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Laura Nyro, Godspell Song Rhythms, and "Bless the Lord"

A Godspell Music Lesson

Feature article for The Schwartz Scene issue 20

Stephen Schwartz at the piano with Michael Lavine, Alex Lacamoire, Carol de Giere

Photo by Glenn Weiss 6/13/05: Michael Lavine in front of a small part of his sheet music collection, Stephen Schwartz at the piano, Alex Lacamoire, Carol de Giere

By Carol de Giere

For years I'd been hearing Stephen Schwartz mention Laura Nyro as one of his inspirations, but I never really knew what that meant. Then at the beginning of a Godspell discussion at the apartment of Michael Lavine, a Manhattan music director, Michael pulled a Laura Nyro songbook from his bookshelves and handed it to Stephen at the piano. In a minute he'd launched into playing and singing "Save the Country," from Nyro's 1969 album New York Tendaberry. My musician friends and I sang along.

Stephen closed his eyes and whispered, "Oh, she was soooo brilliant," as if he'd just sampled a perfect pudding. "The point is that this is the first time I'd ever heard that." He spread his fingers into a suspended chord. "Everybody else would do [he played an ordinary dominant chord]. And then all of a sudden she would do G over A. And she did it over and over again." I could hear that it was fresh, different, not static.

We found out that Nyro's chords helped inspire a specific song: "Bless the Lord." But it was more than that. Her work also provided Schwartz with a pop music model for the frequent changes in rhythm that make Godspell's songs so fun to hear. Think of how "Bless the Lord" swings along at an easy beat and then shifts into an energetic frenzy. "All for the Best" shifts speeds as does "Day by Day" and the "Finale."

Stephen continued discussing Nyro: "What she did that I hadn't heard before in pop music was those chords and then she changed tempo. 'Eli's Comin' is another one that just constantly changed. Pop music was about hitting a groove and absolutely sticking with it. And she did really radical things. She was extremely radical."

The late Laura Nyro was Stephen's contemporary, born about six months before him in 1947. Her father was a jazz trumpet player. For her songwriting, she drew from such diverse influences as Bob Dylan and John Coltraine. She was not so well known as a singer-songwriter but more from her hit songs that were covered by groups like Blood, Sweat, and Tears ("And When I Die"), the Fifth Dimension ("Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic") and Three Dog Night ("Eli's Comin'"), and stars like Barbra Streisand ("Stony End" and "I Never Meant to Hurt You").

One thing that struck me as our discussion continued that day was how differently Stephen tunes into music than I do. While I mainly attend to melodies, harmonies, and lyrics, he seems to capture the whole including the foundations - the keyboard instrument or guitar, and details of the rhythms. With this sensitivity, he soaked up the sounds of the late 1960's especially from songwriters he loved hearing: Nyro, James Taylor, Carole King, and Paul Simon. With the support of their musical influences and his own original musical ideas, he brought a fresh sound into musical theatre with his 1971 Godspell score.

Laura Nyro

imageNew York Tendaberry [Expanded] - hear "Save the Country" clip -

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession [Expanded] - hear clip of "Eli's Comin"

Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro - Book about Laura Nyro

From a New York Times article:

...With a three-octave range of emotions and a confessional style, Nyro turned her insides out in music that defied easy categorization because it was so many things at once: bubbly and soul-searching; commercial and experimental; jazzy and bluesy, with a touch of soul and doo-wop.

In 1968, David Geffen, then an aspiring agent, spotted all this in a tape... and signed her up....She got a $4 million contract; she and Geffen mutually kick-started each other's careers. With her next albums, "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession" and "New York Tendaberry," she made her mark on a generation of future songwriters, from Ricki Lee Jones and Suzanne Vega to Barry Manilow and Todd Rundgren.

www.lauranyro.net/ a fan site

www.lauranyro.com/ authorized Laura Nyro site

Godspell links

Be sure to check the GODSPELL HOME PAGE for a complete listing of recordings, sheet music, and more.

album cover for Godspell SoundtrackLynne Thigpen sings "Bless the Lord" on the Soundtrack CD. Buy Godspell: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

"Bless the Lord"

Lyrics for "Bless the Lord"

The lyrics for "Bless the Lord" come from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, no. 293, and are an adaptation from Psalm 103.

BLESS THE LORD

Oh bless the Lord my soul
His grace to thee proclaimed
And all that is within me join
To bless His holy name
Oh yeah

Oh bless the Lord my soul
His mercies bear in mind
Forget not all His benefits
The Lord to thee is kind

He will not always chide
He will with patience wait
His wrath is ever slow
To rise

Oh bless the Lord
And ready to abate
And ready to abate
Oh yeah!

Oh bless the lord
Bless the lord my soul

Oh bless the lord my soul! He pardons all thy sins
Prolongs thy feeble breath
He heals thine infirmities
And ransoms thee from death

He clothes thee with his love
Upholds thee with his truth
And like an eagle he renews
The vigor of thy youth

And bless His holy name
Whose grace hath made thee whole
Whose love and kindness crowns
Thy days

Oh bless the lord
Bless the lord my soul
Oh bless the lord my soul! Bless the lord my soul
Oh bless the lord my soul!
Bless the lord my soul
Oh bless the lord my soul!
Bless the lord, bless the lord
My soul!
Bless the lord my soul!

Question and Answer from StephenSchwartz.com forum

Q: The instructions "a la Laura Lyros" begin the musical number "Bless the Lord" in Godspell. I've done a web search and come up with nothing. Could you help?

It was supposed to be a la Laura Nyro.

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