Songwriter Burnout? Part 2

John Schiedeman has sparked quite the discussion this week with his J.D. Sumner quote about songwriter burnout. I posted about it several days ago, and several other bloggers have joined in. I think the cases in point I offered were decent, but as someone observed, all the songwriters I mentioned are still alive. Here’s one that’s not.

Philip P. Bliss was one of the greatest hymnwriters / composers of the 1800s. On December 29, 1876, Bliss and his wife were aboard a train near Ashtabula, Ohio, when a bridge collapsed and the train plunged into a ravine. Accounts hold that he was among the few able to get free of the wreckage–but when he realized his wife had not made it out, he went back into the fiery wreck and died trying to save her.

During his lifetime, he was best known for “Hold the Fort” and “Almost Persuaded,” two songs primarily remembered today by hymn historians. However . . .

Merely weeks if not days before his death, he finished the melody of a song to which Horatio Spafford had written lyrics.

It is Well With My Soul.

Oh, and that’s not all. Among the baggage rescued from the fire was another song to which Bliss had composed lyrics, but had not written down a melody.

I Will Sing of My Redeemer.

I say all that to say this: Songwriters, keep writing! Even if you’ve hit a dry spell, your next song might just be the next “God Did It All” . . . and perhaps God will reward a lifetime of faithfulness by letting your last song be the next “It is Well.”

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21 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Mighty statements of faith may and have been written by men, and women, who did not claim to be “Hymnwriters”, yet moments of great trial or mountain-top experiences with God have drawn from deep in their souls what is almost inspired in essence, and highly inspirational in character:

    Such was Horatio G Spafford mentioned above. He lost all his commercial goods in the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871. two years after, while still recovering in business, he decided to take his whole family to Europe for holiday, possibly to also hear again the preaching of Moody.

    Delayed at the last minute by business affairs he sent his wife and four daughters on ahead, intending to follow on a later sailing. Their ship, the “Ville du Havre” was struck in fog im mid Atlantic by an iron vessel. over 200 perished including all four of Spafford’s daughters. His wife telegraphed back, “Saved Alone”.

    The csaptain of the vessel in which Horatio sailed, called him to the bridge during the voyage and identified the spot where the tragedy occurred.

    Between there and England, out of his deep trial came the 3 verses and refrain of “It is Well with My Soul”.

    Philip Bliss penned the last verse, “For me be it Christ, be it Christ hence to Live…” shortly before his own death.

    The melody for this immmortal hymn is called “Ville du Havre”, after the ship on which Spafford’s family perished.

    So out of colossal tragedy, came deep inspiration that has buoyed many a soul in trouble since, “It IS well with MY Soul”.

    Perhaps, if we sought the face of God, as Moses did, in the deep trials of life, there would be one Hymn, or a Psalm, from the heart of every believer.

    David was the “Sweet Psalmist of Israel”, but Moses penned Psalm 90, “Even from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God”.

    • Yes – I am familiar with what took place before the lyrics were written. It’s an inspiring story that helped cement the hymn as my all-time favorite song.

      What I hadn’t known till recently was what happened right after the hymn was written!

      • Daniel, neither did I – until today – I knew Bliss wrote the last verse and adjusted the chorus. I did not know it was so close to his own passing on, in tragic circumstances.

        Sobering to consider, at least six souls passed suddenly away, linked eternally with the sentiments of this mighty hymn.

        Whatever MY lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well…with my soul”.

        Thanks bro, it is good to pause a moment and be challenged in the daily hussle of life.

        God bless richly all who pause and ponder here today.

      • It is sobering – but assuming they were sincere in the lyric, and I assume they were, it is also a glorious thought. “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight” came true!

      • Philip Bliss wrote the last verse about “my faith shall be sight?” Wow! I never knew that!

      • No – actually the verse DMac referenced is a different verse.

      • Ah, okay. That sounded like a verse I’m not familiar with. Is that because it was never included in the hymn?

      • Not never, but rarely.

      • This reminds me of the forgotten original last verse to none other hymn than “Amazing Grace.” The “When we’ve been there,” surprisingly, was not even written by John Newton. The original goes like this:

        The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
        The sun forbear to shine
        But God who called me here below
        Will be forever mine.

        I think it was actually wise not to include it in the hymn because the melody wouldn’t scan quite right, and in any event people love to end with the triumphant finality of the commonly used last verse. But I do think it’s a lovely bit of poetry.

      • From memory, Bliss’s 4th stanza is:

        “For me be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live.
        Though Jordan above me should roll.
        In life or in death, Thou hast taught me to know,
        It is well, it is well with my soul.”

      • The “Amazing Grace” verse mentioned above has been resurrected in the “My Chains Are Gone” version.

      • I know. That’s why I like that version. 🙂 And notice what Tomlin did to make it fit the melody better—he changed the time signature. That’s why it runs smoother in his version than it would in the original.

  2. Here’s the cure for songwriter burnout: dissect one musical CD per month. If you do this and you’ll never run out of ideas. I know because it’s what works for me:

    1) Pick a group’s project to dissect. In other words, decipher the repeating components of the songs on a project. The last project that I took apart was Greater Vision’s “Welcome Back” CD.

    2) Map out each song: time signature, tempo, meter, rhyme scheme, rhyme vowels, lyrical themes, how often the words “I, me, or my” are used, etc. Create categories to look for, and evaluate every song of the project the same way. It won’t take long and very noticeable trends will begin screaming at you.

    3) Take notes and document ideas you get as you evaluate the trends you see. For instance, I’m seeing that Rodney Griffin uses severe off-rhyme all the time; words like “name” and “displayed” are rhymed. That tells me that I just need to be in the ballpark for rhyme, not dead on.

    By the time you’re done, you’ll have such a well-spring of new and fresh ideas the problem won’t be a shortage, it’ll be you’ve got too much valuable material to use! And you’ll start churning out new and unique songs like never before.

    And I’ll put up or shut up: as proof of this method, come check out my nobody’s-ever-done-it-before New Year’s resolution at Merry Christmas everyone!

    • Fascinating!

    • I’m no songwriter, so I have nothing to say about most of this.

      But I have noticed Rodney Griffin’s rhymes. I was listening to a Kirk Talley CD some months ago and heard one of those rhymes (after going into a three-minute black study here, I can’t remember it – it’s been too long). But I immediately knew it was Rodney Griffin song, and sure enough it turned out to be a co-write. (I’m fine with it, if you’re wondering. It works.)

      • That should be “rhymes.” In quotation marks. 😉

      • OK, whatever. 😉

      • It came to me a night or so ago, while I was staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep.

        “Then a man named Jesus / Stepped in between us”

        And I knew it was Rodney! (Which was funny, because I’d never consciously noticed his tendency to do that, or seen any one else mention it until right here.)

  3. It was neat to run across this blog just after a discussion about songwriting. The story about Philip Bliss was inspiring. Thank you! 🙂

    • Glad it was an encouragement! Talk about going out on top!

  4. Interesting – thanks.