The Origin and Meaning of CIRCLES
Circles is one of my latest compositions featured in the 2016 release, Platforms. I began writing it a little over a hundred years after the music that inspired it was completed.
“Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” was written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon and Charles H. Gabriel. I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia. The five verses support the sentiments of the familiar chorus featured in the Carl Perkins song, “Daddy Sang Bass,” which later had its popularity furthered as a cover by Johnny Cash. Ada’s lyrics elaborate on the sadness of losing a family member and the joy of being reunited again just like old times. Good stuff. So is the melody. Through the chorus, the pitches stick to a pentatonic framework that doesn’t stray beyond an octave. This makes it a great piece to study when learning the guitar, and I often suggest it to those that study the instrument with me. I came up with an accompaniment for the melody that makes it easier to keep track of the beat over sustained notes.
This accompaniment features a driving pulse of quarter notes. It got stuck in my head one day, and I wrote a song around it. “Will The Circle…” contrasts the differences between an earthbound and heavenly existence. These two conditions came through in my composition, though it feels completely coincidental now. There are two main arguments in Circles : first, the driving rhythm based on the arrangement for my students with a very short quote of the melody that appears in the original. This is set against two chords a semitone apart creating a tight, earthbound intensity. A brighter section in E Major (the holiest of guitar chords) follows, where the melody responds to the earlier compact pentatonic phrase with big intervals. The reprise of this section leads to a climb up the fretboard where the melody is transposed to the highest usable register of the guitar.
I didn’t put this much thought into the piece when I was writing it, but the original song and it’s meaning was on my mind. I kept the meaning in the title as well: Circles.
Composing is like life: Sometimes you’re
free to do what you want, sometimes you’re not.
When I write music, it’s fun to let the notes tell you what should come next. In my own way, that is me doing what I want. Build on what you have already done and the composition will make sense. I decide which elements are important to explore and let the possibilities of what I’ve already written as well as the instrument I’m writing for enter into the creative process as much as I am willing to let them. On the other hand, there are times when I like to write from an idea. I stress the word idea, not script. Never a script. I don’t want the orchestra to tell me that at this moment, the hero is in doubt and there was just a crash of lightning. An idea or concept, though, can shape what you are writing. It tells you what to do. Compositions are strengthened by the focus on the extra-musical inspiration.
That’s what happened with Circles. The concept of the original drove my subconscious while I fleshed out an inspired rhythm.