Research for a Song—Full Circle

A while back I wrote about composing a song that tells the story of the beautiful Sharon Temple, a national historic site in York Region. In the first post I explained what inspired me to write it (a visit to the Temple last summer) and how I found my way into the narrative. In the second I detailed some of my writing challenges—and serendipitous surprises—in telling the fascinating story of the sect, the Children of Peace, that built the temple.

In those posts I talked primarily about crafting the lyrics. But I also had to figure out what kind of music I should set those lyrics to.

Music played a key role in worship for the Children of Peace. Luckily the temple has published a booklet containing invaluable information on the sect’s music, plus the notation for all 20 tunes from the temple’s original barrel organ. So I started with one of the hymn tunes coded into the organ called “Egypt,” which has a suitably haunting, minor-key quality. It became my inspiration for the verses (I even used the same key, G minor), but I wrote a more joyous, major-key, hymn-like tune for my chorus, since the chorus begins:

“Oh we made a joyful sound, and we dressed in colours gay

We were neighbour helping neighbour in the truest Christian way…”

According to the booklet, the Children of Peace also put together “one of the earliest, if not the first, civilian band in Canada” that included instruments ranging from cellos to flutes to French horn. I’ll be going into the studio soon to record the song, and my piano player can’t wait to arrange some parts for these instruments.

And now my story of the writing of the song has come full circle: I’ll be revisiting the temple to perform the song there on Friday September 9. Every year the Sharon Temple holds an “Illumination,” when the building is lit up with only candles and lanterns. The program includes music, a speaker, and something called “our traditional Illumination cake,” served at the end of the evening. This year I’m honoured to be providing the music. Cost is $25 and it goes toward helping restore this historical gem (the building, not me).

Hope you can make it and hear the official premiere of my new song—it will be a truly moving experience for me to sing it in the very place whose history it recounts and whose music it echoes.

………………..

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. www.marielynnhammond.com

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