Last week, I kicked off our Songs For Singing 2015 collection by releasing a new worship tune called O Blessed Tree. If you didn't see that post, I'll recap it: at Bethel, I'm trying to write and record worship songs and then give them away for free. (See...simple!)
You can still download the mp3 and/or chord chart at our MP3s & CHARTS page. If you'd like to actually pay for your music (crazy idea!) you can go www.toddwright.bandcamp.com and click on the Songs For Singing 2015 album.
Response to the song has been encouraging and I appreciate those of you who sent texts or help me share the link of Facebook. I thought it might be fun to chat with my co-writer, Lee Black, about how this song happened. He and I have loved the song ever since it was finished, so it's fun to reminisce about it some!
Lee and his wife, Melissa, live in the Nashville area with their four children. Lee is a career songwriter who's written CCM, worship, country and Southern Gospel cuts for artists all over the country.
I asked Lee how much he remembered of our co-write on this tune last year. One thing I remembered was that Lee had a good portion of the lyric already, but was singing it to the melody of Twila Paris' hymn, Lamb Of God.
LEE: "I remember starting it before we wrote that day. That is actually a way I like to write - to an existing melody. Whether its a dummy melody or the melody of a song I already know. If I know what I'm writing about and have verse/chorus ideas mapped out, a melody tells me how many syllables per line I have to communicate the idea. When you started working on the melody, we realized the last line needed to be a bit shorter to fit."
I probably should have asked at the time, but Lee had the title already when we started. He said, "Can we write a song called 'O Blessed Tree'? Because I'm such a nut for hymns, I thought it was fantastic. I am constantly amazed at the creativity of the old hymn writers - their imagery is so bold. Lee actually got the idea from liturgy.
LEE: "I had been reading through some liturgy for Stations of the Cross and stumbled on a hymn I can't even remember now! But the concept was that God, the giver of life, subjecting himself to the sting of death. That was rolling around in my head and I actually saw the phrase, "o blessed tree" somewhere in all of that reading."
Lee and I have written quite a few songs together, and most of them take a long time. We write predominately hymns, so we really are careful about the text of what we're writing. This song, however went really fast. I think we finished in one session. But that's the exception and I think writers should lighten up when it comes to finishing songs quick.
LEE: "I've never placed a time limit on how long it might take. If it takes one session or multiples or even years, I want the best song. I've actually had song cut (recorded on albums by other artists) and realized years later I should have taken more time on a lyric or melody or rhyme. I'm finally comfortable with saying 'I'm a slow writer.' There are Olympic champions in the 100 meters AND the marathon."
Lee and I are both worship leaders, but one of the fun things about co-writing is that Lee has been doing more leading in what most people would consider a "high church" or "liturgical" format. I've loved seeing him combine his wit and cleverness as pro writer with a commitment to sung doctrine.
LEE: I've always loved hymns. Even when the seeker model was all the rage in the 90's and all the cool kids weren't using them, there was still that part of me going, "But there's GREAT stuff here that we shouldn't throw out!" I do love modern worship, but there's just something about the rich language and accessible melodies of hymns that does something for both my head and my heart. I'm drawn to symbolism and that's made me want to write modern hymns that would work in liturgical settings.
Every Black/Wright co-write seems to start with a lot of goofing off. As worship leaders, we're probably guilty of ranting a little bit about church woes when we get together.
LEE: "I enjoy not having to be 'cool' when planning worship. Liturgy and weekly scripture readings determine how my set list should go. When it comes to new songs, I generally wait until the good stuff rises to the top. Rather than trying to use everything, I wait for the good ones. It seems like modern worship songs can so easily become "word salad" - recycled old phrase with some delay on it. I keep going back to songs that engage the head and heart with equal power."
I am the eternal optimist in our partnership, so I ended our chat by asking what Lee how he would spend his royalties WHEN (not if) he and I wrote a #1 song together. Lee answered with his trademark seriousness...
LEE: "If it's a Southern Gospel cut, a night out at Whataburger. A #1 CCM cut would probably buy me a used car. CCLI hit song, probably a European car. Number one country song? Down payment on a house overlooking Mobile Bay in Fairhope, Alabama. And if we wrote a #1 pop song, I'd buy that house in Alabama."
You can follow Lee on twitter at @leeblacksongs or like his fan page on Facebook.