BIOGRAPHY OF A SONG:  The Land Of No Punctuation, by Edric Haleen


This challenge (“write a song featuring long, run-on sentences”) went up at 12:59 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  It felt like it took me a long time to come up with my idea for how to meet this challenge . . . even though I arrived at this idea by 7:15 that same morning.  There were a lot of paths that I could have followed that I didn’t want to follow.  And for most of those ideas. my reticence came from the fact that I didn’t think the ideas “justified” the use of long, run-on sentences well enough.  I really felt that I needed either a reason for the singer to be singing in long, rambling phrases, or a solid justification for the songwriter writing that kind of a lyric.

As it was a Sunday morning when this challenge went live (meaning I didn’t have to get up and go to work), I had time to lay thinking in bed.  And the fact that I was doing this thinking during the wee hours of the morning might have contributed to the fact that I felt like it took so long to finally arrive at this idea.  But when I did finally came up with this idea, it provided exactly the kind of justification for which I was looking.


I’ve actually written long, (literally) breathless sections of song before.  The first time I did it was back in SpinTunes #3 when I wrote I Hope You Die.  Then I did it again in SpinTunes #6 when I wrote On The Matter Of Bullying (Part 1 and Part 2).  So I already knew I could record whatever I decided to write.  So that was good.

The first snippet of lyric I wrote was “Traipsing through the Land of No Punctuation where <dah-dah-dah-dah-something...>.”  And it’s that phrase that gave this song its distinctive meter.  I took the rhythm of those eight initial words and spun them into a song with 21 measures of (4+3+2+3)/8 time and 20 more measures of 7/8 time!  And I liked it a lot -- because this jangly, lilting rhythm suggested to me musically the (often literally!) carefree writing (punctuating?) styles that I was examining in the lyric.

But here’s the thing -- the fact that this is by far the most unorthodox meter I’ve ever used in a song also contributed to my choice of rhyme scheme.  Rhymes are used in a few different ways in songs.  They can be used to add emphasis to the words being rhymed.  They can also be used to help propel a lyric by allowing the listener to anticipate what’s coming next.  (I’ve used this example before -- “Rah, rah, ree!  Kick ‘em in the knee!  Rah, rah, rass!  Kick ‘em in the other knee!” wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t for the anticipation of the rhyme...)

But this song, with its frantic meter, didn’t need any additional propulsion from a rhyme scheme.  Much like Rose’s Turn in Gypsy, the rhythm of this song provides plenty of energy on its own.  So I chose to follow Sondheim’s example (again!) and dispense with using rhymes throughout the song in general.  The only place where I did put in rhymes was right before the end of the first run-on sentence, to propel the song into the big “grand pause” and its subsequent bridge -- one lyrical nitro boost to launch it off the ramp and into a temporary moment of weightlessness . . .


When I have recorded piano accompaniments, I have used four different techniques.  The first is, of course, to just record my piano live.  But there are other times when a more “artificial” approach actually lends itself better to the recording process.  In (Vows), the piano part was scored right into Finale with the rest of the orchestration.  (And that piano sounded quite good; quite realistic.)  And when I need strict control over the tempo of a song (like when I wrote my 30-second jingle), I can play the piano part into GarageBand and then manipulate either the whole part or each individual note to align with the drum track or the track tempo or whatever I need.  (This is a big time saver -- a fact I learned when I recorded Love live on my piano and then had to try to align the percussion track to the slight variations in tempo that come from playing live.  It was that experience that taught me to use the Grand Piano instrument on GarageBand for the sake of aligning it to a “click track.”)

But then there are also times when I’ve used the Grand Piano instrument on GarageBand, even though I’m not going to be “fiddling” with the tempo.  One notable time when when I wrote For Zoe.  The 11-year-old girl that I got to sing that song (whose name also happened to be Zoe!) had a considerably different vocal range than I did.  So to facilitate the ability to transpose the song into her range, I played live into GarageBand instead of playing live into a recording.

This song marks another time I used GarageBand for an otherwise “live” recording.  But this time I did it to facilitate the “Land of No Inflection” section.  That part I wanted to be absolutely homogenous.  So I aligned those eighth notes to a metronome track, and set the key velocity to be identical across those eight measures.  Everything else still maintains the original, flexible tempo at which I played it on my keyboard downstairs.  (The other benefit of using a GarageBand instrument is that you can edit mistakes on a note-by-note basis, instead of re-recording the whole section.  I actually thought I’d have to use that feature more often, as I wrote a pretty tricky piano part this time around.  But to my surprise and pleasure, I think I only had to take out about a half-dozen or so “extra” notes out of the whole thing!  Good job, fingers!)


It took me until Thursday morning to think of the ending for this song -- the final, sung word.  But as soon as it occurred to me, I knew it was not just right, but appropriately hilarious.  I’ve taught quite a few young kids who, after writing two or more pages without even a hint of punctuation, will honestly believe that they’ve “proofread their paper for punctuation” because they remembered a period at the end of their story.

(The same actually also holds true for capitalization . . . but I’ll let the ghost of E. E. Cummings write that song . . .)