Striving to be a Hymn-writer
A True Story
on Jun 1, 2022
Earlier on in the previous decade, there was a time I thought having new music played over the radio was as easy as cutting through butter with a hot knife. I imagined that all I had to do was produce a song and the radio stations would gamble to have it played in their airwaves. And soon afterwards, I would become rich and famous.
So when I produced my first song in a music studio in 2015, I was over the moon for the next few days that followed. I was further elated when some friends who listened to the song on the internet commented on how magnificent it was. One friend remarked that it had great potential to be a hit.
Encouraged by that positive feedback, I had the song burnt on several CDs. Then I spent a whole day in 2015 walking to various radio stations in Nairobi to give them CD-copies of the song for playing over their airwaves. At the end of that day, I felt tired but pleased with my efforts.
And you know what? Several months passed by without me hearing my song played in any of the radio stations I had presented it to. That discouraged me so much that I almost threw away the remaining CD-copies of the song that I had in my room. Turns out having new music played on the radio isn't as easy as I had thought.
I surmise that my song wasn't played over the airwaves because the radio stations I presented it to don't play music of such genre to their audience. What genre was my song, you ask?
Well, I also didn't know what type of music the song was when I produced it in 2015. At first, I thought it was an R & B song before my friend Alenga Luvai corrected me saying it wasn't in that category. When I now listen to the song, which is about my country Kenya, it sounds more like a church hymn.
Despite that frustrating effort to have the song played on the radio, I have never given up on my dream of being a successful musician. I have for long held to the hope that if I could just produce one great song, it would turn my fortunes around. That hope has kept me churning out songs at the rate of 12 in a year. And I have ended up focussing on composing church hymns since it is the genre of music that excites me most.
Discouragingly, none of the hymns I have composed so far has gone viral over the web. (You can listen to them in the videos' section of this blog.) I am thinking the reason why my hymns have not been an instant hit is because I haven't observed the rules of poetry writing.
You see, when I googled for information about hymn-writing a few years ago, I learnt from one website that there is what is called "meter" in poetry. (And hymns are just poems set to music.) While explaining what "meter" means in poetry, the website threw in such confusing jargon as "metrical feet" and "iambic pentameter". Another website advised its readers to stick to formal language when writing hymns.
All that stuff about "meter" and formal language, coupled with such rules of melody and harmony writing as modulation and good chord progression, put me off. Due to my inability to understand and observe all that stuff, I resorted to composing my hymns according to what pleased my ears.
When I go through some of the greatest hymns of all time, I don't find anything complicated about them. Take for instance the wonderful, old hymn "Amazing Grace" - there is not a single hard word in it. Which makes me wonder what all that hullabaloo about "metrical feet" and "iambic pentameter" is all about. But then, coming up with such simple rhyming lines of "Amazing Grace" is not easy. That leads me to believe the composer of the hymn knew all the rules of poetry writing.
The thing is: composing songs in the Queen's language is difficult. I think that's why I haven't heard of any Kenyan artist who writes his songs in English. If I succeed in writing great hymns, I will be breaking new ground.
As I strive to be a great hymn-writer, I have resolved to learn and understand the rules of poetry-writing that put me off a few years ago. I have also resolved to read the plays of William Shakespeare, the greatest bard who ever lived. Shakespeare is said to have observed the rules of poetry-writing when composing some of his sonnets.
To be honest, I found Shakespeare hard to comprehend when I last read three of his plays (Macbeth, Julias Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream). Which makes me wonder why he is so popular, even among high school students. But ever the determined young man, I will keep reading his plays till they finally make sense to me - all in an effort to be a great hymn-writer. So help me God.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on striving to be a hymn-writer, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "My Favourite Hymns". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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How Bill Clinton Inspired Me
A True Story
on May 27, 2022
In an interview with "Time" magazine in 2004, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said that most Americans don't care much about the ideas and visions of presidential candidates when they are electing their preferred candidate. Instead, they vote for someone who looks like a president, talks like a president and walks like a president.
Bill Clinton further said in the interview that to succeed as a president in American politics, one needs to have both wussy-mommy and macho-tough qualities. By having wussy-mommy qualities, he meant the ability to empathise with other people's problems. And by macho-tough qualities, he meant possessing the courage to fight for one's principles.
I read about that insightful interview on the internet about a decade ago when I was trying to emulate Bill Clinton by running for a political seat while still young. Well, Bill Clinton had his flaws (and who doesn't have?) but we have got to hand it to him, he had charisma, a high intellect and a rare ability to relate with the common man.
It is those qualities of Bill Clinton that made me admire him and want to model myself on him. I read about him in "Time" and "Newsweek" magazines when I was in Starehe Institute in 2007. And later on that year, I devoured his best-selling autobiography with enviable zeal.
One afternoon in July 2007, a classmate of mine in Starehe Institute named Theophilus Kamwaro spotted me carrying the autobiography of Bill Clinton which prompted him to say this of me to his friends, "He wants to think like Bill Clinton!" (A couple of months before, I had delivered during evening assemblies at Starehe a series of talks in which I challenged the students to "think like a genius". I surmise it is from those talks that Kamwaro borrowed the phrase that I wanted to "think like Bill Clinton".)
Sure enough, I did end up thinking like Bill Clinton. There were times in 2007 when I caught myself writing, speaking and smiling like Bill Clinton. When I was applying to top American colleges in late 2007 for instance, I tried to make the voice of my application essays sound like that of Bill Clinton. And in my effort to sound like him, I ended up telling tons of lies in the essays. Little wonder that I didn't make the cut into any of the colleges.
Still desiring to model myself on Bill Clinton, I re-read his voluminous memoir in 2008 and again in 2010. And when I was a student at the University of Nairobi in early 2011, I wrote several glowing articles about him and published them on a blog I was running then. A friend of mine called Michael Njeru, upon reading the articles, sent me an SMS one afternoon, joking that I would receive a call from Bill Clinton one of these fine days.
As I have said, I tried to emulate Bill Clinton by running for a political seat a decade ago. And you know what? While registering as a candidate and running my campaigns, I found myself lacking the drive to go out there to talk to people and canvass for votes. That made me discover I wasn't cut out for a career in politics. I just didn't possess the assertiveness and the people skills required to conduct a spirited campaign. Or to borrow the words of Bill Clinton, I lacked the wussy-mommy and macho-tough qualities needed to succeed in politics.
All in all, Bill Clinton did influence me much through the memoir he wrote. For one, he taught me to value every person, to empathise with the problems of others and to develop a genuine fondness for people - traits that were characteristic of him in his illustrious career in politics that culminated in his election as the third youngest President of the United States.
Then, he inspired me to develop the kind of positive, optimistic attitude that made him a charismatic leader. His positive attitude was apparent in the way he smiled in the photos in his autobiography. And he wrote in the memoir that when a friend of his committed suicide at one time in the 1970s, he lost his usual optimism. Luckily for him, his girlfriend and future wife, Hillary, provided him with a shoulder to lean on during that sorrowful time in his life.
Bill Clinton also inspired me to love hymns the way he did. When he was governor of his home state of Arkansas, he used to sing in a church choir. His favorite hymns were "Be Not Afraid" and "His Eye is on the Sparrow". It is from that inspiration to love hymns that I have ended up being a hymn-writer, though I am quite mediocre at it at the moment.
Perhaps most important, Bill Clinton inspired me to be an avid reader and a storyteller. He pointed out in his memoir that he has always been a voracious reader since he was a boy. When they were dating, Hillary admired seeing him turn the pages of a book. I guess it is from his reading that he acquired the masterly story-telling that I am endeavouring to emulate.
Bill Clinton did inspire me for shizzle through his autobiography. Even though I gave up a career in politics, I have ended up thinking and writing like him. It turned out my classmate Theophilus Kamwaro was right when he remarked that I wanted to think like Bill Clinton on that memorable afternoon in 2007 when he spotted me carrying the autobiography of Bill Clinton.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on how Bill Clinton inspired me, you might also enjoy another one I wrote more than three years ago on "Bill Clinton: A True Leader". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.