An Album For My Wife: Commitment & Epilogue (Part 3)

Welcome to the commentary of 1 + 1 = 1: The Courtship of Green & Blue.
This is Part 3, containing tracks 10-15 of the album, that is, the third section of the album called "Commitment" and the "Epilogue". 

Here are links to the IntroductionPrologue & Infatuation (Part 1), and Infatuation (Part 2).

Here's how it will work. After an introduction from the original commentary (in italics), each song will be embedded so you can stream it. After each song will be:
Original commentary (in italics)
Present day commentary with various bits of history thrown in

Section III: Commitment

Track 10: End of an Era

I’ll never be on this side again
I’m at the window lookin’ in
And I would be lyin’ 
If I said I wasn’t scared

I’ll never be on that side until
I ask the question…I take a step
And there is no use denying
The next step is big

Cause it’s the End of an Era
Say goodbye to independence
At the End of an Era
There’ll be no more waiting
No more asking when
Our day my dear soon will come

I’ll never be on this side again
And I say that with no regrets
Still all the while I’m fighting
Thoughts that I’m not ready for this

Cause it’s the End of an Era…

Some say I’ve waited too long
Some say we’re still too young
Maybe I’m wrong and you’re right
Maybe I’ll leave it in God’s hands tonight

The song opens with a bunch of murky dissonant tones.  Tubular bells play “Canon in D” in D minor instead of the major key.  The person singing this song is confused, uncertain of the future, and a bit forlorn.  At the end of the song bells are struck again, this time in a major key, signifying the change in demeanor of the song’s narrator (and perhaps foreshadowing wedding bells...?).  Within the progression of the song he has since reached a state of clarity and made a decision regarding the future.  He will move forward with confidence and resolve…

The last section of the album is called "Commitment". It chronicles the progression of our relationship from right before getting engaged ("End of an Era"), to the very moment of our engagement "Learning to Love", to being stuck in the middle of engagement with months left before getting married ("Bittersweet Graceland")

The "commitment" though in these songs is essentially all mine. Elisa was ready to take the plunge. I was the one needing to take a step.

"End of an Era" was literally written the night before we got engaged. I had a plan and everything. A relatively elaborate plan. I'll get to that story in the next song. The point is, before I could put that plan fully into action Elisa decided to have a serious talk with me about our relationship. I barely remember all that we talked about that night. That hardly matters because the whole conversation came down to one basic question and one basic semi-threat: "Why aren't we engaged yet? And...if we're not going to get engaged soon...well...I don't know how much longer I can stay in this relationship." The whole time she was talking I could barely pay attention to what she was saying because all I could think about was how the next night I was going to propose to her. I kept trying to think of ways to tell her that things were going to be OK, that she shouldn't worry, without giving away the big surprise proposal and while also not seeming flippant with her grave concerns. I don't think I did a very good job at any of those things. But I did go off and write a song about it, which is something, right?

"End of an Era" is about a fight. Two fights, really, maybe three. The first fight is within myself: Do I get engaged to the woman I love? Am I ready? Will I ever be ready? Is this the right thing to do? The second fight is with the woman I love: Why aren't we married yet? she says. I've been ready a long time. I told you we could have done this a while ago and it would be OK. It doesn't matter if you're still in college. We'll make it work somehow. I want to be with you. The third fight is with society and it's expectations, with one side saying "You should definitely wait to get married until you're in your 30's" and the other side saying "Put a ring on it. Now." I also feel like God is in this song. As much as I'm singing this song to my future wife I'm also singing it to him, desperately asking "What do I do?! What is the right thing to do?!" And God gives me a nervous look and shrugs, as if saying "Hey man, I leave it up to you."

I like the idea of multiple universes, how there are a multitude of possible realities for ourselves. One potential reality of the pre-engaged Chris Marchand was to not get engaged. There is great wisdom in not getting engaged. There is no way I was ready to get married. From a certain perspective there is truth to my hesitancy to get married. But there is another universe with a version of me who knows that guy is an idiot. The version of me in the second universe knows that if there is something worth doing, something good enough in and of itself, that you eventually just have to do it, no matter how nervous or uncertain you feel about it, no matter how inadequate you feel about yourself or how well you think you'll succeed in making your decision. This version of me knows that I will not be ready to go to seminary, knows that I will not be ready to break my leg, to get cancer, to have a child (and another child and another child), to get a second masters degree, to start a church, to become the headmaster of a school, to be a homeowner, and to attempt to become a professional writer. The second version of me knows sometimes you have to jump into the wormhole without thinking and worrying about what you will come out to find on the other side. These days you will generally find me encouraging people to get married. If the relationship is a good one and they are even remotely ready (in both the internal and external ways) I nearly always say it is better to go ahead and do it. There really isn't much of a benefit in waiting.

"End of an Era" is partially a lament for my passing bachelorhood, where I am getting sentimental in advance for the independence I once had. I like the idea of being sad about losing something while at the same time being fully content that the decision you are making is good and right.

Musically, the opening section is supposed to be a manifestation of my confusion. Elisa always wanted "Canon In D" to be played at her wedding. Here that piece is played in minor (on actual symphonic chimes) as if to cast doubt on whether it will ever get to be played at all...and then the actual song begins. It is a straightforward acoustic ballad, using only keyboard organ, percussion with effects, and a few extra guitar lines (also with effects). It is as if I am saying "out of the murkiness comes clarity, comes a moving forward, and with confidence."

Track 11: Gradual [part 1]
Os justi meditabitur sapientiam 
et lingua ejus loquetur judicium 
Lex Dei ejus in corde ipsius 
et non supplantabuntur gressus ejus

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom 
and his tongue speaks what is just
The law of his God is in his heart 
and his feet do not falter

In one of my college choirs we sang "Os Justi", a gradul hymn or motet by composer Anton Bruckner. I became a little bit obsessed with the song and had a desire to learn all the parts. I began to wonder if I could record a version of it with me singing it in 4 and 6 part harmony. This 47 second song is the outcome of my experiment. I didn't record the whole song, but only the first section and the Alleluia coda, which is track 13 on the album. That truly is me singing all the parts, except the highest soprano lines were sung 1 or 2 whole steps lower than the written pitches and then I modulated those tracks upward using my recording software.

The lyrics of the song are taken from Psalm 37, and I thought they were fitting for a man just about to take the biggest step of his life. I needed my tongue to speak what was just. I needed the law of God on my heart. I needed my feet to not falter. My idea was that in declaring my love for Elisa and asking her to marry me my mouth would be speaking wisdom.

This intro blends right into the next song "Learning to Love" which is the song I sang to Elisa the night we became engaged.

Here is the full version of "Os Justi" by an actual choir, if you are curious. Isn't it glorious?:

Track 12: Learning to Love

Soften my edges with your sweet countenance
Help me forget what a melancholy state I’m in
And how long can I stare deep into your eyes
And still forget that I am learning how to lay down my life?

If I said “I love you”
Would that mean anything to you?
But if a promise is broken
Was is ever really true?

Every difference in another chance for us to draw close
Each misunderstanding is still better than being alone
And how long till you and I will finally be
I in You and You forever in Me?

If I said…

And I say “I LOVE YOU”
I know it means so much to you
And I give you this promise
One I will keep my whole life through

And I said it, yes I said it
It wasn’t so hard to do
And I said it, oh I so easily said
But honey, there is so much more to love
I am learning, still learning,
Forever learning how to love you
We are learning, forever learning,

Together learning how to love…

"Learning to Love" was the song I sang to my wife the night we got engaged. Our band "Poet Laureate" had just performed a set at the Crossword Cafe in Chillicothe, Illinois. Somebody got a chair for her and she sat and listened while I sang for her accompanied by solo acoustic guitar. After the song, someone handed me the special pillow my mother had bought for the occasion. I dropped a knee and proposed and she said yes. We were ecstatic. Our band never played again.
We were in a band once.

"Learning to Love" is a turning point song. The previous song "End of an Era" is the lead up to that turning point, the final stage before I cross the threshold from being a committed bachelor to a man committed to marriage. The turning point of the turning point song comes during the key change, where I finally declare "I love you" to Elisa. Up to that point in the song I had only been questioning what love was or what the usage of the word "love" means. It might sound overly cerebral, or like I'm jacking around with her emotions at the expense of showing her verbal affection, or like I'm delaying a declaration of commitment to marriage, but instead I am attempting to communicate something central to my love for her. I am attempting to make a significant counter-cultural statement: "I could tell you I love you. It would not be difficult to say those actual words. But if my words are not backed up by actual commitment, of what use are those words? So no, I'm not going to say them to you until you know my commitment is real." And so I told Elisa I loved her for the first time in this song and as soon as the song was over I proposed. My words of affection were inextricably linked to my commitment towards her. This declaration of love was a big deal to me. I had held back for so long because I did not want my words to be empty. Our culture is filled with so many empty words, so many empty promises that our words lose their meaning. I wanted our story to be different. 

Another version of this song exists, one I gave to Elisa the previous Christmas as a gift. In it I refrain from saying I love her. The final chorus did not make the leap to the declaration of love. At the time, I'm sure that annoyed her and perhaps even hurt her (at the very least it confused her). I've never been exactly straightforward. There is always some bigger point to make for me. She also finds this annoying. My hope though is that she looks back and sees what was in my heart in that period when we were not quite ready to get married.
I sang her my song, asked her a question, and
she said yes.

Like most of the other songs on this album "Learning to Love" is about how Elisa compliments me (she "soften(s) my edges"). It is a celebration of our differences and a rumination on how we are becoming one. Added to this is the concept that I am learning to lay down my life for her, a paraphrase from Ephesians 5:25 where the Apostle Paul compares husbands to Christ and the Church. The song ends by saying that we are, both of us, learning to love each other. The saying of the words goes hand in hand with the doing, with the living out of our love for each other. We've pledged our love to each other and have committed to marriage, but now we will truly begin the process of learning to live with each other.

Musically, this is another simple acoustic ballad, however my attempt was to give it an entirely different timbre through overdubbed droned guitars (using an ebow) and layered vocals with lots of echo effect on them. A great deal of the percussion sound is me slapping my legs.

Track 13: Gradual [part 2]

Here is the coda to the Bruckner choral piece. My arrangement is slightly different in that I ad some droned notes in the lower register. I wanted it to feel as full as possible. I wanted the "alleluias' to resonate.

Track 14: BIttersweet Graceland
Dinner for two
Fancy restaurant
Three years pass by
So scared could not kiss her
Stranded alone yet again tonight

Sister and Brother
Not yet lovers
One and One
Not yet one

Bittersweet Lane passed by on their right
It wasn’t their time but the timing was right
They made their way home past Graceland Drive
Spent all of their lives waiting…

Filling the air
Quiet conversation
Restraining desire
Choosing the best
For one another for one more night

Sister and Brother…

Bittersweet Lane passed by on their right
It wasn’t their time but the timing was right
They made their way home past Graceland Drive
Spent all of their lives saying goodbye
And tonight will be no different…


2-14-06: it had been exactly three years since our first non-date date. We had gotten engaged in November of 2005 and now all we could do was make our plans for the wedding and wait. "Bittersweet Graceland" deals with the tensions and paradoxes of being committed to teach other but not yet married.

Let me tell you this: basically the lamest Valentine's Day anyone could ever conceive of is between two people who are going to get married in a couple of months but who are not having sex with each other. I mean, what's the point really? At least that is how it felt to us on our three year dating anniversary, a little less than four months before our wedding day. And Elisa felt it much stronger that I did. I wanted to make the best of the moment and enjoy the simplicity of being with each other, but I could tell she did not even want to enter into the moment with me. We went on a date to a swanky "metropolitan" restaurant in Peoria Heights, but her entire being was chomping at the bit for June 3, 2006 to hurry up and get here.

I picked Elisa up at her apartment on the north end of Peoria and on our way to eat I noticed a street called "Bittersweet Lane". Then on our way home I noticed another street, this one called "Graceland Drive." The evening had not been what we wanted it to be. The lyrics of a song started forming in my head.

The reason I could barely muster up enough bravery to kiss Elisa was that I wanted to do so much more to her. Restraining my desire was absolutely no fun, but it was best for both of us. We had spent all of our lives waiting to have sex and now we were in one last season of the waiting. It was the final stretch. Fundamentally, beyond any other title in my life, Elisa is my "sister in Christ", as found in 1st Timothy 5:2. Our identity is in Christ and we are bonded together as members of the family of God. The great paradox of that evening to me was that we were 1, but not yet 1 as we wanted to be or as we were to be in the future. We may have been married in our hearts, but not yet in actuality.

And therefore it was a bittersweet time for us. It was not yet our time to be married, but the timing was right before God. It is incredibly difficult to rest in the already-but-not-yet. We had the promise of what was to come, but the promise had not been fulfilled, had not been allowed to come in fullness. There was a dull ache to Valentine's Day 2003. Even still, God's grace was with us, he was sustaining us through that season. It was a bittersweet graceland. 

I chose to end the song on another infinity symbol, the neverending repeat of "one and one and not yet one." At the time it certainly felt like our engagement would never end. This song is a memorial to the longing of our youth, of feeling alone even though we had each other, and to learning how to wait for better things to come.

Musically, this song features the first instrumentalist who was not me. Kevin Johnson, who I attended church with at the time, is playing the cello. Kevin is now a missionary and you can click here to see what he is currently doing. I would also like to say the drums on this song were recorded in one sitting. There are no percussive overdubs. That is me playing the full drum all at once. That's a bit of an accomplishment for me. Anytime you hear a drum set or real piano on the album it was recorded at Faith Church in Washington, Illinois. I would like to thank Pastor Rick Brisbin for letting me leave my mess around the church for a few months and Steve Graffis for letting my use his drum set. The song has a long instrumental ending. After the tense buildup of Elisa and I not being one, I wanted to speak peace over us, over those two kids with all their longing and dreams and expectations. Peace, be still, I am with you.

Track 15: Epilogue 1  +  1  =  1 or Wedding Bells or aqua or once we get in that limo there’s no turning back or how much exactly did your father spend?

Pay attention to the time signature.  

As in the prologue, so here each line or theme is its own character.  I am not sure what the first theme represents; it exists to basically establish the rhythm, but perhaps it signifies our love, our joy, or all the people who have gone before us and will go after who have entered and will one day enter into marriage.  One of the musical themes represents the part you played in the wedding, one part represents me, and another part represents the part we played together.  Towards the end you can hear the wooden drum we bought in Belize, playing its part to foreshadow our honeymoon and our married life, a time which stands outside the breadth of this particular story; a time that is to come, a story yet to be told…

The epilogue of the album is our wedding day. The whole work ends at the beginning really. I remember driving away in our rented limo at the end of the night, never being more scared. I wanted to be a little kid again and go home and sleep in my kid bed and be protected by my mom. I also wanted to live with Elisa, to know her, have a life with her, have sex with her, go on our honeymoon, and try to figure it all out step by step. Still the fear was there, and I could sense it in Elisa too.

No one was ever asked me about the opening of the song. I created it as a consciously chaotic mess. It is supposed to sound frenzied and ugly. This was my attempt to represent how Elisa and I did not stick to our principles and commitments to remain 100% sexually pure before our wedding. We messed up a little bit in those last months and I chose to represent that in the music.

I am not sure how much you can tell, but the time signature should feel like a measure of 6 followed by a measure of 3 followed by a measure of 6. 6-3-6, day day of our wedding, June 3, 2006. Rhythmically it should feel like 6 eighth notes followed by 3 quarter notes (1-2-3-4-5-6 1...2...3...) For the music of the ceremony Elisa chose "Canon in D" as "her song" which you hear played by the vibraphones. "My song" was "Jesus Joy of Man's Desiring" played by the hammered dulcimer, and "our song" was U2's "Beautiful Day" which is played by the marimba and xylophone. Hopefully U2 won't sue me.

Notice the change in the title of the song. 1 + 1 = 1 signifies that we finally got married. This little song is a celebration of our day, that we did it! The "aqua" is a reference to the cover of the album, to me being "green" and Elisa "blue". Our oneness has created a new color. Elisa hopes to paint the front door of our new home aqua some day.

There is something of a hidden track in the song. A few minutes after the song ends you hear my end of a conversation with Elisa. She had called while I was recording at East Peoria High School and I had forgotten to stop recording. We were married by this point and so the conversation acts as a continuation of the epilogue. In our talk we make some plans for the evening. My plans adapt to her plans. In a marriage there are a neverending series of decisions to be made together. You can hear the heat drone of the summer cicadas in the background.
Final Thoughts
Here is one last bit of recording history. In the spring/summer of 2008 life started moving fast for us. In March I fell on ice and broke a bone in my leg. In the midst of prepping for surgery to fix my leg doctors discovered bumps on my thyroid. After recovering from surgery I began the process of finding out I had thyroid cancer. In June of 2008, just a few days after our 2nd wedding anniversary I had surgery to remove my thyroid and the associated cancer nodules. A little while after surgery I was to receive a brief cancer treatment where I swallowed a radioactive iodine pill that was supposed to kill off all residual cancer cells. I needed to be isolated for a few days so no one absorbed my radioactivity. Dave and Sally Vroom, our good friends from church, happened to be on vacation and opened up their house to me while they were gone. I brought all my recording equipment in and recorded furiously for those 4 or so days (while also watching every single episode of Monty Python's TV show as well as the John Adams miniseries). Before the cancer treatment, we knew there was a possibility my semen could be damaged by the radioactivity and so we decided to try to get pregnant. By God's grace it worked on the first try. We went from broken leg, to cancer, to having a baby all in a matter of months. That story is for another album (and book) yet to be recorded. Hopefully someday...

Looking back I am proud of this work. There are a number of things I wish would have turned out better. The overall sound of the recording isn't that great and could really use a proper mixing and mastering, along with a sound engineer who actually knew what they were doing. I also wish the sound of my singing voice were better, but I worked with what God gave me. Finally, I could have used a few extra musicians, particularly drummers and percussionists.

All in all, what I am most proud of is the musical compositions and the narrative arc of the lyrics. If you have taken time to listen to each song I really hope you were able to hear the multiple musical lines in each song and how they interplayed with each other. I really think I came up with a number of compelling melodies and hooks and in that regard the album is a success. I also think lyrically I was able to capture some powerful truths about relationships: the tensions and joys and the pains of waiting. I hope the work as a whole stands as a memorial to my wife and I's marriage and that one day my children will listen to it, learn from it, and want to know more about their mom and dad. I also hope that others will find their own story within the songs.

If you listen carefully enough you can hear me quoting and reaching for my musical influences: The Beatles, David Bazan, Wilco, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, Sixpence None The Richer, The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Steven Reich, Rich Mullins, and Keith Green. Although huge influences on me for some reasons U2 and Delirious never made their way into my songwriting.

If you have read this far in the commentary I commend you. I hope and pray this ambitious work of art has affected your life in some significant way. Please leave some feedback and let me know. Cheers and Blessings.

Here are links to the previous entries about the album:
The Story of 1 + 1 = 1: Introduction
Prologue & Infatuation (Part 1)
Infatuation (Part 2)

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