The ubiquity of bridges
Over at southerngospelblog, Daniel Mount has been talking bridges, those now omnipresent transitional passages near the end of songs that precede the big finish. Mount provides a very brief history of the bridge, and then concludes:
Many bridges follow a simple formula. You take a lyric the length of a full or half verse, set the melody a third interval above the melody of the verses, and perhaps toss in a bonus chord transition. Then you transpose either to the next key up, or up a fourth or fifth interval if you’re writing for a group.
It’s not that I’m bashing bridges. They can be effective if they’re not over-used. Compare a bridge to your favorite type of sandwich. You enjoy it several times a week, but five or six days of the week, every week, is too much.
How did we get to where bridges replaced the final verse?
And should the final verse make a comeback?
Though I’m paid by the opinion around here, I thought for this one I’d get a professional’s opinion, so I put Mount’s analysis and question to the songwriter Joel Lindsey. He replied:
Well, I definitely think there are more and more bridges being used in SG, which is influenced by the 80’s inspo of Sandi Patty, Larnelle etc., where they would use bridges to build on the emotion and then, using mods, take the emotion (and the melody) into the stratosphere resulting in a quite rapturous feeling and the almost certain standing ovation. I don’t really think that’s a bad thing if used effectively. I do, however, disagree with his “formula” for how bridges are written — some may do this but I can’t think of an example of that off the top of my head. No matter, bridges should, in my opinion, use a whole new rhyme scheme and structure and then go some place totally new, musically.
As other commenters have said already in response to Daniel’s thread, bridges should only be used when you have something new to say or something new to add musically to what has already been there.
Should, but unaccountably are not. Indeed, the trend is, if anything, in the opposite direction: Rather than using bridges as a way to introduce an original musical thought or comment creatively on the hook or theme, most gospel songs today seem to plunk down a derivative bridge near the end of a tune the way those nickel and dime designers on TLC shove cut-rate throw pillows on the end of a couch … because, you know, Trey, that really pulls things together. Uh huh.
Particularly noxious is the popular tendency in southern gospel for some time now to make an old hymn the bridge of a tune. Notwithstanding my immense regard for Wayne Haun’s vastly overlooked and insultingly underappreciated arranging and producing talent, and pain me to say so though it does, Haun is a chief offender here. No doubt, I understand why he and others do this, but like vocal licks and quartet-choreography, anything overused comes off cheesy, and because it’s so overdone, the hymn-bridge cheapens the overall song. Please, oh please, sing me a song about grace (any song about grace) that doesn’t go into either “Amazing Grace” or “Grace Greater Than All My Sin”! Ugh.
In our back and forth about songs that buck this bridge-to-nowhere trend, Lindsey gave up this interesting little sidenote:
Calvary Answers For Me was originally written without a bridge. It was Terry Franklin, in the demo process, who decided to take the last half of the verse, and modulate it into the heavens and make it into a bridge. Brilliant, I thought.
So to sum up: bridges are overused and can easily come off hackneyed, except when they’re not and don’t.Email this Post