Song Four (Help Me Smile)

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This song was an easy one to write, but so hard to sing!

The idea for the song popped into my head one afternoon back in December 2018, when I was thinking partly about something that had made me chuckle that day, and partly about a late jazz singer, who had suffered in her childhood and carried that emotional pain in her voice. I sat down to write and recorded the demo within only a few hours. The next day I performed the song at a dinner party with friends, and then put it away and didn’t touch it again. Months went by, until two months ago, when I found myself humming the song out of the blue. So I thought I gotta do a proper recording for it.

It’s a simple song, musically revolving around 2 chords: G and Am (fret 2). It also have many repeated lines. So I decided to add nuances to these lines by varying the phrasing, meaning I sang the lines slightly different every time, by changing where I placed the notes (on, before, or after the beat), how long I held them, how long I rested between the notes, and also how soft or loud. I also alternated the bass notes while fingerpicking, and strongly stressed the lowest notes of each cycle, making a very clear bass line, that sounds like droplets of time.

Being a perfectionist, I worked out a detailed sheet of arranging the phrasing that satisfied me. But when the time for recording came, I realized it had become a difficult piece! It required so much concentration to hit the right notes at the right time with the right intensity as I had mapped out for the whole song, because the repeated lyrics and simple chord progression don’t give enough mental clues to prompt me ahead of these subtle variations. I complained out loud to myself many times during practicing: “This is really hard!”

It probably didn’t help that I was dealing with tax time for my business at the time, so after a while I put the song aside and focused on filing tax. When I was finally done with that, the business tasks had taken away any wind under my wings. I continued to write new songs, but didn’t do any recording. I didn’t feel like singing.

A month and a half went by, until my birthday came a couple of days ago, and I thought I’d like to record a song for the day. So I pulled out this song, and somehow my brain still remembered what I had practiced, and I finished the recording after a few takes.

So here it is: “Something That Will Make Me Smile”. I’d like to dedicate it to my friend, Lidjia, who usually don’t like sad songs, but asked me to sing this song for her again after everyone had left, because she liked it.

On an unrelated note:

There were times, after sharing a new song with people, I felt so embarrassed that I could not listen to it for weeks! And then there were times when I listened to my songs again, I felt fortunate that I got to write and sing them. I felt a gentle love for them. I felt grateful. (Written on Jun 9, 2019)

Song Four (Help Me Smile)
Written and performed by Gnocchi Artyst (Dec 2018).
Subtitled in English and Vietnamese.
Copyright © 2018 — Please do not use without permission.

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