a fellow Yorkscene blogger who’s also the curator at the Temple, with questions about certain phrases and historical details. The song is narrated by the last surviving member of the sect, Emily McArthur (1837-1924). One of the really interesting exchanges John and I had concerned the song’s chorus:

Oh we made a joyful sound, and we dressed in colours gay
We were neighbour helping neighbour in the truest Christian way
Sons and daughters standing equal in Jehovah’s holy sight
We were the Children of Peace, we were the children of light

Originally I wanted the last line to be “We were the children of light, we were the Children of Peace,” because the sect called themselves the Children of Peace and that’s the title of the song. But “peace” is hard to rhyme: “fleece,” “grease,” “geese” – none of those were going to work, obviously! “Increase” or “cease” seemed the best bets, but I couldn’t come up with lines using those words that made sense in context.

And I wasn’t going to resort to half-rhymes, the way a lot of current songwriters do – rhyming the vowel but not the consonant, e.g., teach/peace or meet/peace. For one thing, I was writing in the voice of an old woman who was telling her story around 1915, and writers of that era stuck to exact rhymes. And secondly, I generally do too in song lyrics, because I love the musicality of echoing the same sounds.

So I reluctantly put “Children of Peace” first and ended with “children of light,” a phrase that referenced the Quaker concept of the “Inner Light.” Putting that phrase in the mouth of my narrator was definitely poetic licence, or so I thought, though it sure was easier to rhyme!

But when I told John McIntyre, rather apologetically, about my difficulty rhyming “peace” and how I’d made up the phrase “children of light,”  he wrote back: “Actually, they seem to have experimented with this name [Children of Light] for a while in the early days. You must have sensed that!”

Research payoff
Wow! I thought. It was almost as if I’d been channelling Emily McArthur herself.  Or maybe it was just a lucky accident. But I figure it’s got more to do with the hours of research I put in, immersing myself in that time and the world of the Children of Peace – to the point that, as John said, I could “sense” or intuit things about them that rang true.

Unexpected ending
And here’s the kicker: When I’d finished the last verse, suddenly two more lines seemed to write themselves. In them, Emily says, re the departed members of the sect –

Oh may I join them once again when my soul finds its release
We were the children of light, we were the Children of Peace

So the song ends with the name of the sect now, and with the song’s title. A lovely, satisfying surprise!


Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction.


2 responses to “Research for a Song, Part 2

  1. Writing songs can be a mystery sometimes and majical at others. Sometimes song melodies and their lyrics just seem to appear and other times one fights with them.Thank you for talking about your processes of songwriting. If only the general public who hear you sing these songs full of meaning and beautiful melodies, could realize the years of musical practice and songwriting required to stand and perform at the professional level. Musicians works need to be compensated. Support our artists by promoting them and hosting or attending their House Concerts and buy their music don’t copy it.

  2. Pingback: Research for a Song—Full Circle | yorkscene

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