“One Blood”: 6 Anglican Songwriters Come Together
In April 2018, an online Learning Community of Anglican songwriters and worship pastors gathered in Atlanta for a songwriters’ retreat. Together they wrote “One Blood,” a song for use in Anglican worship services. We asked the retreat host and organizer Marty Reardon, Music Pastor at Trinity Anglican Church, to give us a glimpse behind the scenes.
With Marty Reardon
Q. Marty, how did you first start writing songs?
Marty Reardon: I grew up in a musical family and everyone played an instrument or sang. I also grew up in the church and was surrounded by the ’80s Maranatha culture. My family was always singing worship songs and the occasional sock-hop tune. Songwriting was something I thought you were supposed to do.
The first song I remember writing was based on Romans 11 and Psalm 37. I was 11 years old and sang it into a cassette recorder. As I began to share my songs, people encouraged me, and that kept me on the path of growing as a songwriter. I’m still growing and learning.
Q. How did you decide to form a Learning Community of songwriters that met online?
MR: Bishop Todd [Hunter] said, “Let’s get the musicians and songwriters of the Telos Collective together,” so, I agreed to spearhead a Learning Community and figure out how it pertained to songwriting. Whenever you’re getting people who are passionate about songwriting together, something good comes of it.
We began video conferencing once a month to share about the experiences we were facing at our different churches and with our songwriting. We also tried occasional co-writing sessions together. We would put two people together here, and two people together there. It was fruitful as far as relationship building—not so much for songs coming out of it. There was something missing.
So we said, “Let’s all get together face to face.” Songwriting retreats are a good idea to get outside of yourself, especially if you get together with like-minded people.
Q. Who attended the retreat, and what was it like being together in person?
MR: The members of our group who attended were Patrick Schlabs, Ryan Flanigan, Eddie Kirkland, Wes Crawford, Rob Patterson, and myself.
We had built a foundation relationally, but it was so good to just sit around and just talk in person, face to face. I tried to cast a bit of structure for the two days. You can’t rein creatives in too much, but these guys are all in leadership roles, so it wasn’t chaos.
It was as if we had known each other for a long time. So comfortable. Collegiate, like a brotherhood. There was no bravado. No overly ambitious pride. All these guys have been at it long enough that their identities aren’t wrapped up in what they create.
The only thing I would like to see different in future gatherings is more diversity. We are all White men and so we are missing minority voices and female voices, and I hope to see that change going forward.
Q. What was the songwriting process itself like?
MR: We began by asking one another, “What do we sense the Holy Spirit wanting to do?” “What is God wanting to do within our churches?”
One of our ideas centered on God’s kingdom manifesting and being advanced in the world around us. It may have been Ryan Flanigan who grabbed a collect out of the Book of Common Prayer. Then we broke up into groups. One idea resonated with Patrick and Wes and they went off on one side, and Eddie and Ryan resonated with another concept so they went off together. I was going back and forth between the two groups simply admiring the way they worked together.
When we came back together, we had some really cool ideas that had some feet to them. We ended up with a complete song, “One Blood,” that Eddie and Ryan did 99% of the work on and the rest of us offered tweaks.
Q. How did you know when the song was complete?
MR: I remember reading in Creativity Inc., a leadership book about Pixar, that films are never done. They are released. Everyone had that understanding about this song. You can tweak a song forever but, at some point, you have to release it.
We sang the song a few times. Someone would have a tweak, then we would sing it again. When everyone stopped having ideas they were deeply passionate about, we knew we were done. You can keep adding salt and pepper, but at some point it’s ready to eat.
Q. What did you learn from the other songwriters while you were together?
MR: I learned so much from what everyone else is doing. It was really encouraging to me personally because there was a lot of resource sharing. Trinity [Anglican Church] is not high church, and we don’t sing graduals, so I had a chance to learn about them from the other songwriters. If I said, “Here’s half a song and I don’t know how to finish it,” the group would say, “That song is done because it can be used as a gradual,” or a segue between a reading and a rubric in the liturgy.
I’ve been part of songwriting groups before where we just wanted “Verse, chorus, verse, chorus.” But as Anglicans, we have more flexibility in our songwriting because so many parts of the liturgy simply need transitional responses.
Q. How can we hear your new song?
MR: That’s the question everyone is asking. Getting our songs into people’s hands is the challenge. We don’t want to release a poorly recorded version of it because in a lot of ways, the medium is the message. We just need to figure out how to carve out the resources, not just money but human capital.
“One Blood” is on the docket to be recorded at Trinity’s souped-up home studio this fall—we’ve been singing it quite a bit but no one has had a chance to record it yet. Trinity really tries to record and disseminate original material. One of my job descriptions is to write and record music and find the time to give it the adequate space it needs. But it’s hard to keep up with the demand. Parishioners ask for copies of songs we sing on Sunday, and sometimes I end up sending them demos just so they can listen to it.
As soon as “One Blood” is available, we plan to share it with everyone.
Q. What are your future plans for collaboration with this group of songwriters?
MR: We have been emailing each other, asking what new songs have come out, if there is anything in life we can pray for, and what it should look like to get together again. It is just a matter of finding the space and time to do it. It may be on a case-by-case basis, regionally, or Skype songwriting sessions. We are open to meeting however we can.
But we all know that if we are going to help shape the Anglican landscape, music is going to be a huge part of that. Not just unpacking ideas, but how these ideas are being lived in within our congregations. I look forward to being a part of that.
Marty Reardon is a worship pastor at Trinity Anglican Church in Atlanta, Georgia.