We were recently introduced to Riva Borbely (@jmlyricsdoctor), who shared important insights and tips regarding song lyrics. To take us further behind the scenes as to how some of the connections, relationships, and collaborations are made, Riva was kind enough to share some of the backgrounds to her song contributions and affiliations: how the song came about, who reached out to who, what involvement or input she had once the song is being worked on by the singer, etc.
Here is what Riva shared with me:
“Seasons of Redemption”
“It started with a little bit of melody that came to me with the words “Once upon a [something] dream.” From there, I had to unravel how to build this into a meaningful song. When I filled in “summer’s” for the missing word, I thought of flowers and Shavuos and went in the direction of Matan Torah a bit. The big epiphany was when I came up with, “But summer somehow turned to fall,” at which point I knew where it was going and jumped to the end and wrote, “summer will return.” From there, it was just a matter of filling in the blanks, which I did with great satisfaction. But my melody didn’t really have enough variation in it to stand on its own, and I was at a loss for anything else to say in a chorus or other contrasting part. So, I thought, “well, that was a nice exercise,” and set it aside.
Fast forward a couple of years. It hadn’t really occurred to me to try to sell my lyrics on their own, but Ari Goldwag had put out his usual call on social media for “song ideas” for his upcoming a cappella album (meaning existing songs that people wanted him to record a cappella covers of), and somehow the way he had worded it gave me the idea to think about whether I had any lyrics that might be appropriate for a Three Weeks album. And I thought of this song. I didn’t even have a title for it, and I still felt like it needed a chorus or something. But I figured Ari Goldwag would know what to do with it, so I polished the lyrics up a little (it was then that the phrase “winds of exile” came to me) and sent them to him, and he really liked it and immediately composed his beautiful melody for it within minutes of my hitting “send.” He sent me a lovely demo of it later that day with piano accompaniment. There were a few things that he identified that needed adjusting to fit his melody properly, and a few other small issues with the lyrics that came to light for me upon hearing him sing it – for example, I had used the word “sad” twice. He gave me the freedom to revise the lyrics however I wanted until the last possible moment, and, in the meantime, he shared with me the a cappella recording as it was nearing completion, and I had the opportunity to comment before it was finalized.
Singer/composer (and budding lyricist) Shmuly Schneider reached out to me and asked me to review the verses and chorus he had written and to write lyrics for the bridge. Fun fact: There was a moment when he wasn’t sure if one of the lines had the right number of syllables, so he had me send his wife a recording of me singing it. We had a little back and forth on a couple of lines, and he made some changes to what I had written, but he was in a hurry to get it released in time for a crowdfunding campaign for Camp SCHI, so I didn’t get to hear even a rough recording of the bridge with the lyrics before it was released just a few days later... with a very nice bridge melody that wasn’t the one he had given me to write to!
This one started out with just a bit of melody that I spent many days trying to come up with interesting and meaningful words to fit. When I stumbled onto “I am but dust and ashes,” the concept became clear to me. It was December 2019, amidst a rash of antisemitic attacks on the streets of New York. I wanted to tell the world 1) what it means to be a Jew, and 2) that we are steadfast in who we are regardless of what they might throw at us. That first line didn’t make my final cut, but when I came up with “I’m a dreamer, a believer; I’m a seeker of the truth,” I felt I was on to something big. When I finished it, though, I had other things I was working on and it took quite some time before I got around to sending it out to anyone…
In summer 2021, again Ari Goldwag was looking for “song ideas” - this time meaning song concepts that people were interested in hearing on his upcoming album. So, I sent him an email with a few lyrics, of which “Ani Yehudi” was the first. He sent me a demo later that day, with a few small changes to the words in order to fit what he wanted to do with the melody and rhyme scheme, as well as some additions to flesh out the chorus. There was actually one change where I wasn’t even sure what he was singing. I asked him about that and gave him some feedback on things that I would consider adjusting in the lyrics to better fit his melody, but he wasn’t sure if he was happy with the melody and ended up sitting on it for several months. Finally, he let me know that he’d made the decision to include it on the album just a few weeks before it was scheduled to be released. He asked me to consolidate the verses so that it could be sung once in English and once translated into Hebrew. This was heartbreaking, but I rewrote the verses down to two stanzas (it was originally six, and his demo had included four). Then at the last minute – the final song he recorded for the album – he let me know that he had laid down the vocals after deciding he didn’t want to sacrifice the message for the sake of making it bilingual… so it was back to four stanzas in the verses! He shared the track with me, which was almost complete, just missing backing vocals. There were a few things I would have changed, some of which we discussed briefly, but there wasn’t time to come to a consensus and he was happy with it as it was, which is what matters.”
Well, I hope you all enjoyed that VIP pass!