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Early Morning Silence

The best part of 6 a.m. is that, except for the dog, I generally have the house to myself.

I’m not a naturally linear thinker. My mind tends to go all over the place, and I’m wired for sound. Any possible auditory distraction has the potential to send me off track. It’s part of why I like music – it combines sounds into purposeful direction, and often in community. But being easily distractible and non-linear, it’s tough for me to get organized to successfully accomplish what needs to be done in a day.

So I’ve come to love those early mornings when everyone else is asleep. I can look over my tasks, assemble a list, and also just drink my coffee and watch the sun rise (depending on the time of year, of course). Nurturing positive thoughts and generally getting into a productive mindset for the day is part of it too.

When I wrote the song Early Morning Silence, I wanted to express all of that, because if such a time is precious to me I thought there must be others somewhere in the world who might be able to relate. Just expressing the ideas in words, though, seemed wrong. I didn’t want the song itself to function as an intrusion on someone’s thinking time because of an excessive and unnecessary repetition of lyrics.

So even though whistling is a really unusual accompaniment to songs in our time, I decided that whistling the melody to accompany the chords the second time through would function as a non-verbal portion of time that represents a kind of purposeful wordless background that a person could just think their own thoughts to.

Speaking of lyrics, here they are;

Early Morning Silence

Wishing I could gather
this early morning silence –
save it for sometime later
in the day –

When everything around me
is full of sound and fury, need
a space in my mind
to make noise go away.

And I would just remember
all the time we’ve spent together
so even in the moments you’re not near…
all the love and warmth of those thoughts would close around me
like a blanket guards from coldness and fear.

As the sun rises
and the world begins to wake,
my soul energizes –
I will do what it takes.

But as I take my place,
I’ll bring along a little space
that the early morning silence gave.

But as I take my place,
I’ll bring along a little space
that the early morning silence gave.

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The Circle Is; About Life in Community

I’ve had the privilege of being included in a First-Nations-guided talking circle. Though a talking circle is led through the presence and example of an Elder, it doesn’t have the feel or structure of hierarchy. Since all have the ability to speak and to be heard, a talking circle feels like democracy in action. There’s a built-in sense of community.

Being Mennonite, the idea of community is familiar to me. Community isn’t a monochromatic experience, though. It’s interesting how sometimes community feels natural and nurturing, and other times feels imposed or even excluding. I believe that the strongest communities are those that have lots of room for diversity and even maverick perspectives. Very homogeneous communities that are based on conformity to a narrow set of norms may seem strong, but can they really be adaptable to new situations, or even truly recognize the all the factors/individuals that affect/enrich their lives?

I wrote The Circle Is as a way of exploring the attitudes and expectations we bring to community, and also to express some views of what community could be at its best. The metaphor of the circle felt like a good way to hold it together thematically.

Here are the lyrics;

The Circle Is

Some enter the circle like a roundabout,
They come in only looking for a way out.
Others have it spinning like a top
They don’t go anywhere, & they never stop.

Some see the circle as a hurricane,
Where our lives get destroyed by the weather.
Some see the circle as a great big blender
Where everyone gets stirred together.

We see the circle as a safe place,
Where each can look into the eyes of another.

God knows, we’re always walking in lines,
Standing in boxes that go up and down.
Everything is organized
so we can be efficient, So we can get around.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended,
Where healing can take place.
We need a circle – we can serve each other –
A place where the juices of our souls can be replaced.

The circle is a bowl that holds
Nourishment for our souls…
…a turbine on a hill that makes the most
Of the power of the wind that blows.

Some enter the circle like a roundabout –
they come in only looking for a way out.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended, where healing can take place…
Judgement suspended, where healing
can take place.

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When I See You Fly; Celebrating Youth and Their Accomplishments

Ultimately, what my children or my students do is their accomplishment, not mine. I can encourage, model, and suggest ideas, but I can’t and shouldn’t claim their success as mine. What I can do is celebrate that success and be happy for them.

Our children, our students, our mentees, need to know and feel that what they have done is a result of their efforts. To claim or point out a parental or educator role in that success is in some way to try to take it from them, to diminish their efforts – and that detracts from and discourages young people and other students from making those efforts. We are all better off when our young people and the lifelong learners among us are celebrated and acknowledged, because that pushes our whole society forward with their innovations and energy.

I originally wrote ‘When I See You Fly’ to celebrate my own kids, but I wanted it to be applicable to celebrate anyone’s accomplishments and growth. The first time I used it was for a video for our middle son’s grade 6 graduation party, along with slides featuring his classmates. That video was never made public, as a result of general privacy concerns. I made another video for my YouTube channel featuring our 3 boys, where the photos in the slides went with the lyrics of the song. This latest recording is music only. I wanted it to be available for others to use in the same way that I used it to celebrate our boys – for their personal celebration videos and occasions.

Here are the lyrics;

You’re so much more than just potential
Long ago, you burst out of your eggshell
And in the intervening hours
You were like that superhero
Learning to control the powers
Of the suit that you were building

Everyone has their moments
Of flapping, of falling, of faltering
The strongest winds may be blowing
Against you so hard, you’re not sure you can keep going

But the moments do pass
I see you take off, see you lift off
You are darting and gliding way up high

And when I see you fly, I fly
You’re soaring through the skies
My spirits also rise
As you’re free among the clouds
I want you to know
That even though I’m here below
When I see you fly, I fly

It’s not about keeping you on the ground
And not just to know that you are safe and sound
I’d love to see the treasure that you found
You stop, and then away you bound

And when I see you fly, I fly
You’re soaring through the skies
My spirits also rise
As you’re free among the clouds
I want you to know
That even though I’m here below
When I see you fly, I fly

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Decades Later, One Cry Still Echoes

As the (not especially good) director of a caravan day camp in Northern Manitoba one summer, I made the decision to switch over our program entirely from a wilderness skills based camp to an arts camp, since there were a lot of forest fires and we weren’t able to continue with the hiking and campfire-building program that had been the basis of our success for a number of decades. To be fair (to myself), the forest fires were actually significant enough to strand us for a portion of a week, and the air and sky were a greyish-orange because of them.

I had written the first version of the song ‘One Cry Echoes’ while in Northern Manitoba, partly expressing a longing for relational connection, and partly reflecting my sense of the landscape around me.

A First Nations band near The Pas, Manitoba, had a talent night the weekend we were there, open to all. I decided that participating in the talent night was right up the alley of a group that wanted to engage with local communities and had a fresh focus as an arts program, so some of us went there. We got a friendly reception, and I sang my song. I didn’t win any prizes – which was only right, because there was a lot of talent there, and winning prizes wasn’t the point for us. But I was encouraged that one young man sought me out to tell me that he really appreciated my song. So if any of you folks wish that I would really just stop… well, blame him – because his encouragement was part of what kept me going.

Anyway, there was something about the way I paced my lyrics in the original that didn’t seem quite right. I tried changing the words, tried changing how I played the guitar, but nothing was ever quite satisfying. Years went by. Then finally, last year, I decided to try changing the melody and the whole musical structure of the song. Now, finally, it feels right to me. So I recorded it and put it out there.

That’s the story of “One Cry Echoes”, and why it lay dormant for decades.

Here are the lyrics;

One cry echo
across the waters of my soul

One cry echo
in the hollow that only I know

It’s a cry that often lingers
though it sometime disappear
It’s a cry that greets all strangers
and then hide when they come near

Sound like a loon I hear some evening
Come around like a tune a poor man sing
Sound like a loon I hear some evening
Come around like a tune a poor man sing

One cry echo
across the waters of my soul
One cry echo
I see the lake is getting low

One cry echo
across the waters of my soul
One cry echo
in the hollow that only I know

One cry echo
in the hollow that only I know

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Writing Whenever You’re Ready

When I listen to songs on the radio, I listen for message and tone.

The ‘love’ songs I often hear often are trying to present some urgent need for accepting love as an immediate adventure, something that could pass at any moment. There are few songs that consider patience a virtue. So I decided that I needed to write a different sort of love song, one that would be accepting of the time and space of the other, and yet would indicate the desire and caring of the lover’s voice in the lyrics.

That’s where ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ comes from. (The ‘meet the dawn’ line is meant figuratively; to help the other get through a ‘dark’ time).

WHENEVER YOU’RE READY
Lyrics and Music by Art Koop (last revised May 7, 2018)

You’re feeling the weight
of a wildly spinning globe
upon your shoulders…

and right now you see
love as another complication

But look at me-
I’m not asking you
to help me carry on…
If you let me in,
I’ll understand
and help you meet the dawn

Whenever you’re ready
to be loved…

Whenever you
Are ready to
Be loved…

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved…

I’m ready to love you. (2x)

The burden you carry
you need not carry all alone. (2x)…

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved

I’m ready to love you. (2x)

So I say again
lie down, let me
massage your tired limbs –
and if you sleep,
some hope and faith can
shine into your dreams (2x)

Whenever you’re ready
to be loved…

Whenever you
Are ready to
Be loved

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved

I’m ready to love you. (4x)
I’m ready to love ——
you.

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Avoiding the Letter S (and others) in Lyrics

Writing lyrics for songs is different than writing poetry, or writing a speech. One way is in the choice of words, and letters, to include, and leave out – and why – depending on who is singing and the style of the song.

One of my goals when I write songs for myself is to let my voice shine through, because my low voice is unique and in that way distinctive. One way in which I do that, is avoiding ‘non-voiced’ consonants as much as possible, especially the ‘s’. I would rather have the listener ‘fill in’ the letter s where it belongs psychologically, than write it in. That’s because the ‘s’ is not a voiced letter (f, t and p also fit in that camp), and so it tends to disrupt the flow of sound in singing. Sure, it’s a subtle point… but subtle points count, especially if often repeated.

So it’s true that I don’t sing my lyrics in the same way that I would speak my sentences, but that’s okay with me. Word (and letter) choice depends on a set of priorities, and balancing those priorities matters if I’m going to put out unique music for others to hear. If I were just to put out what people could find anywhere else, in a way that would not be respecting the listener, because I would not be giving people something new to hear. It also would not be respecting any message I would wish to put out, because if something is worth saying then it is worth saying in a fresh way, so that people may have fresh ears for it too.

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