Songwriters gather to craft a new Alleluia

Songwriters gather to craft a new Alleluia
(Left) Participants trying out their compositions (Right) Participants of TFWS 2023 songwriting retreat

Budding songwriters from Methodist and non-Methodist churches across Singapore congregated in Changi Cove Hotel for a songwriting retreat, called “The Faith We Sing” (TFWS), on 22 and 23 April 2023. The 2-day event, organised by the Methodist School of Music (MSM), was centred on the theme of families.

TFWS is a platform for local Christian songwriters to share their compositions with others in the faith community. Since 2020, MSM has been inviting local Christian songwriters to submit compositions to be featured at each TFWS event. In 2022, the first songwriting workshop was organised.

Before getting into the actual craft of songwriting, participants shared about their various experiences. For instance, some started writing songs inspired by journal entries, while others were commissioned by their church to compose a whole musical! But beyond that, participants were united in their belief that songwriting is a journey requiring humility because of the need to expose their own vulnerabilities. One participant summed songwriting up beautifully as “something small and broken which the Lord transforms into something immensely powerful”.

Dr Judith Laoyan-Mosomos, Director for Worship & Church Music of MSM, shared a brief history of congregational singing, discussing how the latest explosion of hymn-writing began in America in the 1960s amidst the backdrop of the hippie movement and civil rights protests before spreading to various places like Canada and Scotland. She proceeded to share the role of music in supporting the liturgy, and why global songs should be sung (illustrating how folktunes have been used for worship in Asia and Africa), before challenging participants to compose songs that the family can sing, and the church is in want of.


“We need to sing and celebrate God’s idea of family, lament the brokenness in families, restore the generational divide, and renew our commitment to Christ’s body here on earth. Unfortunately, we lack resources for these themes. It is time we write about them,” Dr Laoyan-Mosomos said. Participants were given two prompts for their songwriting challenge: Firstly, what does Scripture teach about family that is critical but is lacking in today’s church? Secondly, how does society understand and experience family and what kind of challenge does that pose for Christians?

In response to the first question, some shared how fathers needed to step up as the spiritual heads of their households and expressed a desire to see more families serving together in church. For the second question, everyone’s attention was drawn to the fact that the Church needed to counter the renewed challenges to the traditional notion and structure of families, and redefine family support to include spiritual support for one another. Yet, despite all the familial mess and worldly trouble Christians may face, Cheryl Tan from Hakka Methodist Church reminded all present to love their neighbours.

With these thoughts in mind, the songwriters embarked on writing new songs. By the following day, most of the participants were ready with a draft of their songs. It was heartening to see how participants who did not know each other prior to the retreat, came together to help each other in the songwriting process—playing motifs on the piano/guitar, suggesting an alternative chord progression, or new lyrics to be set to the melody. As each songwriter shared about the inspiration behind their song, it was abundantly clear that God had placed a rhema1 word in their hearts.

Yvonne Ong, from Bukit Panjang Methodist Church, shared how she had scoured her journal for ideas. She eventually settled on writing about the challenges a Christian family would face—how the inward-looking, worldly mindsets often tempt believers to stray. In it, she penned a declaration for families to proclaim so that they may, through worship, commit themselves to serve the Lord, echoing Joshua 24:15. She shared with participants how Christians who live in a contrarian world (1 John 2:15; Colossians 3:2) should seek to remove the idols in their lives, i.e. things which take priority over God. One interesting feature of her song is the incorporation of a 3-note motif as well as a trisagion2—a form of corporate declaration—and yet simultaneously a personal reminder of the Lord’s holiness.

Another participant, Dr Denis Cheong from Cairnhill Methodist Church, shared how his song was inspired by an 81-year-old retired pastor from New Zealand, whom various church leaders across New Zealand looked upon as a father figure. God used this example to draw Dr Cheong’s attention to the struggles of fathers: from carrying out traditional roles such as providing for the family and raising the next generation to serve the Lord, to the temptation to chase worldly things like career advancements or vices. Dr Cheong noted that the role of fathers had often been relegated to mothers, resulting in fathers neglecting to be deliberate spiritual leaders of the household and eventually shirking their God-given responsibilities. Dr Cheong also meditated on Deuteronomy 11:19, in which Moses exhorts the Israelites to teach God’s commandments to their children, “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” It was his hope that his song could not only edify the church, but also inspire and challenge fathers to discharge their God- given duties.

The retreat ended with a word of prayer, before all the participants returned home. As their songs are further refined before introduction to their local congregations, may God use them as his instrument for the extension of his kingdom in redeeming souls for Christ.

1 Rhema, from the Greek, means the spoken Word of God. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/what-is-the-rhema-word.html

2 Trisagion meaning ‘thrice holy’ — https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-holy-holy-holy-lord-god-almighty

Save the date for The Faith We Sing – Sing an Alleluia: A Retreat for Families

For more information visit https://msmusic.edu.sg/events/the-faith-we-sing/

Zachary Yong worships at Wesley Methodist Church. He is part of the Kopi kakis comics team and loves his coffee with milk and no sugar. / Photos courtesy of Kegan Ang