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“Run to Me” – Playing the poem, like Carlos Santana says

Carlos Santana makes a very important point in his masterclass course:

“Look at any poem by anyone that you love and, then, try… putting notes to it.”

“When writing a melody for guitar, Carlos uses a technique he calls playing a poem, wherein he reads a piece of poetry (it can be any kind) and improvises
a melody to represent the written words of the poem. Playing a poem can go beyond literal poetry—you can provide musical accompaniment to anything in your life, from an outdoor landscape to
a car chase on TV.
Filling your mind with images and stories, and then attempting to represent those concepts in music, can be a great way to find inspiration.”

CARLOS SANTANA TEACHES THE ART AND SOUL OF GUITAR – MASTERCLASS NOTES
CARLOS SANTANA

This led me to wonder, if I should try to do this – which poem could I use? Which one would work? I’ve written a lot of poems (I stopped counting at 100) since it is something I do out of habit and because it’s a mental challenge. The poem I decided to tackle is called The Colours of Cold (cold, not gold), which I like and other people also seem to like. It goes like this:

THE COLOURS OF COLD

Mornings are palest shades of eau-de-nil 
Talcum-white snow puffs on the window sill
Cloud breaks show glimpses of duck-egg-blue sky
which fades to nacre like a drawn-out sigh
as the shell of the sphere (a protective curl) 
paints the landscape in mother-of-pearl
Then that muted glow meets the bone black night 
and so disappears the marmoreal light
And only the moon rimmed in palest gold
adds one more hue to the colours of cold

The poem is about the colours of the sky in Winter, when the cold makes the sky look like it’s the pearly inside of a sea shell. But when I tried to put notes to these words, I got stuck. The words were too many and too complicated. Also, the emotion was not direct, but could be felt if you visualized the scene, but that was tricky. It sounded a bit like Leonard Cohen in one of his extreme rhyming modes, like he’d swallowed a thesaurus. I asked myself which, of all that, is the standout part, the verbal hook, so to speak. It was only the last line. So, in the end, the only lyrics are these, that fit into the refrain:

RUN TO ME

“Run to me 
when it gets dark 
and the daylight grows old, 
when the sky turns silver 
and then black 
in the colours of cold.”

When I hear the refrain, the words come into my head. They scan, and they feel right, but I have not yet recorded Run to Me with a vocalist. In other words, I have not properly “played the poem” as Santana said one should do.

After this, I tried with another poem of mine, called Better Than Snow, which I eventually included on my album AquaVox. The second time, it was a bit easier, but again, I did not find a vocalist and the song remains unsung. This process gave me new respect for lyricists and songwriters who can put melodies and words together with so much skill and apparent effortlessness. For now, the instruments, rather than singers, will have to tell the stories on my songs.

Because the words of “The Colours of Cold” (the poem) are already quite somber, I wanted to get away from that. So I wrote the song with a fast tempo, a swinging rhythm, and soaring trumpet parts. It has a call-and-response” arrangement, like waiting for someone, and then that person comes running back to you — waiting, and running back, waiting, and running back…

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