I dedicated this song to the memory of two of my cousins who my family lost way too soon. I chose the Sara Teasdale poem, “Barter” for the words because I felt it conveys a sense of how precious life is, and how important to appreciate its blessings. I thought about writing my own words, but I had been looking a long time for a reason to use this poem for a song.
One of the ways I made the music more meaningful was by spelling their names and the word “HEAVEN” into the melody and harmony using a “musical alphabet” called a cryptogram.
How does this work?
There are only seven notes in a typical musical scale, but there are 12 distinct pitches that can possibly be chosen to build a scale (C, C-sharp, D, D-sharp, etc. up to B). This corresponds to the black and white keys on the keyboard, which repeat in pattern from the lowest to the highest note playable on the instrument. If you designate a note for each letter of the alphabet, when you spell a word it can make a melody. There are many possible ways to do this, but here is how I spelled heaven:
‘H’ = B; ‘E’ = E; ‘A’ = A; ‘V’ = G; ‘E’ = E; ’N’ = F
So the melody for “heaven” is B E A G E F. When the same note repeats, you can choose whether the melody line repeats the same pitch or goes up or down, higher or lower.
This technique of spelling words and names with musical notes has been possible since notes were given letter names during medieval times, and it was used by J.S. Bach and other composers during the Baroque and up to the present day.
Gathering together the notes from this melody and the notes for the names of my cousins, I had a very nice A-minor-like scale I could use to fill in parts and compose the entire melody and accompaniments for the song. I also wove in a short quote from the song “Halleluyah” by Leonard Cohen. I feel that the end result is a melody that is even more beautiful because it embodies their memory.
Of course I also had to find rhythms and musical meter to honor the lyrics, and I hope the result is something you may find uplifting and unique.