Behind the Song: The Mountain
One of the most common questions I have received since releasing Kingdom is about how I wrote the songs. Oftentimes my response is a blank stare, as I'm not quite certain myself how they all came to be. In an attempt to be more prepared for these inquiries, I took a look back through my journals and the Voice Memos on my phone: the two main places that I use for recording my ideas. I was reminded of the evolution of the songs, and thought it might be enjoyable for people to read about how a few of them were created. This is the second in a three-part series going behind the songs of Kingdom. If you have any questions or comments about this song or others, I invite you to reply in the comment section at the bottom.
"The Mountain" is the final song of the second part in Kingdom, called Messiah. When writing my outline for Messiah, I decided that the last song would tell the narrative of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain to witness His transfiguration. I wanted the song to musically reflect the physical act of going up and down a mountain - gradually building, peaking, then coming back down - so that the listener feels like he took part in the journey himself.
Since the song was going to be a narrative, I decided to write several verses to tell the tale. I messed around with some different melodies, and finally decided on a lilting 6/8 time to help the listener feel like he is plodding along beside the disciples. Below are a couple of initial melody ideas that I recorded on my phone. The first I totally discarded, and the second I continued to develop. It is fitting that I was, again, on a walk when I came up with the second!
Now I needed to create lyrics that fit my melody, and the first step was to figure out how I would summarize the story. I wanted to be consistent with all three of the transfiguration accounts, as there are different details included in each of the accounts found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I ended up writing out a timeline so I could organize the order of events.
As I developed the lyrics I decided to start each verse with "Up the mountain" or "down the mountain;" for example, the first verse goes:
Up the mountain, Jesus took them
Up the mountain, with His three friends
Up the mountain, going to pray
Up the mountain that day
To me, this helped make the verses cohesive and remind the listener of the goal of the song: to go up and down the mountain.
The verses in "The Mountain" serve to tell the story, and so the chorus basically just reinforces what the song is about and gives it a foundation. It always comes back to either "go up the mountain" or "go down the mountain." Here's a little snippet of an initial piano recording I did on my phone.
"I WANT" REPRISE
As you might have noticed from my first post about "Some Say," I am really big into "I Want" moments! Again, this is the moment at the very beginning of any story when the protagonist reveals what it is he or she wants. The entire story goes on to reveal whether or not the character will receive it. At the beginning of Messiah we hear Peter sing,
But I say, I say
You are more than all these things
And I pray, I pray
That Your kingdom will be brought to earth
For You are more than this!
Now we're at the end of the story and in this incredible moment of Christ being transfigured we see that Peter does indeed gets what he wants... He literally sees Christ in His glory and witnesses the kingdom being brought to earth through the Holy Son of God! Wow - what a climax, and completely unexpected, and yet it also comes with a cost: Christ will have to die on a cross. I imagine that Peter was in awe when He came down that mountain. I decided to reprise the "I Want" melody from the very beginning to bring Peter's character full circle. Below is a journal entry with my initial idea for lyrics.
The final lyrics ended up being as follows:
Now I've seen, I've seen
What faith taught me to believe
And I know, I know
There is more for me to understand
For You are more than this!
As I mentioned in my last post, I worked with Shannon Connelly, Brian Felten, and Chris Rookus to perform Messiah for the first time. Here is a bit of audio from the first performance of "The Mountain."
Here is the same part of the song from the final recording, which features the arrangement by David Clydesdale.
I hope that when you listen to this song you can close your eyes and feel like you yourself are going up and down the mountain and, along with Peter, be amazed by God's sovereign plan to save us.
"The Mountain" and the rest of the songs from Kingdom are available for purchase on audio CD, for download on the web, iTunes, and Amazon, and to stream on Spotify.