Be Still My Child

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It’s been probably 11 or 12 years since I’ve released any new material commercially and I am happy to report that the long dry spell has now officially ended.  I have a new song that appears on the record “Adrift on a Star” by Dan Barker and Friends. Dan of course is the much-maligned co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but he has over the course of the last few years become a friend as well. We both have roots in Southern Californian Christian music production, although we did not work at the same time or in the same styles and did not know each other till recently.

I have appeared on Dan’s radio show, Freethought Radio, and was also one of the speakers at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual convention in 2011. Sometime after that convention Dan sent me an email explaining that he was going to be producing a CD of freethought songs, one of which would be co-written by Dan and Broadway composer Charles Strouse, who was also the keynote speaker at the convention.  He asked if I had any songs that might be appropriate to include. I told him I had a song I had written that might be a good fit for the album.  That song is called Be Still My Child and it had an interesting evolution.

A couple of years ago in my Songwriting class, I had given an assignment to write a song in one part, a refrain song.  Songwriting students generally find it more difficult but ultimately more liberating when imposing restrictions of various kinds on their musical exercises.  Stravinsky paraphrased that idea in his Poetics of Music.  This assignment was meant to force students to write a structurally restricted song.  They asked if I would write one with them and ultimately they prevailed.  I wrote and recorded the tracks on one night, using an alternate open tuning for my guitar that I had developed and am still using, and came back the next to write the lyrics and record the vocals in my own voice.  I had no idea the song would end up on a distributed CD, and since I had a strict time deadline (the next class meeting!) I decided to base the lyrics very loosely on a selection of Persian poems  known as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

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Once Dan contacted me about the CD, I decided I had better clean up some of the tracks, mostly the lead vocal track, and in the summer of 2012 I called Martin DeBourge to see about getting my voice in shape.  I was determined, unlike my first solo album Relative with its battery of lead singers, to do all the lead vocals myself, in my own voice, the good, the bad and the ugly.  It needed to be my voice.  Martin and I decided to spend a number of weeks on lessons and coaching and at the end of that to cut the lead vocal track.  He also contributed the backing vocal tracks.

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Most of the instrumental tracks are the same ones I recorded the first night.  I asked Greg Lawless, founding member, guitarist and co-writer for Adam Again who also played guitars on Relative, if he would be interested in doing a lead guitar track.  This was not an easy decision for him knowing that the song was going to end up on a record by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but musical sensibilities and friendship prevailed and he recorded a great track.

Lawless

I should say at this point that yes, musical sensibilities prevailed.  In a discussion about my musical future with Dan Barker in May, 2011, around the first time I appeared on his show, I had suggested that I was not interested any longer in my music being used for any kind of agenda or for utilitarian purposes.  I had done that for years as a Christian and was not going to do it now for any other “ism.”  What I wrote to him was this:

It’s not at all that I wouldn’t love to advance the cause of reason and skepticism.  For some time I have lamented the use of music, at least my music to advance any message. I did that for so long.  I guess I would prefer to make artistic statements about the world as I see it, in promotion of the human condition and those human experiences we spoke of earlier today, open my songs to all people of any and no beliefs, and hopefully make an impact that way.  Of course none of that would be rooted in any supernatural cause, and I do expect that my secular worldview would certainly shine through.

The lyrics I wrote for the song are there because the poem resonated with me on its own.  I don’t want anything I do to be used to convert anyone to or from anything. So this was a musical exercise even though it is a personal statement for me.  I’m happy that Greg was happy to be involved.  Once the tracks were finished, I reluctantly mixed it myself in my office at James Madison University and sent it to Martin who mastered it.  Off it went to Dan.

The song was premiered on Freethought Radio on January 5, 2013.  A link to the podcast is here, and Dan’s introduction to the song begins at around the 21-minute mark, about the show’s halfway point.  More information on the songs and the album Adrift on a Star is available here.  You can also stream a HQ version of the song below.  In the wake of all this, I have made a commitment to myself that I will have something out by the end of 2013, at least an EP with 4-6 songs. I am somewhat feverishly working on the material now and will spend the coming summer working on my vocal again with Martin.  I’m certain there will also be musical appearances by the usual cast of friends and characters. Thank you for listening.

Be Still My Child
Darkness surrounds me
kept by the heavens,
looking out with empty eyes
Empty eyes, oh no!
Be still my child
Be still my child

Poured myself out,
up to the heavens.
Tears fall up to empty skies
Empty skies, oh no!
Be still my child
Be still my child

Hurry child
for the storm’s a swirlin’!
Carry you off with empty hands
Empty hands, oh no!
Be still my child
Be still my child

Some, for the pleasure
– dreaming beside you,
give no thought to empty lands
Empty lands, oh no!
Be still my child
Be still my child

Written, Performed and Engineered by Ojo Taylor
Lead Guitar: Greg Lawless
Backing Vocals and vocal engineering:  Martin DeBourge
Recorded at Treehouse Studio, Harrisonburg, VA.
Vocals recorded at 15hiFi Recording Studio, Hesperia, CA
www.ojotaylor.com – Music . Freethought . Lovism
© 2012 B-1 Music, ASCAP
p and © 2012, Innocent Media

7 thoughts on “Be Still My Child

  1. I am fairly certain that I was a part of that songwriting class haha. It’s great to know that in some small way I may have contributed to the “dry spell” ending!

  2. Even though I absolutely loved the last UNDERCOVER album (I enjoyed the lyrics and your keyboards)…how about doing a new flat out rock album with Gym,Sim and Gary? Maybe in the vain of BRANDED (I noticed the tats gone on the 20th anniversary edition btw..removed in real life?) but it would be cool to have an updated, raw, UMDERCOVER album…with lyrics reflecting what is happening with you guys now. Remember the excitement at the reunion show? Your fans are still there…I would be first in line to purchase.

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