"Will The Circle Be Unbroken - Full Version" from BioShock Infinite on PC, Playstation 3, XBox 360, Linux, OSX, Playstation 4, XBox One (2013)
Composer: Charles G Gabriel
Words By: Ada R. Habershon
Label: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
I felt that the final MIDI Week Single for 2016 needed to have at least some kind of meaning behind it, rather than just a subjectively awesome high energy track from either Super Meat Boy or Tiny Barbarian DX: The Serpent Lord, So, I went on a search for an appropriate song that I felt would be a good bookend to our MIDI Week Singles of 2016 and the second song iTunes pulled up (on random) was the full version of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" sung by Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) and Troy Baker (Booker Dewitt) from BioShock Infinite and I knew that this would be the song. I forget exactly how this song cropped up in the game, or why Booker and Elizabeth felt that a brief bit of song down-time would be appropriate between areas, but I know that once that little scene happened in-game, that this song would become a favorite.
I used a slightly longer informational titles before the song because the song sung beautifully by Courtnee Draper was originally a spiritual hymn from 1907 and I felt that crediting not only the two actors who voiced Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth, but also the original composer of the music and writer of the words to the song. And while writing today's article, I actually sat down and paid attention to the lyrics as well as the history of the song.
I get that this was originally written as an uplifting hymn, and that the 1935 version by A.P. Carter was arranged to be more of a funeral hymn, but the lyrics used for the BioShock version were pulled from the original song, omitting the frequently sung "Lord" from the '35 Carter version. Since there are so many arrangements and re-imaginings of this song, it is a little hard for me to pin point where the inspiration for this particular arrangement originated. There is the 1961 John Lee Hooker version which is a much more bluesy version which sounds more like it took the melody and parts of the chorus and just reworked the lyrics a bit. The 1966 version by The Staple Singers, which uses a number of the verses from the '35 Carter arrangement, still sounds too upbeat in order to encapsulate the dirge-ness I feel is required for a funeral hymn, but maybe that's the part of my Catholic childhood coming out.
What I love about this specific arrangement is how simple it is. There is just Troy Baker on guitar and Courtnee Draper singing; I know it can be weird for me to like simple versions of songs over larger and more dramatic arrangements, but sometimes the feeling of the song comes across more when there is less. And for me, this song is full of feels. When Courtnee Draper's voice starts to break around 3:03, with the lines "You can picture happy gath'rings/ Round the fireside long ago" it really hits me in the "my closest friends" center, just like Dances with Wolves and Bruce Springsteen's song "No Surrender." And then from the last verse at (3:49) through the end of the song, it sounds like Courtnee is struggling a bit to get the words out and remained composed, and honestly, it is a little hard for me to listen and not do the same.