Few people write songs professionally, but everyone has music within them. “It’s cool that you can write something that no one has ever heard,” says Grammy winner Michelle Branch, who has toured with Cheryl Crow and Hanson, and has recently written a song for the hit movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Part 2. “You have music at your fingertips,” she says.
BABAGANEWZ invites you to scoop up the music oozing from your fingertips and put it down on paper. Join the Hesed Lyrics Challenge—a nationwide search for the next Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ in the Wind”) or Carole King (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”), two Jewish superstars in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One lucky person’s dreams will come true: Craig Taubman, who has composed music for TV and film and performed three times at the White House, will write music for the winning entry and record the song! See the back page for details and download official rules for the Hesed Lyrics Challenge at babaganewz.com/hesed.
Meanwhile—read these songwriting tips and ignite your imagination. Remember: “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn” (Jazz legend Charlie Parker).
Explore the Topic
We’ve picked the topic, hesed, which generally means kindness. And yet, hesed demands more than niceties; it asks us to “walk in God’s ways” (Devarim 28:9). Just as God’s kindness never falters—“For the mountains may move and the hills may shake, but My kindness will never depart from you.” (Isaiah 54:10)—so our goodness, affection, and mercy toward others, even to the undeserving, should never cease.
1. List specific instances when your capacity for kindness was shaken. Explore your feelings that prevented h˙esed. Now, imagine overcoming them.
2. Jot down synonyms for “unshakable.” What images suggest the idea of hesed’s permanence?
Pick a Compelling Story
Good songs tell absorbing stories.
- Although examples of hesed are infinite, the Talmud (Sotah 14a) specifically identifies four: clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and burying the dead. List memorable examples of hesed given and hesed received during your lifetime. Explore how you felt during each instance.
- Because good art sometimes emerges from painful experiences, list occasions when you failed to act kindly. How did you feel? How do you feel when someone withholds hesed from you?
- Summarize your story in several sentences.
Write a Title
Creative titles grab listeners’ attention and frequently appear in the chorus.
- Give a Little Kindness
- Kill Them with Kindness
- The Milk of Human Kindness
- Stranger than Kindness
Choose a Structure
The most basic song structure is verse/chorus/verse/chorus. Verses tell your story. Each verse should be at least four lines long and have the same rhyme pattern and the same number of syllables. Pick from three rhyme patterns:
- A/A/A/A—every line rhymes;
- A/B/A/B—every other line rhymes; and
- A/B/C/B—second and fourth lines rhyme.
Use Creative Images
Fresh imagery captivates listeners.
- Pirkei Avot 1:2 describes hesed as a pillar that upholds the world. How are acts of hesed similar to and different from a pillar? To what other inanimate objects can kindness be compared? To what animals? To what colors?
- Rabbi Yohanan urges us to be like a helmsman (someone who steers a ship), always looking for opportunities to act kindly (Vayikra Rabbah 21:5). Does this image fit your experience? What other images describe your eagerness to act kindly?
- Write your lyrics. Keep a conversational tone.
Write the Chorus
A good chorus is easy to remember and sing, and it often includes the title. Here’s one particularly effective format:
1. First and third lines are the same; second and fourth are different.
2. The last line should pack a wallop; for example, the chorus from Safam’s hit “Leaving Mother Russia”:
We are leaving Mother Russia,
We have waited far too long.
We are leaving Mother Russia,
When they come for us we’ll be gone.
Get it Out There
Finally, listen to this good advice from Chana Rothman, a vibrant new voice in Jewish music:
“The inspiration for my music, whether sad or joyful, strange or everyday, comes from the world around me. I try to stay tuned to how I’m feeling and WHY, and then I reflect in a journal, or with friends. This makes space inside me to create something new. Also, when I’m creating, I try really hard not to judge it. I will edit it when I’m done, but in the process, I try to dig down really deep for the truth of what I’m writing about and just get it out there.”