As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. Just as we did for the songs on our first CD 13, we’ll post the story behind each song on our new CD Again here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 11 weeks.
Here is the story behind Sacrificial Lambs as related by Gary McGraw.
The song “Sacrificial Lambs”
Sacrifical Lambs is the first song I have ever written. Though I have recorded lots of original music, written plenty of musical hooks, and re-arranged many songs in collaboration, before Sacrificial Lambs I had never created a song of my own from scratch.
Sacrificial Lambs is one of two songs on Again driven by the shock of the Newtown massacre. After a Florida-art-trip–related hiatus, we came together for musica one evening and both Clark and I had new songs to share. This is the one I brought.
I remember sitting in my car in downtown Berryville when the idea struck: why is it that Abraham’s son Isaac was spared sacrifice (at the last minute no less) while the 26 children shot to death in Newtown were not? That’s the simple but very hard question behind the lyrics.
The first verse is set on a mountain top in the Old Testament and, as the story goes, shows the merciful god interposing on Isaac’s sacrifice at the last second. The next verse is about gun-related terror in a modern kindergarten classroom just before Christmas. Then comes the hard question asked directly of a god who failed to intervene and left us in a situation with “Walmart guns and rent-a-cops in every school.”
Musically, the main hook of the song is lifted directly from the opening theme of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto—a simple melody that has haunted me since I was very young. I sometimes wish I could play the piano just so I could play that concerto. My grandfather was a trained concert pianist who debuted with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall when he was 12. Then he broke his wrists playing football and lost too much dexterity to continue. I am told that when I was very young he would play the third on our upright to impress our teenage babysitters. That must be why the haunting melody of the theme is so deep inside me.
Once I had the lyrics and the theme cobbled together, Allen helped me properly assemble everything and find the right drive. It’s a privilege to learn from a master.
Every time we’ve performed this song it makes someone in the audience cry. Maybe it’s a good thing that it took me 47 years to write my first song.