In On the Job Training, Thoughts on Writing

“Perfect Peace” (Words & Music by Robert Sterling)

There are lots of ways to write a song. The “right” way is whatever way works for the writer or writers. The words may come first, fully formed and in search of a melody. Or the melody may arrive in a flash with no words. The words and music may emerge together, each informing the other. The process may take a few hours or several months. Any approach is valid, so long as the result is a well-crafted song.

“Perfect Peace” began simply as a set of chord changes played over a hypnotic percussion loop. Next, a melody took shape over those chords, forming a verse and chorus. In the course of a few hours, the music was fairly complete. It was all quite easy – the music that is.  The lyrics were another story altogether.

No words came to me. None. Nothing. Nada.

This is a little unusual for me, but not unheard of. I sometimes write music without words and resolve to tackle the lyrics at another time or find someone else to write words for the music.  In the case of “Perfect Peace,” I wasn’t even convinced the music needed lyrics. Maybe it’s an instrumental melody, I thought. Since I had no idea where this song was going, I captured the music as a lead sheet in Sibelius (so I wouldn’t forget it), titled it “Work Tune in 6/8,” and recorded a simple demo that I could reference easily.

And I set it aside.

I revisited the music every now and again, and the results were the same: I still liked it. Its mood was calming. The melody was memorable. But no words would come. I couldn’t even determine what the words might be about, let alone what the actual words would be. And that went on for almost a year.

Not too long ago, I pulled out “Work Tune in 6/8” once more. But this time was different. This time I was thinking of how unsettled and divisive our times are. (Thank you, Facebook!) And it dawned on me to write a musical “peace blessing” – a song that would remind us of God’s perfect peace. And with that new focus, the lyric for “Perfect Peace” was written in about a day. In my typical approach, the first lyric draft was scribbled on a legal pad. The remaining drafts were done in a word processor. There are six drafts in my iMac’s lyric folder. Several well-known scripture references to “peace” appear in the final draft.

After a year of waiting, I had a song. But what to do with it?

While I believe “Perfect Peace” is suitable for the right solo artist, I’m no longer running in those circles very much. So, I chose to aim at the arena I work in most: choral music. I arranged it for a contemporary SATB choir with an alto soloist. The finished recorded accompaniment evolved closely from my original demo track. The key was chosen to suit an alto, and the choir parts came quickly after that.

I wrote the piano accompaniment for the printed anthem based on the recorded accompaniment track. Then I created a detailed rhythm chart for live performance with a rhythm section. The entire accompaniment track was created in Digital Performer (DP) in my home studio.

The soloist and choir were recorded in October 2019, in Nashville, a year after the original demo was created. And the anthem was released a month later.

Ultimately every song has to find its own way in the world. Much like raising children, there comes a time when songwriters must set their “babies” free. I hope “Perfect Peace” will make me a proud parent, becoming useful in the church and a comfort to those who need to hear its message.

You can listen to the demo here, at the product page for “Perfect Peace.”

Showing 2 comments
  • Jeffrey McConnell
    Reply

    Robert. That is one of the most beautiful and peaceful songs I have ever heard! Well worth the wait. Just ordered it for my choir. Hope you can make it to San Diego soon. Blessings, Jeff McConnell

    • Robert Sterling
      Reply

      Thx, Jeff. Would love to get back to San Diego sometime. What a great city!

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