“Sight” (Spotify) is the ninth song of twenty-five in my Atlas: Year Two series. The last of five songs written for the Senses theme in the series - a song for each of the five classical senses, in the order they develop inside the womb: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing & Sight.

The germ of this song began right around the time my daughter, Lily was born, a year and a half ago. Though just a sketch at the time, I’d hold her in one arm, and play this song on the piano with my free hand, working out the progression and melody. (A special memory will always be attached to this song for me.) Though Lily heard other music in those first weeks of her life (like her first music playlist), this song was her first time hearing me play and write around the house. Because of writing with one hand and holding my little girl in the other, the chord progression of this song is very simple. I planned to play this two-handed eventually to add some dimension to it when it came time to finish the song and record it, but later, when I knew this song was "Sight," it just felt right to keep it as simple as it was written- one handed.

As the lyrics came together, I realized that this song wasn't meant to be played on the piano at all. At one point, I thought it might be best suited for a rhodes, or guitar, but after some experimenting, it became clear that these simple notes needed to be sung, not played. I decided, Sight will be my first song written for Choir. I'll dive into that process/idea in a bit, but I'll first explain what this song is about, or at least what it means to me.

The first lyric that surfaced was:

"i see God in symmetry"

Though I had no clue what this song was going to be about, I knew that was the opening line. To me, it means that I recognize God in all beauty. Countless studies link symmetry to our perception of beauty and our attraction to it. Whether it's symmetrical facial features, architecture, composition, or the petals on a flower, we are deeply drawn to symmetry in all areas of life. It's hardwired into us. I believe symmetry and beauty point to something incredible, and bigger than ourselves. Maybe it reminds us of something we can't quite remember. After a long time of figuring it out, this lyric/thought was the foundation for what became an honest song about my asymmetrical faith.

Just as I knew the "i see God in symmetry" lyric was the opening line, I thought it should be symmetrical in the lyrics and be sung as the last line too. (Duh!) But after a while, I decided that a song about the imperfections of my faith, asymmetry was a more powerful approach here. Also, I’ve let the song structure, musically, be ever so slightly asymmetrical as well, to underscore that idea.

I leaned into one of the many definitions of the word "see" in the Dictionary: "to perceive (things) mentally; discern; understand" - I loved the idea of a song for the sense of sight being about blind faith, about perception. So in each of the verses, I began to write small portraits of ways in which I believe I see God in this world.

Often, ahead of lyrics, when I'm still sorting out the vocal melody, I'll sing gibberish. In one of my gibberish sing-alongs, I accidentally mumbled something to the effect of: 

"but you see God in ways i wish i could"

At first, I thought that was a toss-away lyric, another gibberish lyric placeholder.. but it ended up being a vital piece to this song. As I wrote each of those "I see God" verses, I realized there was a sense of longing in each line.. almost like I was telling someone that even though I see pieces of God in everything, maybe even patting myself on the back for the progressive ways in which I think I see God, and admitting that it all still feels like such an inadequate picture. Venting, almost. Like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, and realizing you're short most of the pieces. So that line above made me realize that, though this song is very much about my personal faith (all its missing and fitting pieces alike), it's actually a letter to my daughter, whom I get the sense has a far greater understanding of God than I do. So those countless moments of holding her in one arm, and working out the music of this song in the other, that experience eventually informed the music as well as the lyrics. Once I realized this, I wrote:

"you see the Holy Ghost in broad daylight
and i see the reflection in your eyes."

As we adapt to our world, we build these beautiful understandings and frameworks to make sense of things. We get older, and we hope through experience, to become wiser. But I can't help but imagine that it all comes at the cost of forgetting our origins, which I believe to be the sacred result of a God who loved us into being. Perhaps now, it's a matter of looking for the reflections in the eyes of our children.

I'd be lying if I said the lyrics for this song came pouring out of me. They didn't. A word or two at a time, maybe.. but aside from the opening line, this song took a loooong time to find what I consider to be the right words. Usually it's not contingent on the musical direction, but this time it was. When I finally realized this song was written for choir, and began the process of finding a choir, I was able to make progress in the lyrics. Slowly. I suppose all faith is a struggle at one point or another, so it's fitting to have had to wrestle with this song for a while.

Though I struggled to find the words to this song, finding the choir was a piece of cake! I mentioned to a good friend of mine, Bob Davidson that I wanted to find a choir to record for a new song. He said he'd ask around. That day, I had a meeting with him about something entirely unrelated (my company, Emphasis) and he introduced me to someone in the office. Later that day, the lightbulb went on and he connected the dots that I was looking for a choir and the gal, Mercedes, that I had met earlier that day sang in a Choir in a beautiful old church downtown Chicago. Lo and behold, her husband is the music director for the church and offered his assistance in not only finding singers for the choir, booking time in the cathedral, conducting the choir, but also transcribing my Choir arrangement for the range of singers. So with the help of my new and gifted friend, Christopher Norton, 13 singers gathered in the historic Fourth Presbyterien Church and recorded the choir you hear on this song. It was a highlight of my career for sure, to hear those gorgeous voices singing melodies I wrote, carrying through such beautiful historic architecture.

The choir, the church, all of it, felt like a perfect fit for this particular song, my feeble attempt at a hymn of sorts. There's so much than can be said about religion, but the ways in which people have gathered throughout history to build theses beautiful structures for God, is really something. It was such a surreal and beautiful honor to get to record this song in that cathedral. The only other time I've been inside that church was attending an Andrew Bird performance, who has a tradition of performing there around Christmas each year.

One of my very favorite moments of the song is in the first 20 seconds... if you listen closely, you can hear Chicago's traffic noise in the background- I just loved the idea of this sacred, peaceful and beautiful cathedral, being right in the heart of the city, an incredibly intense, restless and noisey place. Felt right for this song. So keep an ear out for some car horns!

Lastly, here are some fun facts about me and my visual deficiencies:

  • I’m slightly colorblind. It's not extreme, but I have trouble telling the differences between greens/browns and blues/purples, etc. The lyric: "black or white or vivid color, after a while, it all runs together" is a subtle nod to my colorblindness.
  • I don’t know how to read or write sheet music. Self-taught, I write and play music entirely by sight, ear and memory. Ask me to play a particular chord and I will absolutely give you a terrified look! I don't see chord names or keys, I see chord shapes and moods!
  • According to my eye-doctor, one of my eyes is shaped like a “deflated football.” Cool! No, wait.. bummer!

There's a lot more to say about this song, but I don't want to ramble on too much further. Sometimes explaining songs in too much detail can remove some of the song's ability to mean something new and unique to folks that allow it into their worlds. With that, thank you so much for reading and most of all, for listening! Means so much to me! Huge thanks are also in order to Christopher Norton who made it possible for this Choir to be singing on this song, to my friend Dan and my manager, Kim for making the evening of recording run smooth, to my pal Chris Bethea who mixed this song, and of course to the incredible Choir who sang so beautifully! So very grateful. Next up in the Atlas series, a song for each of the 4 basic human emotions: Joy, Sorrow, Fear Anger.

p.s. here's a behind-the-scenes video that my friend dan kindly filmed and edited with his iPhone of the choir for "sight"!



i see God in symmetry.
i see God in our make-believe.
i see God in our grand attempts
to make something beautiful
before life ends.

i see God in irony,
in fragile heirlooms within children’s reach.
i see God in our damaged good,
but you see God in ways i wish i could.
you see God in ways i wish i could

without instruction
without obstruction,
you believe.
without container,
or dualistic framework,
you see the Holy Ghost in broad daylight
and i see the reflection in your eyes.

i see God in healing bones,
in the sanctuary of our homes.
i see God in the wilderness,
in our magnetism to recklessness.

black or white or vivid color,
after a while, it all runs together.
our stained-glass means nothing without light.

i see God in our damaged good,
but you see God in ways i wish i could.
you see God in ways i wish i could

without assurance,
without insurance,
you believe.
without condition
or the promise of heaven,
you see the Holy Ghost in broad daylight.
and i see the reflection in your eyes.
i see the reflection in your eyes.