“The Bell Tolls,” what does that mean?

Music connects us more than anything else these days. Songs reveal our emotions. Somedays it feels like they keep us alive. They outlive us. Despite incomprehensible cultural and language barriers, a great song will stir our souls. Even when we don’t understand songs that are sung in other languages, they will reach us on levels where words cannot go.

At this time in history, when we are more connected than ever, we are also more divided. Songs can still bring us together when nothing else will.

While working on my concept record about my family, the individual songs didn’t necessarily connect or intersect with each other. I wanted a song to communicate how all of the songs tied together. The stories were connected to me by bloodlines but not all of the bloodlines connected to each other.

Somehow, I started thinking about bells. Big bells like Big Ben or the Liberty Bell. Maybe it was serendipity that brought this idea to me. I don’t know. I just went with the idea. I listened to bell sounds to get inspired. I loved feeling them rumble through me. Bells were used to communicate good and bad news for centuries. Silence was much more prominent in daily life. If you heard a bell ring, something good had happened. It was a joyous occasion, like a wedding or birth. If you heard a bell tolling, you knew someone had died. A toll was slower and more solemn. Bells triggered the collective thoughts of communities. I remembered the John Donne meditation, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” I had studied it in a college literature class. The gist of the piece is that we are all connected. When one of us is affected by death, we are all affected. We are all one−in life and death.

Early one morning, a melody line and some lyrics showed up before I was fully awake. The words rolled off my tongue quickly. I wrote them down exactly as they came out. It sounded good and poetic, but it wasn’t contrived in my brain, it came from some other part of me. It was like the words were stuck inside of me somewhere and found a way out.

It was too easy though. I recorded the first verse and chorus, and then I got stuck. It felt like a big twenty-foot steel door had slammed shut in my face. I didn’t know how to finish the song. I knew I couldn’t. I had no ideas for months.

Deadlines motivate all of us when nothing else will. Because we had a recording session scheduled, I needed to finish the lyrics. Jeff Taylor, my producer, invited Rebecca Reynolds, a lyricist, to help me. Later, I met with Jeff and John Mock to finish the music. We added a bridge about our collective pain connecting us. Tragedies have a way of bringing people together.

“The Bell Tolls” is a song for all of us, not just me and my ancestors. We all pursue immortality until our last breath. It is the quest that eludes us. In the sweep of time, so little about us will be remembered. In one hundred years, I will be a name on a list. My tombstone will be engraved with my name, and the dates that bookmark my life. The hyphen will be the most important part of my tombstone and most people will never know anything about it. But songs will outlive us and life will continue through our descendants.

The irony is that as we take our last breaths, new life will be breathed somewhere else. While songs, ushering us into the next life, are sung at our graves, lullabies will be whispered over restless newborn babies far away. Songs will connect our descendants in ways that bloodlines never will.

You can hear “The Bell Tolls” at this link: https://open.spotify.com/track/2BQwSHEu9qRZY391WrP0xd

Song Credits:

Dennis Crouch: bass
John Mock: acoustic guitar
Jeff Taylor: piano & accordion
Denise Reagan: vocals
Deana Berry: backing vocals

© 2015 Denise Reagan/Songs of Arabesque (ASCAP)
John Mock/dba Kinvara Music (BMI)
Jeff Taylor/Seek 1st Publishing (ASCAP)
Rebecca Reynolds/Wynken Owl Publishing (BMI)

Produced by Jeff Taylor & John Mock

To read the stories behind the “Where Did the Time Go” songs, order the book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/Where-Did-Time-Go-Companion/dp/0692731318

More information about Euferzine music, is available here: www.Euferzine.com

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