Lyric Writing for the Resurrection by David Pennant

Guest post by ACW member David Pennant on the process of writing lyrics

It was while I was singing tenor in a rehearsal of Stainer's Crucifixion at Southwell in 2014 that the conductor Nick Thorpe said, "the piece ends with the crucifixion, not unnaturally."

Over the next few days, I found myself thinking, someone should write a sequel, called The Resurrection. Then I thought, why not me? Why not have a go? After all, Stainer was my great grandfather. Also, the Crucifixon only lasts fifty minutes, so a thirty-five minute sequel after an interval would make a well-rounded programme.

The format of the work would be the one Stainer used. As he wrote for amateur choirs, I would have to reign in my accustomed polytonality and keep it tonal, otherwise the piece would never get sung.

The first challenge was to create the text. The resurrection appearances in the gospels were clearly all in, but I found other ideas came to mind. For example, the weeping Mary finds herself being contradicted by a Gospel choir enjoying Hebrews 12 - "Oh no Lady! I'm running in the race, there's nothing I can't face 'cos the Father's on my case and the Spirit sets the pace; I'm running!" I went through the alphabet and wrote down all the words ending with ace sounds and created the rhyming text that way. (My footwear is in place, no good tripping on my lace, etc). Isaiah 40:31 made an unscheduled appearance after a while as the runners stumble and fall, but then rise up with wings as eagles.

I wanted to represent every tribe and nation as it were, so the numbers are in different styles. The Emmaus road song celebrates unlearned folk (see Acts 4:13); "We was on the road, goin' home, me and her." Cleopas was originally male in my mind, but when we tried out the work last year in a church near Ely, the solo parts were considered male dominated, so Cleopas became a lady, as some think she may have been.

I created my own text for the fishing-all-night scene. I did not attempt rhyme for that one. Various comments came to mind for the chorus to interject - "It's the Lord - don't be silly! It's the Lord - don't be daft!" etc.

I looked at the prayer book lectionary for the days following Easter for ideas of what else to use, which led to a setting of "You know the message God sent to the people of Israel" from the preaching of Peter in Acts. Again, it seemed best to use the text as it was with no need for rhyme.

Revelation 1:13-18 provided a number full of of awe. "I am the risen one!" The resurrection inspires astonishment as well as joy.

Finally, when setting the great commission (Matthew 28 conclusion), I found myself writing canons for the chorus to sing while Jesus declaims. This was just right, I realised later: Greek Canon means 'rule', and Jesus is here laying down the rule for future generations of followers.

The three hymns for all to join in needed to be well known: I chose We shall overcome, what I call John Brown's Body, and wrote two rhyming stanzas of my own to go with the trumpet tune by Jeremiah Clarke.

Later, I remembered copyright issues, and went over the Bible text carefully to make sure no one translation predominated, so as not to offend. In several numbers I did my own translation from the Greek, to be on the safe side.

The premiere is on April 18th just outside Woking. Chorus members and audience welcome! Please get in touch. Thanks.

More details can be found at the Resurrection Website

Find out more about David and his work at his website


  1. It was really interesting to get a glimpse into another aspect of writing. Or slyly enjoyed this. Fascinating

  2. This sounds amazing! It's wonderful to hear about the family connection - how special. Imagining some of the "extra bits" of the stories not included in the Gospels really makes them come to life much more for me, I suppose because it brings out the character of the people. It sounds wonderful, I hope it goes well and is very popular!


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