“If Pain Produces Harmony . . .” – Songs About Suffering

There’s something really special about songs that are written about the difficult times in life. Something really beautiful in the human spirit comes out through them. Maybe it’s because the heart is more vulnerable then. There’s less concern about what other people think, and more concern about just being honest. I like honest songs.

The reason I like them so much is because it’s often a real struggle for me to be that honest with myself, much less other people, when I’m going through something tough. I admire people that have the guts to put that into a song. To put the heart out there for everyone to see, even after it’s been ripped out, is not an easy thing to do.

Here are two of my favorite songs about struggle the struggle in the human experience:

In the first one, there’s a lot of beautiful imagery about the pain in our lives producing harmony with the people around us. We all experience pain, and that pain helps us identify with other people. But there’s something else involved. God takes all the ugliness and pain we experience in life and actually makes a beautiful piece of art out of it.

Abandon Kansas is an alternative group from nearby Wichita, Kansas. I think that’s neat.

Where Else Can We Go” – Abandon Kansas

If pain produces harmony, we all have a note.

If God conducts the symphony, no one sings alone.

There’s no easy answer when the question starts with “Why?” but

Where else can we go? Where else can we go?

Where else can we go?

 

I’ve walked through the valley, I’ve seen enough death

Can anyone hear me? Am I wasting breath?

 

There’s help I have prayed for, but relief never comes.

I’ve cursed at the sky ’til I can’t feel my lungs.

Then somewhere in the distance a wave of sound rings.

Melodies I’ve never heard, but somehow I know all the words,

And I can’t help but sing.

 

If pain produces harmony, we all have a note.

If God conducts the symphony, no one sings alone.

There’s no easy answer when the question starts with “Why?” but

Where else can we go? Where else can we go?

Where else can we go? 

The second one, surprise, surprise, is from another alternative group, Switchfoot. I don’t know how Jon Foreman does it, but he has a way of putting in writing so many of the things inside my own heart. I don’t know of another songwriter who has done that more consistently. A lot of his songs touch something deep inside me that’s difficult to put into words. I think it’s the honesty thing again. There’s just no pretending with him. The man wears his heart on his sleeve and I appreciate that tremendously.

The song “Sing It Out” also deals with God making music out of the ugliness in our lives. It talks about when life seems to be completely wrecked, He can “Take what is left of me. Make it a melody.” When I think of how badly I’ve messed up my life sometimes, even after I’ve called Jesus, the Lord of my life, the idea that God takes the twisted wreckage of our lives, and can still work masterpieces out of us, is nothing short of miraculous.

Something else amazing happens in the bridge of the song. When I’ve given up and let God take over, I can actually “fall in love, with the ones that run me through.” When I’ve owned up to my own brokenness, even the people that are partially responsible for  the havoc in my  life can receive love and forgiveness. That also, is something only the supernatural can explain.

It’s also interesting in the bridge that he uses the phrase, “My world is a lie, that’s come true.” No one. I repeat, no one can begin to understand God’s grace unless they’ve experienced it themselves. That’s part of the mystery. Even we who have, cannot fully explain this crazy idea of a God that can give us enough grace to have joy in the worst of circumstances.

There’s a lot more in this song but those are some of the themes I chose to explore.

I love the way the music in this song starts with haunting agony, basically a brooding bass solo with occasional washes of foreboding guitar creating a bleak backdrop for Jon’s forlorn voice. The song continues to build all the way up through the bridge until it’s all unleashed into a heart-rending, desperate cry the last time through the chorus. As the cry to God ends, the final measures of the song give way to some resolution and hope as strings take over and fade out.

“Sing It Out” –Switchfoot

I’m on the run

I’m on the ropes this time

Where is my song?

I’ve lost the song of my soul tonight

 

Sing it out

Sing it out

Take what is left of me

Make it a melody

Sing it out

Sing out loud

I can’t find the words to sing

You be my remedy

My song, my song

I’ll sing with what’s left of me

 

Where is the sun?

Feel like a ghost this time

Where have you gone?

I need your breath in my lungs tonight

 

Sing it out

Sing it out

Take what is left of me

Make it a melody

Sing it out

Sing out loud

I can’t find the words to sing

You be my remedy

My song, my song

I’ll sing with what’s left of me

 

I’m holding on

I’m holding on to you

My world is wrong

My world is a lie that’s come true

And I fall in love with the ones that run me through

When all along, all I need is you

 

Sing it out

Sing it out

Take what is left of me

Make it a melody

Sing it out

Sing out loud

I can’t find the words to sing

Come be my remedy

My song, my song

My song

I’ll sing with what’s left of me

Call me a melancholy but, I’m a real fan of these types of songs. Maybe it’s because the human element is so obvious in all of them. Others include Eric Whitacre’s “When David Heard” (an epic seventeen and half minute choral piece depicting David’s sorrow for Absalom’s death), Jars of Clay’s “Silence,” and “Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs” and “Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart/Behold and See if There Be Any Sorrow” from Handel’s Messiah. I’m also reading quite a few of the Psalms right now, which have a lot of similar content in them.

What are some of your favorite “suffering/struggle” songs? Let’s discuss them in the comments.

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7 comments on ““If Pain Produces Harmony . . .” – Songs About Suffering

  1. Shasta's Fog says:

    I, too, love “When David Heard.” (I’ve never heard the Whitacre version; I’ll have to check it out.) Oasis is singing the Joshua Shank version this year, and I can’t wait to perform it! While I don’t necessarily appreciate music that focuses extensively on the human condition (isn’t that what Christ saves us from?), I think we as believers have too few songs about lament and sorrow in our culture.

    The context of “David’s Lamentation” is chilling to think about. It describes David’s emotions when he realizes his son dies, APART from God, and he laments, “Would that God I had died for thee.”
    What a sobering thought. Certainly David understood the gravity of his son’s eternity, and David loved him enough to want to take his place!

    The music, the dynamics, the dissonance… all lend themselves to the emotive grief of this piece. It’s heavy, at times, and I just relate to it so much… to the confusion, grief, shock… of watching someone you love walk away from the Lord.

  2. rjshetler says:

    Whitacre’s version is absolutely amazing. Yes, you simply must hear it.

  3. Becca says:

    I love the commentary on “Sing it Out”. It’s definitely one of my favorites. So many melancholy songs resonate with me, but if I absolutely had to choose a few… “Dvorak’s Song to the Moon”, from “Rusalka” and Jars of Clay’s “Oh My God” are probably mine.

    The first time I heard “Oh My God”, I couldn’t go on listening to other songs until I had stared at the ceiling in quiet for a while. The most eloquent and disturbing thing about it for me is that there is no resolution. It ends with a wail of anguish after all that building from quiet mourning, and that really messes with my liking cool endings to songs and stories.

    • Becca says:

      I guess what those songs have taught me is to see beauty in dissonance, not just in resolution. Or, like you said, “the mystery” of “a God that can give us enough grace to have joy in the worst of circumstances.” Yes. Thank you!

    • rjshetler says:

      You’re right. “Oh My God” is an amazing song. It makes you feel really reflective. Slight change of subject, but I like how the mood continues into the next song, “Surprise.” The whole “Good Monsters” album is Just. So. Good.

  4. Tony says:

    Amen to the testimony about Jon Foreman! Another pretty amazing collection of songs is the album Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman. It’s not the most amazing album musically, but some of those songs grab me emotionally every time I listen to them. I’m not even sure why I got the album originally, because I didn’t really listen too it much for a while after I had it. Later though, when I was dealing with what seemed to be two untimely deaths within a week’s time of young people I knew, this album was just what I needed. SCC wrote very honestly about dealing with his grief and pain, and knowing that these were things that he had wrestled with made it feel very real.

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