Brighter Than Today Versions

December 20th, 2023
music, solstice
One of a small number of consistent elements in the many secular solstices descending from on Ray Arnold's is singing his song Brighter Than Today, usually to begin the transition from darkness back to light, and I think it serves this role well.

Here's what we sounded like in 2022:

(mp3)

And in 2019:

(mp3)

These aren't fancy recordings or professional singers, just a room full of effective altruists, rationalists, and similar-minded folks singing together, but I think they're enough to show the shape of the song and how it goes in this setting.

One quirk of the Boston events is that we've continued doing the 2013 version while other events have standardized on a simpler one. Here's a recent example of this, from the 2022 Bay Area gathering:

(youtube, @1hr14m)

Ignoring the serious differences in production values, the differences between the versions run from the sixth line until the start of the first chorus:

2013 Simpler
Until she saw that spark Till she saw the sudden spark
Of light, and flame. Of light, and golden flame.
 
She showed the others, but they told her
She was not fit to control
The primal forces that the gods
Had cloaked in mystery
 
And though But she would not be satisfied,
The others cried out heresy And though she trembled, she defied them
She defied them, proud Took her torch and raised it high
And set afire history Set afire history.

In addition to the different lyrics and the simpler one having another stanza, the melody is different. The latter uses a single verse melody for all four stanzas while the 2013 version uses that melody for the first two and then has different ('bridge') melody for the last stanza before the chorus.

I like the 2013 version's inclusion of the bridge a lot: I think it makes the song much more musically interesting, fits better emotionally, and four stanzas of the verse melody is to repetitive.

Which is a bit of a funny thing for me to be saying, since in general I think Solstice events err in the direction of throwing too much new melodic information at people who are trying to sing along. People vary a lot in how much they can pick up on the fly in a group singing context, and we tend to have a lot of new songs every year. But this is a song that we do every year, and even the bridge melody is slow and predictable, so I don't think that's an issue for this specific song.

Is this enough to justify using this variation when everwhere else [EDIT: except Seattle] has standardized on something else? I lean towards yes: small amounts of regional variation are neutral to positive. I like that NYC mostly does the same songs each year, that the Bay has a choir, and that Boston is informal and small (cozy!). And I like that we have a, very slightly different, Boston version of the central song.

EDIT: it turns out what I've called the "simpler" version also has slightly different lyrics in the chorus each time through (Thanks Taymon!). I don't have strong feelings on whether to do that, and this isn't a difference I'm trying to get into here.

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