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Recently CBC Radio’s premiere arts & entertainment show, “Q“, with host Jian Ghomeshi, featured award-winning Newfoundland indie group Hey Rosetta! performing “Yer Spring” from their newly-released album “Seeds.” The album is simply fantastic, a model for songwriters who want to explore life beyond a simple verse-chorus format. They show the incredible possibilities that arise when you augment a basic garage-band sound with clever orchestration and intelligent songwriting, and deliver it via exceedingly skillful performers.
Verse chorus formats exist because they are an easy way for songwriters to build song energy. Typically a verse exhibits the lowest energy level of a song, building to a high-energy chorus. Composers use several elements to build this energy: lyrics, melodic shape, chord progression, instrumentation, and so on.
“Yer Spring” is a verse-chorus song in a non-traditional sense. We don’t really get a sense of “chorus” in this song until closer to the end, but the compositional objective through the course of the song is still the same: build energy. Instead of choruses, each verse is separated by short refrains that act as “connectors”, along with an instrumental interlude between verses 2 and 3.
Here’s a formal map of “Yer Spring” that shows the compositional elements and timings:
It’s a really interesting song format to experiment with if you’re looking to try writing something that uses refrains and choruses. Because the target note of each connector/refrain dwells in and around notes other than the tonic, it adds a sense of “needing more” (much like a classical musician might use a so-called “imperfect authentic cadence”), pulling the listener into the next verse.
With the addition of the instrumental interlude, the energy levels of “Yer Sring” fluctuate widely, culminating ultimately in the double chorus at the end.
The two choruses themselves strengthen the form two different ways. Chorus 1 uses progressions that dwell mainly in and around the iii-chord’s movement to the vi chord (G#m – C#m). Chorus 2’s chord progressions are a repetition of the very strong IV to I harmonic movement (A-E..). Even though Chorus 1, therefore, is harmonically not quite as strong as Chorus 2, it derives much strength from the melodic shape of the short 3-note scale downward to the tonic note (“silent night, holy night…”)
Chorus 2’s repetition of IV-I represents some of the strongest, most unambiguous chords of the song, and because of that, also represents the climactic high point of the song, ending with a low-energy outro.
“Yer Spring” should encourage every songwriter out there to experiment a bit, and to have the daring to craft song energy in non-typical ways.
Hey Rosetta! is currently featuring the video of “Yer Spring” on their website, and I’d recommend checking it out.
And one final thought: These days, it’s easy to wonder if there are many performers out there who can deliver a performance that doesn’t need a lot of studio production. Hey Rosetta! is the real deal. Their live performance is fantastic: check out “Yer Spring” as performed live in CBC’s studio on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
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