Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Breath of the Spirit – a poem, litany and song

Breath of the Spirit — a creative process

I’ve just written a poem, that became a catch phrase for a concert series, then a litany and then a song. Here’s a description of the creative process.

Some background

For the past 7 years Wellington Methodist Parish have offered a series of free lunchtime concerts and weekend film showings as part of our Winter@ Wesley festival. Graeme Millar sowed the seeds for W@W when he was our minister for a year. His vision was that we should spread some light and warmth in the gloom and misery of winter darkness. We offer free soup and bread after the lunchtime concerts and have found this to be an effective, gentle way of reaching out to our central city neighbours. The performers also bring their friends along. My wife Heather has managed the concerts from the start and does a fine job of contacting and hosting local musicians and singers at our church.

Each year I have designed a poster for Winter @ Wesley. Last year Rev Motekiai Falkatou suggested that we make wind the theme for the festival. With that in mind I created the spiral logo you see in last year’s poster. 10 days ago I was talking with Motekiai again and he said that this year we could focus on breath and wind. That immediately made me think of the Holy Spirit.

Winter_at_Wesley_2015_A4_22_May_15

The writing process

A couple of days later the phrase “Breath of the Spirit, blowing among us” popped into mind and I grabbed a pen and scrap paper and started to write the poem. Take a look at the three photos of my scrawled notes which show how the words developed.  This took less than half an hour.

breath_of_the_spirit_draft_1A breath_of_the_spirit_draft_1B breath_of_the_spirit_draft_1G

I started with passive phrases “blowing among us” and “reforming and reshaping us.” When I realised this, I changed them to active voice phrases “come blow among us” and “reshape and reform us.” This gives the words more urgency and implies movement.

There were too many instances of the word “us” at the start, so I took some of them out, e.g. “fill us, inspire us with…” became “fill and inspire us…”  Some phrases didn’t work at all, e.g. “connecting to each other” became “link us together to form a new whole.” And the odd word got changed, e.g. “dark corners” became “dark places.”

So this short poem emerged:

Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us
fill and inspire us, with life-giving joy.

Weave your deft patterns, reform and reshape us
link us together to form a new whole.

Roar down our streets – winter gale blowing
sweep clean our dark places – hearts bare and renewed

Uplift and free us, help us to soar
May your energy power us, turn all hearts to you.

Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us
fill and inspire us, with life-giving joy.

You can see a video of me performing the poem on YouTube here:

 

2016 poster takes shape

The next step was to include the words “Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us…” in this year’s poster. You will see that I have fitted the words on a curve below the spiral logo.

A design tip…The best way to create a poster like this is to use multiple layers in Adobe Photoshop. This enables me to size and position each element separately, until a nice visual balance is achieved. You will also see that I have re-used most of the 2015 poster design, with the biggest change being the background colour, which was blue and is now purple.

Winter_at_Wesley_2016_A4_23_May_16

When the design is finished and approved we will print an A1 poster for the front notice board, A4 and A5 posters and maybe A6 leaflets, all from the same A4 PDF file.

Then a litany

Being a worship leader, it soon occurred to me that the poem could be adapted as a responsive litany. It would work as a call to worship or a prayer of approach a bit later in the service. The congregation repeats the refrain and the leader speaks the verses.

Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us
fill and inspire us, with life-giving joy.

Weave your deft patterns, reform and reshape us
link us together to form a new whole.

Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us
fill and inspire us, with life-giving joy.

Roar down our streets – winter gale blowing
sweep clean our dark places – hearts bare and renewed

Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us
fill and inspire us, with life-giving joy

Uplift and free us, help us to soar
May your energy power us, turn all hearts to you.

Breath of the Spirit, come blow among us
fill and inspire us, with life-giving joy. Amen

You can see a video of me performing the litany on YouTube here:

 

 

 Then a song…

 I showed the litany to a poet friend. The next day she sent me a Facebook message saying, “The liturgy you wrote yesterday could also be turned into a hymn with a repeating refrain.”

To which I shrugged my shoulders. Mmm, maybe?

But the next day, when walking home from the bus stop after church, a bit of tune came into my head from the Finale of Jonathan Berkahn’s The Third Day, Easter cantata, which I have sung many times with Festival Singers. It fitted the first few words of the refrain. When I got home I got out the litany and started to sing melodies to the words – the first step in composing.

Having convinced myself that I had some good melody ideas, the next urgent step was to write out the musical notation. Urgent, because if I don’t capture the musical ideas quickly I will forget them. I don’t write the notes by hand onto lined manuscript paper. Instead I use music notation software – Noteworthy Composer (US$49). This lets me enter a few notes and I can then get the software to play them back. Often I enter the wrong pitch or length of a note, so hearing the melody played back lets me check what’s written down against what’s in my head.

The other tool I use at this first draft stage is an electronic keyboard. I have an old Yamaha keyboard which can sit next to my screen and computer keyboard. I use the keyboard to try different patterns of notes for the phrases of the song, and keep fiddling until I’m happy. After I have entered all the melody line into Noteworthy I print out a first draft of the sheet music.

20160527_223542

Then I get out my guitar and experiment fitting different chords to the melody, and write them by hand onto the music. Then I sing through the whole song, ironing out the rough edges until I’m happy. While I have Grade 7 Royal Schools music theory and have sung in good choirs for many years, I can’t “hear” the underlying harmonies and chords when I’m writing a song. Heather and my son Christopher do have that ability, which I greatly admire. I just have to bash my way through.

Now the acid test. “Heather, I’ve got this new song. Would you like to hear it?” To which the response, after listening to it, is, “It’s good, but…” An exercise in humility then follows in which I am given several suggestions for better chords, tweaking the verses so the melody ends on a rising note, allowing ease in the timing so that people singing can catch the breath we are singing about and so on…

I accept some suggestions and tactfully decline others. Another couple of rounds of editing the sheet music follow. And, we are done. The whole creative process took 3 days.

Click this link to download a free PDF of the sheet music: Breath_of_the_Spirit – Melody

Note: The song is set fairly low which will suit basses like me and altos. If you prefer a higher setting, transpose it up a tone or two by using a capo on your guitar.

You can see a video of me performing the song in our Winter@Wesley concert series on YouTube here:

 

Then publish abroad God’s glorious name!

Now I get to share the poem, litany and song with the rest of the world.

I’ll make them and this story available as a blog post on my website. (This is it!) I’ll share that post on Facebook and Twitter to help build my brand.

I’m going to sing the song when I perform the first concert of the Winter@Wesley series on 9 June. I’m going to introduce it to Festival Singers when I lead the closing devotions on Monday night, and to our 10am Singing Group at Wesley.

I’ll also do a post on kiwiconnexion.nz and record videos to post on You Tube performing the poem, litany and song.

I might base my next service at Pukerua Bay on the litany…

People, choirs and churches are free to use these in worship or anywhere else. Please just credit me as the composer/writer.

If you want to record or publish any of them commercially please email me at books@pgpl.co.nz

Brief reflections on the creative process

Interactions with other people were important. Motekiai sparked, “Spirit.” My poet friend liked the words and said, “Song?” Heather helped to polish a rough diamond into something shinier.

It’s good to recycle and re-purpose an idea. A simple devotional poem, can be extended for use in worship. I have also in this case borrowed the first two bars of the tune from Jonathan. I don’t think he will mind.

I wrote the words and the song because I felt inspired to do so. I like making things and the process somehow comes naturally to me.

I’m not the best poet, liturgist, composer, singer or musician in the world. But I have enough skills, and the confidence to use them, to produce worthwhile creative work. It would be silly for me to be held back by waiting until I achieved perfection, good enough will do.

Make it, share it, see what happens.

Philip Garside
28 May 2016

p.s. There is an excellent podcast interview about the creative process here: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2016/05/16/creativity-art-business/