I thought I'd take the opportunity to describe my approach to the writing of the Ballads. As explained in more detail in the Foreword of the songbooks, the project originated in a biographical study which considers the possibility that Emily might have sung some of her poems, or have had music in mind. Regardless of the truth of this conjecture, the poems are well-suited to being lyrics to songs, and some of them have such compelling scansion that at least vocal rhythm ideas are strongly suggested.
However, my first actual song written for an Emily Brontë poem was motivated from a different angle: I wanted to match the poem Fall leaves fall with Emily's drawing of a fir tree, since that drawing suggests to me a spirit of the north wind blowing through the landscape and bringing tidings of winter to come. This was a hypothetical art installation, where I could work with an animator to enhance the probable figure which seems to appear in this guise. At first I was only concerned with wind sound effects and declamatory style, with the voice being forced to rise to shouting as the wind rages, then falling back to softer speech as the blasts pass. Finally it occurred to me to try to write a melody for this, and it became the first of the Ballads (and still badly needs revision...).
That was in February 2017, and before the end of that month I had made starts on writing songs for over a dozen of the poems. Although I had no intention to write over 100 songs at that time, my enthusiasm was definitely aroused. Nevertheless, the early efforts were very conservative as I had no songwriting experience and little faith in my abilities. Also, I did not want to mess with the scansion of the poems, because I wanted the words to come across clearly in the singing: if Emily sang them presumably she sang them in that way.
Around April I began to try more daring approaches to the accompaniment, and this led to more interesting compositions, and a more “through-composed” style which also opened poems of a longer length. (I wouldn't have cared to write strophic songs of more than a few stanzas.) By May, the musical basis almost always came from guitar work before worrying much about voice pitches.
One perhaps unusual discipline I enforced on myself was to avoid reviewing the songs I had written. My reasoning was that, since I was new to songwriting, I wanted to avoid falling into ruts from accustomising myself to what I had already composed. This however cuts both ways, since it's easy to write the same song twice without realising I'd already written it, especially after dozens of songs had been written and put away. After all, composers have a personal style which, while it can be flexible, often has recognisable traits which stay within certain parameters. And in the case of this project, repeating myself was even more likely, since I had deliberately constrained myself to composing music which supports the text emotionally as well as ensuring the words come across clearly. I hope that in the end I have managed to write a good variety of songs, without too much similarity among them. Once I had written over a hundred songs, I began reviewing what I'd written, testing the songs and making improvements. In a few cases where I found I'd repeated myself, I wrote new material to break the redundancy, but never at the cost of weakening a song, so this was sometimes painful work.
The most painful moments of this experience often followed the most rapturous. In the throes of inspiration (and inspiration is very important, never mind those who say it's not, though mostly it is getting down to work that leads to it...), I sometimes skipped beats or whole measures in my haste to notate the music as it was coming out. That is, the music became displaced in the text without my realising it. Then I was stuck with trying to insert material afterward to bridge the gap, trying not to botch what seemed like a unique gift. This happened a few times, once most devastatingly in “No coward soul”, probably Brontë’s deservedly best-known poem. I leave it to you to guess which two beats were added after the heat of inspiration had passed! ;)
My goal has been to write songs Emily would approve of, to honour her poems, and to open her poetry to new readers who might not otherwise have experienced it. I have considerably enriched my appreciation of the poems with the songs, and I hope at least some people who hear the songs will feel the same.
The fact that this is the 200th anniversary of Emily's birth was more of a happy coincidence than it was strategic. Happy anniversary Emily, we love you very much!