|"Spirit of Life" for Zither|
Captivated by the melody, John Snyder set out to adapt the hymn, “Spirit of Life,” to play on his Zither. He describes his transcription process, and is making his results available in PDF and Finale / Notepad versions.
“Spirit of Life,” by Carolyn McDade, has a captivating melody, elegant words and harmony set in a minor key. I liked it so much, I had to try it on the zither. I found the keyboard arrangement in the Unitarian-Universalist (UU) hymnal did not flow into zither strings, at least not though my fingers. So I worked on a zither accompaniment for the melody line, searching for something simple that I could play. The introduction starts at measure 21 (on the last line). There was one last hurdle - the song is short, with only a single verse, but the music is so moving that it begs for repeats. The melody sings clearly when played up an octave, which works well for the second time through. In ignorance, not knowing Carolyn McDade disapproval of others adding verses, I took the liberty of writing a couple of interpretative verses - so there would be a reason to play the song three times.
To me, it seems like “Spirit of Life” could be called the theme song for our Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills in Somerville, New Jersey, USA. Yet McDade did not write “Spirit of Life” as a hymn. She thinks of it “as a living prayer, not a hymn.” It quickly spread in the 1980s among groups of women activists with which she worked, including the Unitarian-Universalist Association and the UU Community Church of Boston. Almost unknown to her, her song began spreading from hand to hand from one UU church to another, capturing the hearts of those who sang it. By the 1990s, it had become so well loved, that it moved Rev. Mark Belletini, who chaired the UU Association hymnbook commission, to remark “… we thought, if we don’t put ‘Spirit of Life’ in the book, we’ll all be killed.” Although McDade was reluctant, saying “I don’t feel like a hymn writer,” compromise was reached and her song became Hymn 123 under the heading “Love and Compassion.”
While the two new introductory verses will likely fade away, yielding to McDade’s wishes, hopefully the zither arrangement will help spread the song and original lyrics to new audiences. After all, it’s not really a hymn, it’s a prayer - a prayer that we can move ourselves and help others. For me, it’s also a prayer that I can move my fingers to the right zither string at the right time … and I don’t mind humming a couple of verses while I play.
For zither players, this arrangement of “Spirit of Life” can be a pleasant way to practice some minor cords, exercise the little finger of the right hand, and play up in the middle of the fret board - all at a leisurely pace.
Spirit of Life
A transcription for Zither by Dr. John J. Snyder
Finale 2007 / NotePad 2007 format (.mus) (right-click on the link, then choose Save Target As ...)