One cannot be a songwriter without a love for the many ways words grab us by the collar of our hearts and spin us around to either escape or face our realities. To this day I maintain that the most difficult songs to write are love songs. Why? Because there are so many ways of describing this archetypal human experience and men and women much greater than we have already done so, much better. Poetry and lyrics play similar roles but are not the same thing. A well designed lyric, well delivered by a sensitive vocalist makes, what would often make poor poetry, into the perfect turn of phrase that says just the right thing in just the right way.
In terms of how words have been affixed to melody over the centuries much has already been said. For my purposes here let me suggest that I have sought to do just that in many different ways for many years. What has resulted are lyrics for songs and texts for hymns, either written or at least arranged by me. It is not uncommon for a given text to find itself caught, sometimes not so comfortably, in hymn tunes not written specifically for it. In this way, it feels like a text has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into a given melody. A good example of this is the well known Christmas song, The First Noel. Throughout the numerous verses, one is struck by the sheer awkwardness of emPHAses placed on wrong syLLAbles.
Nevertheless it lives in our hearts to this day.
What this page does is simply share some of my own awkward attempts at hymn text and lyric writing. If they are in any way meaningful to you, then I will have considered this a worthwhile venture. If not, I pray that eventually I might bring something new that exhibits a freshness of approach, sharpening of skill, maturing of subject mastery, and deepening of authentic humility whereby it might grab you. To wit…
Holy Spirit, We Surrender
Text: Robert Rife, 2002
Music: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1824; melody from Ninth Symphony
1. Holy Spirit, we surrender,
to receive your pow’r and love;
lifting hands which seek for virtue,
voices raised to God above.
Birth in us your holy nature,
give your grace and love we plead.
Evermore let truth enfold us,
filling all desire and need.
2. Holy Spirit, we surrender,
joined as one in unity;
shine in us your heart and purpose,
fit us for eternity.
Let your will be forged within us,
let your vision be our own.
As with Jesus in His mercy,
through our lives God’s love is shown.
3. Holy Spirit, we surrender,
may your heart be satisfied,
with a church of love and beauty,
to a Bridegroom sanctified.
Flowing water of your Spirit,
dwell in us to share good news;
banish grief and sin and hatred,
may our lives be ever new.
4. Let us live for peace and justice,
holding out the word of life;
yours it is to grant forgiveness,
soon to end both war and strife.
Let God’s people all remember,
at the cross we’re reconciled;
so through mercy ending conflict,
at the end, eternal life.
This text was written to commemorate the annual shared service of worship on Pentecost Sunday of St. James Catholic Church and First Baptist Church, McMinnville, Oregon.
I pray this spirit of ecumenism never dies.
Shout Your Hosanna!
Music: Trad. Gaelic Melody (Morning Has Broken); Text: ©2003, Robert Alan Rife
Shout your Hosanna! Sing with elation!
Watch the Messiah humbly ride forth.
Loudly proclaiming, “Love rides victorious
into the city, Jesus is Lord”!
Shout your Hosanna! Jubilant voices!
Palms wave in blessing, enter the King.
Incarnate wonder, sits on a donkey,
let no one silence praises we sing.
Shout your Hosanna! Come, son of David!
Soon to be offered up for us all.
Power and glory, once were Your garment,
soon to be broken, Savior of all.