Kupu Whakapono: Singing our confession of faith

A few weeks ago the minister of the church where I attend gave me a call. He’d heard that I had written a song based on ‘Kupu Whakapono’, the new confession of faith that the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand adopted in 2010. I confessed I had, but that I did not recommend it. The reason I said, was that at that stage I didn’t really have a clue how to write songs for congregational singing. Don’t get me wrong, I could write songs, and the piece I wrote is a perfectly adequate folky/pop song based on a pretty wordy confession. You can hear it here if you must. At this stage in my songwriting development, I was writing songs and hoping they came out congregationally singable, because I didn’t really understand what made them work. It was a ‘hit and hope’ approach to worship music.

I sent the link to my minister along with the advice that he would find it of little use to help people start to sing our confession. Since the time of its writing, and perhaps only in the last handful of years, I have begun to grasp the art of congregational songwriting. Rhythms need to be intuitive and interesting. Melodies need to be in the range of the ordinary human (and of both men and women singing together), creative and still simple (without being simplistic). Lyrics need to fit neatly into the melody and have depth of meaning, but not so much depth that further commentary is required. Choruses need to gather up the whole song and give people a memorable phrase and melodic lift by which the whole song can be brought to mind. Its a truly tricky thing!

Then my father in law, a retired minister gave me a call. He’d heard about my confession regarding my first attempt. He encouraged me to have another go. So I did. I realised quickly that I couldn’t fit the whole confession into a song, and so that I had better work on a song that could be said to be ‘based on’ or ‘inspired by’ Kupu Whakapono, since it would not be word for word identical. This gave me some creative space to work within. I also realised that the 5 articles of the confession (one for each person of the Trinity, one for the church and then one for our future hope) needed to become 4 plus a refrain if people were going to sing the whole thing and enjoy it. One becomes aware of the practical compromises you have to make if you want to give the church a song that it will actually use. No good writing the perfect song if it stays stuck in a music folder its whole life! So I started with the confession itself and mined it for lines that had rhythm and could become lyrical compass points to based the song around. Lines like, ‘We believe in and belong to the true and living God’, and ‘Love before all loves’ were early stand outs.

So here’s what I wrote. Forgive the simple accompaniment, believe me, the guy playing it was doing his best! 😉

And here are the lyrics (WeBelieveKupuWhakaponoSong), and the leadsheet (We Believe (Kupu Whakapono) LS) if you want to use the song. This Sunday is Trinity Sunday after all, so it might be useful. If you’re interested, you can read the original confession, upon which this song is based and inspired by, here.

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