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Friday, January 25, 2013

Ten Songs That Made a Difference (to me) - 1-5


It's a good exercise to remember whence one has come. In 2006, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians ran a survey among its members called "Songs that Made a Difference." This and similar surveys show what a great breadth of liturgical song has touched the hearts of RC worshippers in the USA, and well it should be. Descendants of immigrants, we, this glorious rainbow of ethnicities that make up the Church in the United States, ought to cling to a wide range of music, for that is our birthright. From chant, to polyphony, to hymnody, to folk songs of various nations, a lot of different music has, over the years, revealed the unseen God to us, and allowed us to sing our praise in a manner beyond mere words. 
As I thought about this, I thought of a number of songs that influence who I am, how I perceive worship music, and how I pray. The songs on the NPM list were good ones, of course, but most of them were, in a sense, the second generation of the "new music," at least as they came to me, not being from St. Louis or Minneapolis. There are too many to list at once, so I've tried to limit myself to ten liturgical songs from the first 20 years of the reform, from 1965-1985. Obviously, a lot of other music has influenced me and all of us as well, and maybe I'll get around to that some day too. But you want some "roots" music of cooneytoons? ☺ Here you go! (In no particular order...) 

I Am the Bread of Life, by S. Suzanne Toolan, SM (GIA, © 1966). I can remember where I was when I first heard this song. I was a high school seminarian, and my school or choir was attending a solemn funeral at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California. It might have been for Cardinal McIntyre, it might have been for a deceased Vincentian, I don't recall that part. What I do recall is the joy and amazement I felt, the revelation, of that refrain, sequencing higher and higher, until the glorious resolution on the words, "and I will raise (him) up on the last day." One of the gems of our songbook today! I published an arrangement of this song in our 1998 collection, This Very Morning.

Song of the Three Young Men by Richard Proulx, © 1973) Again, I recall the first time I heard this song, at the ordination of some friends of mine in Lemont, Illinois, at DeAndreis Theologate. The rhythmic quasi-chant, the haunting organ accompaniment, the use of tambourine and drum with organ, the repeated refrain "praised and exalted above all forever" from the book of Daniel, all of these are mixed forever with the smell of incense and the joy of newly ordained friends. Proulx's music was introduced to me through the Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship. He was one of the great lights of US Church music, and until his death in 2010 was one of its major influences and practitioners. It’s still available today from GIA, under the title of “Song of the Three Children.” 

We Come to Join in Your Banquet of Love by Tom Parker (WLP, © 1968) I've always wanted to meet Tom Parker, to thank him for his enthusiastic and genuinely different music written for World Library's youth hymnal back in the 60s and early 70s. Another fine piece that came from that collection of music was a communion by Robert Schaffer that I used for many years entitled "In Love We Gather." Parker's music was easy to sing and play, and the lyrics so unusual. The intensely passionate praise of God in Christ in this song still stuns me, and the several verses were arranged for duet singing, which was also unusual in the contemporary idiom. Another of Parker's songs, "Let All the Earth Sing His Praise," included exhortations to different nations and peoples to praise God in their own way and voice ("Come men of distant China, boys of Peru,/All children of the sea, girls of Brittany too.") Tom is a well-respected pastoral musician in the DC area.

Psalm 100 "Let All the Earth Cry Out to God with Joy," by Ralph Verdi, C.Pp.S. (Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship). Before describing this luscious piece of Bernsteinesque psalmody, I should say a word in honor of CFCW and its choleric founder, Robert I. Blanchard. 

I was still in college when I had the privilege of attending an FDLC meeting in Kansas City. It had to have been in 1972 or early 1973. It was there that I first met Frank Schoen, Frank Quinn, and probably a lot of others (in a recent conversation with him, I discovered that a young Paul Turner was there as well), but certainly it's where I met Bob Blanchard. Simultaneously carefree and irascible, he had a small music engraving facility in Sugar Creek, Missouri, across the river from Kansas City, and it was from here that he organized and spearheaded the Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship. It was funded as a liturgical study and research institute by the NCCB for four or five years, as I recall. 
The idea worked fairly simply: composers were commissioned to write a specific work for the liturgy. Members would join the Forum for an annual fee. In exchange for membership, we received a copy of everything that was published with permission to copy as much as necessary for choir and assembly in any form, with the further proviso that feedback about how the piece was received in the liturgy was sent back to the office, and then to the composer. Commissioned pieces included gospel acclamations with lectionary refrains, eucharistic prayers, various responsorial psalms, generally with several (even all) of the lectionary refrains set to match the same verses, and even some baptismal acclamations. There was a particularly lovely setting of the ICEL text of "Where Charity and Love are Found" by a Sister Maria of the Cross, from whom I've never seen another piece of music (was it a pen name?) Well known composers like Flor Peeters of Belgium, Noel Goemanne, Theodore Marier, Richard Proulx, and Theophane Hytrek were among those commissioned. For some strange reason, Bob took an interest in my writing, and I was invited to set a couple of acclamations for the sprinkling rite (Psalm 51) and a Lamb of God, and these were my first pieces ever published. (The Lamb of God was still in the GIA catalog, last time I looked, in the Cantor-Congregation series.) One of the gospel acclamations published endures as the "Joyful Alleluia" (Howard Hughes, SM), found in Gather and RitualSong. So there was some enduring work that came out of the short-lived Forum. 
Bob tried to make a go of it, but the grants dried up, and I think he felt abandoned by many of the writers whose careers he thought he had helped along. He used to call me at home, years after we had last seen each other, and cry on the telephone about how things hadn't worked out as he had hoped. I heard a year or two ago that he had died in his native South Carolina, and that he had left instructions that there was to be no music at his funeral. I wonder whether his request was acceded to, or whether, in his honor and to God's glory, he was sent to eternity with music? 
Well, that was a long set-up, wasn't it? But the thing is, that is what a blog is for, or what I'm using it for. To write down my memories and thoughts as they come along, and not try to do too much editing. Caveat lector!! Back to the song: Ralph Verdi has written other music, of course, but this setting of Psalm 100 blew all of us away at St. Mary of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri. It was set for organ and clarinet, cantor and assembly. The melodies of the refrain and the through-composed verses were soaring, the harmonies fresh and American, almost Broadway-like in their emotive power. And the clarinet descant was amazing. Remember that in 1971 or so we hadn't seen too much church music written for clarinet, not in the U.S. anyway, and not for the Catholic liturgy. Singing this setting was a revelation: I remember that we used it as an entrance antiphon, as the responsorial psalm, or as a communion song at different times. I'm surprised that it has faded into oblivion. Much of that music was worth remembering, though it has fallen by the wayside, including a setting of Psalm 98 by Proulx that had set all the refrains of the lectionary with all the verses from the Grail translation of the psalm. 

It's a Brand New Day Paul Quinlan, FEL. Paul was a crazy Bostonian who lived in Phoenix. A former Jesuit seminarian who had taught at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix, he later married and ended up working for NALR during the first years the company was based in Phoenix. He left the company, as I recall, by 1981 or 82. Paul had had a number of songs in the various hymnals published by the controversial FEL Publishing Company. "Sing to God a Brand New Canticle" was certainly one of his "hits" in the church of the 70s, but my favorite was always "It's a Brand New Day," a free-wheeling paraphrase of Psalm 8 with a fairly complex form for the folk-rock idiom (long verse, pre-chorus, chorus) and a guitar vamp that reminded everyone of the Zombies' "Gloria". Other songs and composers from the "Hymnal for Young Christians" by FEL that fall into the same general category as this one include such songs as "Wake Up, My People" (Ray Repp), "God Is Love" (Clarence Rivers), "We Long for You, O Lord" (Cyril Reilly), and, of course, Peter Scholtes "They'll Know We Are Christians" and "Missa Bossa Nova." I know we've come a long way, but that was a good start, wasn't it? Paul also introduced me to Tom Kendzia, encouraged me, and helped talk up my music to NALR and get me in a position to record my first album in 1984. Thanks, Paul, wherever you are.

5 more next time.