I Will Stay Awake With You – The Making of a Song

Sometimes making a song is like making a stew. Disparate stories, ideas, and phrases all go into the cook-pot of my imagination. Somehow with time and the heat of attention, those elements coalesce into something coherent and nourishing to the ear and heart.

My song, “Awake,” is a fine example of that alchemical process. (You can listen at the link below.)

In a sunny open room overlooking San Francisco Bay, a large circle of leaders is gathered to explore deeper questions about life and leadership. Author and pioneer of evolutionary consciousness, Barbara Marx Hubbard, is our guest speaker.

Out of several hours of rich conversation, one resonant idea lingers on in my mind. Marx Hubbard suggests that the timeworn way of expressing love – “I love you” – could be replaced by the phrase, “I will stay awake with you.” This new language is full of rigor and bravery. “I love you” feels staid and passive by comparison.

A few weeks later I am bringing song to a conference about community sponsored by St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, Minnesota. Both institutions were founded by Benedictine orders of monks and nuns. The abbess from the order of the Sisters of St. Benedict speaks of the long history of her order, including a remarkable story. During the Dark Ages in Europe, the Benedictines sheltered and preserved culture in their convents and monasteries. Once the darkness had passed, they brought it back out into the mainstream where it eventually blossomed into the Renaissance.

I fall in love with this notion and wonder: who would preserve the best of our culture if and when another dark time came? If not in the monasteries and convents, where would those pockets of civility reside in these times? What would we be called to preserve?

The “broth” in my song-stew was a reflection on the life force – the animating energy that inhabits all living things. How could it be that redwood, jellyfish, peregrine falcon, mountain lion, sunflower, and the trillions of living things in our soil – are all notes in one great song? And how does it change me to know that every particle of my body comes from the explosion of ancient stars?

These ideas find their way into song at a friend’s cozy house in the central Wisconsin woods. As I sit at the piano, messing around with this and that, my fingers suddenly find a pattern on the keys. There’s something there. I begin singing:

“I swear, by the stars I am made of
I will stay awake with you if it should fall apart
I will remember the heart.”

How is it so that these words, this melody feels like remembering something rather than creating something? Why do the tears fall as I sing this promise to the world, to Life itself? And how can it be that seven years after its creation, the song continues to teach me how to sing it and what it means?

May this song bring nourishment and wakefulness to you today.
Bon appetit.

You can hear “Awake” here:    https://soundcloud.com/barbara-mcafee/awake
or by clicking the link under “blogroll” to your right.

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About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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