|I believe in God (Apostle's Creed)||faith, creed||pdf (in C)|
|Surely goodness and mercy||communion|
PUTTING THE APOSTLE'S CREED TO MUSIC
In June 2016 I attended a 3-day workshop in Glasgow called Words for Worship, led by Ron and Debra Rienstra, and largely based on their book Worship words (ISBN 978-0801036163).
Topics included: “Worship as dialogic encounter”, “Four purposes of language in worship” and “Authenticity”.
As part of the programme we were each encouraged to work on a personal project. An off-hand comment by Ron on the first day inspired me to tackle the challenge of putting one of the Creeds to music for congregational use.
That evening I looked up the words of the Apostle’s Creed online, and spent time with my ukulele in my bedroom getting to grips with the words and the challenge of finding a musical structure to undergird them. Taking a break to do the dishes brought fresh ideas and solutions. I think that’s when the melody for “he descended to the dead” came to me.
BYSTANDER TO THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Here are some reflections from my friend and hostess, Linda Walker, who was an interested bystander and sounding board during the song’s evolution:
”Although I enjoy singing, I don't really read music and certainly have never tried to compose a tune - particularly for words that are not in a regular metre, such as the words of the Creed. I was surprised therefore to see how they could actually be arranged to music that was almost verse-like. It was interesting to hear the initial ideas and to see how they developed - and also how I could pick up the tune but then finish a section in a different way which also felt possible.
”It was interesting to discuss how the piece might be sung, whether to add a chorus to allow it to become a cantor/response piece, or whether as a creed it should be allowed to flow from beginning to end without interruption - with a sort of coda at the end that picked up the ‘I believe’ as a fading echo.
”For me the piece would be best suited for a choral group/praise group with the possibility of the congregation joining in the affirmation at the end.”
As a footnote, Linda writes:
”Now whether having a composer in the house had anything to do with this or not, but as I was preparing for worship last week I was struggling to find a congregational hymn on the fruits of the Spirit - having tried several hymn books and some websites. It seemed there was nothing to do but to write it myself, so I chose a tune - Laredo - and set too. It didn't take me too long ...”
I’d made sufficient progress by the second afternoon that I was able to share the song with Ron and Debra during my session with them. They were rather surprised that I had kept the words intact, only inserting a responsive coda (“I believe, I believe”) before the Amen.
In a sense, keeping the words intact made it easier. It harks back to my early days, writing scripture-in-song. I would select the passage for its innate musicality, and then find the melody to match.
Ron and Debra encouraged me to continue, and by the following weekend I was ready to sing the song during a communion service I led in Brussels. Five days later I got to do it again, at the induction service of our new minister in Rotterdam.
In both services I sang the bulk of the song solo, with ukulele accompaniment, with congregational participation in the coda. The coda works well, as I hoped it would.
I've had good feedback, in particular that the song makes these familiar words come alive in a new way. (Mission accomplished!)
Reviewing the melody - for the most part it's built on parallel melodic lines (repetition with variation). I like that I use parallelism (key to psalmic poetry) in this way.
As a consequence of the parallel melodic lines the melody highlights lyrical parallels, like "Mary" rhyming with "buried" (something you pointed out, Debra). The parallels also create relationships between things that are generally not seen as connected (like "He was conceived"/"He suffered", two vital aspects of a glorious whole, or "saints"/"sins").
Pointing out the melodic parallels to people learning the song will help to promote memory retention. It has certainly helped me learn the song. So when I misplaced my notation at the induction service I was able to play it from memory.
The "I believe" parallels help to link the three sections, underscoring the Trinitarian character of the whole, and giving due weight to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Melodic rhythm in general matches natural speech rhythms (a common feature in a lot of my songs). How you'd say is generally how I've scored the words for singing. Pointing that out will also help people learn the song more easily.
I like that the song has space to breath - particularly in the middle ("was crucified, died and was buried"), and between the "I believe" sections.
Not all the bars are 4/4 (to help the words flow naturally there’s a 2/4 and a 3/4 bar at some point). Also the coda is interesting how the second repeat starts 2 beats off.
I've experimented a little with harmonies. The coda has strong possibilities, but so does the song as a whole.
WHERE TO FROM HERE
Ron Rienstra is Associate Professor, Preaching & Worship Arts at the Western Theological Seminary and he has asked to use the song in his seminary. I’m curious what the response will be, whether it will find a home in their regular services, and in people’s lives.
What a privilege it is to take these ancient words and breathe new life into them. I hope you will consider using the song where you are.
Invite a group of people to learn the song. Use my reflections above to help you navigate your way through it. Then sing the song in a service, with the congregation joining in with the coda. In time, if you sing it often enough, the congregation should be able to sing the whole song with confidence. I hope.
irene bom ~ songwriter © 2022