Recently, I was inspired to write a new song I call Birthday Blessings. In June, a good friend of mine had a birthday. On the morning of his birthday, I woke up and was gifted with a song in his honor before I even got out of bed. After rising for the day, I wrote out the words of the song. Immediately, I worked out the melody and chord progression. Then, to complete the scribing process, I recorded it on my wife’s smartphone. Finally, I called up my friend and sang him the new song. To hear Birthday Blessings, click below.
Out of curiosity, I decided to do a little research about birthdays around the world. It appears that this sacred and special occasion is celebrated in very many different ways. Apparently, some traditions are quite similar in many parts of the world; birthday candles which carry wishes up to the Great Spirit, birthday games which gauge how much more a child can do versus last year, and birthday pinches or taps which ensure good luck for the coming year.
For example in various Africa, initiation ceremonies are held for groups of children, instead of birthdays. So, when children reach a certain designated age, they learn the laws, beliefs, customs, songs and dances of their tribes. In England, there is the tradition of fortune telling cakes where certain symbolic objects are mixed into the birthday cake as it’s being prepared. And, if your piece of cake has a coin in it, then you will be rich. In Nepal, the tradition is placing a mark on the forehead. Based on this, a certain mixture of rice yogurt and color is placed on the birthday child’s forehead for good luck. –Source
Of course, the common birthday tradition in this country is cake, candles and song. After the “Happy Birthday” song has been sung, the birthday honoree makes a wish and then blows out the candles. If the candles are blown out with one blow, they are told their birthday wish will come true.
And, now for extra measure, here’s my other favorite birthday song. This one features Paul McCartney (without those other guys) playing to a large crowd in Moscow. It seems that folks just like to celebrate birthdays, even it’s for someone else.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to mention. I had a birthday myself this past week. “I would like you to dance…”
Earlier this year, I featured Noel Paul Stookey in my ongoing Artist Spotlight series. In that blog post, I mentioned his song, Jean Claude, a powerful WW II period piece. So, I wanted to give that song it’s full due by sharing it with you this month.
“His most recent recorded collection, ONE AND MANY, once again reveals Noel’s gift for connecting diverse contemporary concerns to inspired musical performances. A video rendering of “Jean Claude”, his moving story song of two close friends separated by the Holocaust is being shown in synagogues across the country as part of the Yom Hashoah (remembrance of the holocaust).” –Source
Here’s what Noel himself wrote about the origin this song.
Songwriting is as much about following your heart as it is about finding the music that allows you to take the journey. Some years ago, I had found an interesting chord pattern on the guitar and over the next several weeks I added a melody. It seemed romantic… perhaps ‘French’? But I didn’t know where to take it.
During my solo section of a Peter Paul and Mary concert, I played the chord pattern for the audience and they responded so enthusiastically that I asked them to tell me what they thought the song was about. I received this note backstage after the concert, “I think it’s about freedom.”
For months, I puzzled over the direction and details of the song’s story: Jean Claude became the name of a young Frenchman walking to school in 1941. A complicated rhyme scheme (or an inspiration far beyond my knowledge), placed him in Alsace-Lorraine and spoke of his friend Michel on a train bound for Germany.
Another year passed and the lyric was still incomplete when my wife Betty and I visited France in the fall of 2003. When we found ourselves in a bookstore near the Eiffel tower, I wandered over to a cut-out bin of used books, magazines and discarded pamphlets and there, with the cover torn off, I found a crudely printed booklet with a single photo on its exposed first page with these words printed underneath:
The picture was that of a large steam locomotive with perhaps twenty or thirty men standing on the tracks in front. They were wearing striped pajamas…no, not pajamas. I realized that these men would soon be herded like cattle onto this train, separated from their families forever and transported to concentration camps in Poland and Germany. As I lifted the book, I sensed I was holding the song in my hand. I knew with certainty one of these men was Michel. Jean Claude was his friend. –Source