"I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the mind also," wrote Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 14:15). The context of his famous antithesis actually deals with the spiritual gift of "speaking in tongues": Paul encourages the new Christians in Corinth to seek the gift of the spirit in their worship, but also to balance praying "with the spirit" with an intelligible interpretation ("with the mind") so that the prayer makes sense to all. Church musicians throughout the ages have been delighted that Paul writes in direct parallel about music. Wworship music can be an experience of the spirit, purely of the heart, but it should also be properly balanced with an experience of the mind and of singing with training and intelligence. When the Royal School of Church Music in England asked John Rutter to write them a simple anthem for their "anniversary appeal" (fund-raiser), Rutter chose this very verse for his text. It seems quite appropriate that he chose a text mingling the heart and mind of worship music for that institution, though the piece remains accessible to church choirs everywhere.
Rutter's simple musical form for I will sing with the spirit, a rounded ABA', inherently embodies Paul's antithesis. For the first line of text, "singing with the spirit," Rutter chooses a melody filled with upward leaps, sung in a joyous cantabile by the women's voices and then by the men's and women's together. He crowns the verse with a series of interpolated ''alleluia" interjections. The accompaniment for the second verse, singing with "understanding also," is a bit more sparse and technical in its harmonies; the voices sing a melody that is more rhythmically complex in somewhat shorter phrases, in a quasi-polyphonic idiom: sopranos, altos, and then men's voices approximating a canon. But the best singing, both St. Paul and Rutter conclude, involves both the spirit and the mind. The piece concludes with a recapitulation of the "spirit" melody, this time in full learned counterpoint (a simple yet effective soprano countermelody above all) and richer harmonies in all voices. Rutter's musical point (as with Paul's theological one) is simply stated but effective: neither the emotional heart nor the intellectual mind can stand independent within a Christian life.