The Isolees, Third Virtual Ensemble Listen
"Bridge over troubled water"
Bridge over troubled water
“I'll take your part when darkness comes
And pain is all around.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.”
Bridge over troubled water was composed in 1969 by Paul Simon and released in January 1970 by the New York City-based folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel. Art Garfunkel’s lofty vocal solo has made this song his signature recording. For the last five decades, the song has been one of the most popular comforts for people in the midst of trial. According to Simon, the refrain about a bridge over troubled water was inspired by a line from Kentucky coal miner and gospel singer Claude Jeter. The first two verses identify with the downcast: weary, teary, small, friendless, down and out, on the street. The last verse of encouragement, “Sail On, Silver Girl,” is about Simon’s wife. It was added at Garfunkel’s suggestion during studio production.
Rolling Stone magazine ranks Bridge Over Troubled Water as #48 on their list of “the 500 greatest songs of all time.” It is Simon and Garfunkel’s highest-ranking song on the list and is the title song of the duo’s final studio album together. At about 4.5 minutes in length, it was only the second song ever passing the 3-minute limit to play big on pop radio, famous for catering to short attention spans, where it stayed at the top of the charts for 6 weeks. The song and the album won several 1971 Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year, Respectively.
Bridge over troubled water has been covered by more than 50 professional artists, including Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson Five, Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, The Supremes, and Willie Nelson. A Cantonese version became very popular in Hong Kong following the Eastern China flood of 1991. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has refocused global interest in it.
On its 50th anniversary, Bridge over troubled water was being contemplated by the KAUST Office of the Arts for the KAUST Ensembles Concert originally scheduled for the Building 20 main stage on 16 March 2020. Chorus parts were ordered before the concert was postponed to Fall 2020 because of the need for social distancing. Like musicians everywhere, KAUST musicians are now bridging social distancing through the world-wide web.
The piano arrangement used in the KAUST recording is Roger Emerson’s, which very closely follows gospel keyboard artist Larry Knechtel’s 1970 studio track. For classical pianist David Keyes, who received the gift of this song as a teenager, Bridge was a revelation for how the piano can be played and how the instrument can be central to a pop hit. Drummer James Tulley calls this poignant song one of the favorites of his wider family in Scotland. Singer Mariyam Mahmud jumped at the chance to add her cover to this beloved number, which almost seems to have been lying in wait for decades for this young artist’s sensitive and highly inflected interpretation. String players Emma Nason and Wendy Keyes eagerly added their touch with Wendy’s homespun arrangement, a new activity in her retirement. Lacking a real-life bass guitar for this production, David added a separate bass track on synthesizer. The master behind the virtual production is Peter Diglin, TKS music teacher, who set up the Soundtrap® collaboration space for the remote ensemble members, and did the final mixing with TKS music teacher colleague Scott Ferarre.
Bridge over troubled water is the third virtual ensemble performance in a series that was begun with In the wee small hours of the morning by the KAUST Isolees, which was delivered on 25 March, and Let it be by Suite Sixteen, which was delivered on 31 March.
The musicians hope that listeners are inspired to become the “bridge over troubled water” to others in their families and community during civilization’s coronavirus pause, in which many people are separated from loved ones and “normalcy” and feeling vulnerable – and are more amenable and needful than at most times to receive an encouraging word and concrete help.
In addition to its seemingly ever relevant contemporary message, on its 50th anniversary, Bridge over troubled water serves as tribute to the dynamic singing duo that created it, and a point of identification with New York City, the international cosmopolis surrounded by “troubled waters” at this time of pandemic.
David Keyes, 23 April 2020