During the workshop I was co-leading on Friday and Saturday, someone asked if I knew guitar chords to play along with “Spirit of Life,” the Carolyn McDade song that so many Unitarian Universalists are in love with. After ranting about how much I dislike that song because of its boring harmonic structure and banal melody, I finally admitted that I did not know of any good chords to play along with the song.
But that question kept bothering the back of my mind, and so tonight I went up to the church to borrow a piano and see if I could come up with pleasing chords. I looked at the piano arrangement in the current Unitarian Universalist hymnal, but it’s the kind of arrangement that begets a dirge-like tempo and breathy-voiced singing. So I looked just at the melody, which consists of three eight-measure sections, and I decided each eight-measure section could take the same basic chord progression: C Dm G7 Am C Dm G7 C (or I IIm V7 VIm I IIm V7 I) — a pleasantly folk-y but still boring harmonic structure.
But then I got to thinking: Maybe if you jazzed up those chords a little, you could create a little more movement in the song. Like this –
C9 Dm7 G7 CM7 Am7 Dm9 Gm9 FM7
C7 Dm7 G7 C7b9 Am7 Dm9 Gm9 FM7
C9 Dm7 G7 C7b9 A7 Dm7 Gm7 CM7
– played with a Charleston rhythm (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) [progression modified slightly 4/17].
Well, it’s better, but I haven’t got it quite right (although it does fall nicely on the guitar fingerboard). Maybe someone who is a much better musician than I can come up with a chord progression that makes this song sound good. Or maybe it’s a fatally flawed song that can will always sound dreary. Your comments and ideas, as always, are appreciated.