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Case Study: The making of “The World is in Your Hands (9/11 Song)

How the Song Began

It began with a few words that came together in my mind while I was driving home from work. The words that started floating around were “waves”, “New Orleans”, “storms on my street”. It was a great metaphor. In an instant homes were swept away by Hurricane Katrina. People waking up and their homes are no more. I thought about what goes on behind the closed doors in my neighborhood. One day a child might wake up to find his family, as he knew it, no more.

Right away I knew I had an idea for a song. These ideas developed into the lines:

Waves rolled over New Orleans
And storms are blowing through homes on my street
Kids are waking up and there’s no home

From this small seed of a song, I still had a long way to go. I had to wrap it around a solid idea. In those same early moments I made the connection between New Orleans, Katrina, and the attacks on September 11th. Knowing that the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was coming, I started wondering if I could pull off writing a whole song quick enough to release it while it was a very relevant topic. Not only that, but 9/11 was a Sunday and if I really worked hard, I could be ready to sing it in our Sunday services.

So I got to work. I was thinking about the lyrics in my spare time, while driving, working out different ideas, different phrases, and the song began to take shape like a lump of clay in the early stages of a sculpture. Usually in the early stages of a song there is a lot of brainstorming. I had many ideas and many directions the song could take.

About The Music

During the time I was throwing words and phrases around, I was also throwing chords and melodies around. Typically, I take short breaks during the work day and pick up my guitar. During these short stints, I was able to work out some basic chordal structures, tempo, feel, and format of the song.

Since I already had a lot of lyrical ideas, I tried to sing some of the phrases in ways that felt natural and catchy. I messed around with various melodies, rhythms and chords to see if anything started sounding right. Sometimes I would tweak the lyrics to fit a specific rhythm or sometimes tweak the melody to fit with a certain chord progression. One of the first things that came together was the first 3 lines. G to Am, F to C. Repeat. The basic melody of the verses came pretty easily. The chorus, on the other hand, gave me some trouble.

One of the early phrases that came together that I knew had to be part of the chorus was “Planes crash and buildings fall”… and then something about Jesus being the only one that stands through it all. I tried all different types of phrases and melodies but didn’t make much progress at first. I knew the chorus had to be a bit bigger, higher, and more emotional than the verses. Plus, the chorus usually carries the main idea of the song. Much of what I came up with felt like too much. Too many words. Too complex. Not contrasting enough to the verses and yet saying what I want to say. I kept at it and eventually I was able to get it down to a simple and concise chorus that said everything I wanted without any extraneous words.

Musically, one of my favorite parts of the song are the ends of the later choruses when the bass notes deviate from the roots of the chords. It goes from regular Cs, Fs and Gs to F/As, G/Cs, C/Es. There’s something about this chording that undergirded the message of hope.

You may also catch the nod to the “Star Spangled Banner” in the bridge. That was actually a way for me to creatively say “We don’t need to put our hope in America, America needs Jesus”

The Song’s Message

After much of the details started coming into the focus, I was able to land on a single idea that this song was to deliver. This song is about the uncertainty of the world and finding hope in Jesus and Jesus alone. I was thinking back to the unity that arose in America from 9/11. Some of that unity seemed to be due to a common enemy and there was a lot of righteous anger in the air. Some of the unity was in the pride of our resolve. But I got to thinking. Is there hope in mere unity? What if we are all united but what we are all standing on suddenly crumbled beneath us? What then? We would find out that what we had placed our hope in was not reliable.

Final Tweaks to the Lyrics

I finally reached a point where the song had all the necessary components to be finished: Single focus/message, strong supporting lyrics, chords and melodies supporting the emotion of the song organized in a structure that gave appealing shape to the song. I had all this, though I wasn’t completely satisfied with all the lyrics. However, due to my deadline, I left it as it was, whipped up some drums, bass and vocal parts to send off the the Worship Band as a rehearsal track. There was something really nagging about the 2nd verse. Here are the original lyrics that gave me trouble:

Do we ignore the silent cries?
Do we rejoice when our enemy dies?
Do we assume who God is fighting for?

Hmmm. Some really interesting lyrics. I had in mind some of the controversy around Osama Bin Laden’s death and the various responses of Christians. Thought provoking, perhaps. But I was faced with a choice. After some though, it finally hit me why these lyrics weren’t working. They were diverging from the focus of the song. I thought they were good for the song based soley on the quality of the lyrics. But I figured out they weren’t the right lyrics for this song. They weren’t supporting the main idea laid out in the chorus. So I knew I had to loose them, as much as I liked them, and replace them with lyrics more aligned with the focus of the song. The final lyrics became:

In a single day your world can fall
In a single day you can loose it all
And you never know until tomorrow comes

Final Thoughts

This song, just like the baby dedication song I wrote, came together quickly due to a deadline. Perhaps it could have been improved with more time and thought but sometimes it’s good to get it finished and call it complete.  The cool things about songs is that once they are born, they exist forever.  That can be good and bad, I know.  But it’s like one of your children.  It is your creation and you love it for that.

Here is the song performed live that was posted on my youtube channel.


About Ben Chilcote

Ben Chilcote is a husband, dad, full-time minister and online singer/songwriter. He is a lifelong student of music and the founder of WriteChristianSongs.com.