This song was composed as a commission for Lady Angela Mori, to honor her daughter Thora (see Notes). It speaks to the complex joys of raising a neurodivergent child, of which I have some experience, and was first performed at Pennsic 47.
© 2018 words & music by Eric Schrager
Look who’s up early! Good morning my love,
Yes, come give me an embrace.
But please take care for my ribs and my lungs,
They’ll need to fit back in place.
Let us walk the village—when some of them stare,
I see they don’t understand.
For your path’s your own—it may wind through the air,
You find adventures that nobody planned…
Shine, child! You are amazing,
Each day you fill me with joy and with pride,
You’re divine, child, brilliant and blazing,
Lighting the world as my hope and my guide.
Fathomless in your design,
Whether or not you align…
Still, I see what is mine.
You leave spots in my eyes as you shine.
Some things you learn at a dizzying pace,
Others will bring you to tears.
Your mind is leaping like it’s in a race,
With no concern for your years.
You will grab a notion and never let go—
Do even you understand?
Oh, I try to shield you, but I’ve come to know,
Sometimes you don’t want a steadying hand… (CH)
Forging connections was hard for so long,
I watched you struggle alone.
Maybe I helped, love, but you are so strong,
You found a way on you own.
There’s a tribe that’s hidden, and you are a part,
More than I might understand.
Each one so unique, but your generous heart
Brings them together and helps them expand… (CH)
When Ellesbeth Donofrey launched an online auction as a fundraiser for Ivan and Mathilde’s then-upcoming reign in the fall of 2017, she invited the artisans of the East Kingdom to offer up items or services for people to bid on. Her suggestions of possible donations that had been offered in similar online auctions elsewhere included commissions for works of art, including music. I was immediately intrigued by idea–at least partly out of curiosity and vanity (would people really bid for the right to a song of mine?), but also in the interest of creative challenge (writing for a particular goal, such as a future event or competition, or a patron request, is a valuable spur to my muse, and focusing me on an objective and usually a deadline).
I posted an offer:
[A] commission for an original song…can be written in modern SCA folk style, in the style of an Elizabethan “air” for voice and lute, or as a contrafact to a period tune. The style and the subject matter are up to the commissioner….
The song will be performed…at a time and place negotiated by the winner of this item. (Note: I am in the East Kingdom. With the exception of Pennsic, my event attendance is generally limited to the East.)
The piece will be published on Drake’s website after it has been performed, or at the earliest point that it doesn’t conflict with the intention of the commissioner…I reserve copyright and recording rights to the work, but if it is recorded, the commissioner will receive a digital recording of the piece free of additional cost.
I was gratified, I’ll admit, that the bidding was lively, and there were clearly several parties interested in the item. Lady Angela prevailed, making it clear she would not be outbid for this commission. When she explained to me that she wanted to honor Thora (a few years younger but very similar to my son Spencer) as the jewel of her heart, I told her she had come to the right bard. Nothing could please me more than to compose a song about the complex joys of raising a twice-exceptional, neurodivergent child.
Angela assured me, to my relief, that I could take all the time I needed to write the piece, since she knew art could not be rushed. I had the opportunity to meet her and Thora at Mudthaw a few months later, when my schedule was less crowded, and gathered some information about Thora. In the end, they were both open to my intention that the song should be clearly about Thora, but also universal enough that it might speak to other parents and children with similar experiences, and when I needed to add details, I drew on our life with Spencer.
The next opportunity to see Angela and Thora at an event to deliver the finished song would be Pennsic, which worked nicely for me, since I love having new material to debut there (and until I could get to their camp after they arrived for War Week, I would still have “Plant Your Feet” to share at circles). Having a definite deadline was helpful, as I found writing something so very close to home, and getting the emotion and tone just right, quite challenging. My wife Jess played the crucial role of first critic, letting me know that my first attempt didn’t meet the mark (as I really had known), but some of the lyrics from the first version served as the seed for the next one.
I consulted with my friend Juliana Bird (aka Bird the Bard) as well, to help me refine the lyrics and the chords. Bird is neurodivergent, like Thora, Spencer, and myself, and closer to the children in age. Her perspectives were invaluable (as was her encouragement to just go whole hog and make the chords as painstakingly specific and colorful as I felt the song needed).
Ultimately, when I had a completed draft that met my wife’s and son’s approval, I sent my clients a rough recording and the lyrics. They expressed delight with the result, and pride that this song would always be Thora’s.
At Pennsic, Bird kindly (and bravely) agreed to accompany me to their camp, and accompany me on the song. We had a small adventure getting there (a story for another day), but I honored the terms of the commission and performed it for Angela and Thora’s camp before I took it out of quarantine and performed it publicly at Pennsic (I am a stickler for that).
A final note: Once I started performing “Shine, Child” for circles and concerts, I was a little surprised at how deeply the song often hits me as I’m singing it, because I picture the moments with Spencer that inform certain lines. It means that I sometimes drop into emotion during parts of the song, and it seeps into my voice and opens a vulnerable place in me. I’m not sorry for it, and it creates a connection with audiences that none of us were expecting. The opportunity to create this work has taken me in a wonderful new direction as an artist and as a person. I cannot fully express my gratitude to my family, to Bird, but especially to Angela and Thora, for co-creating this with me.