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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Three fine people


This week John Foley convened his "composers' forum" at Mercy Center in St. Louis. Every year for the last 15 or so, there's an open invitation for published composers to meet to relax, chat, pray, network, and learn from noted experts and one another about topics important to all of us. This made me recall that it was at this very conference about five years ago that Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, spoke on Christian aesthetics. One of the perceptions of artists that we investigated was the popular figure of the tortured loner, the inspired recluse or visionary who has no need for others, but who relentlessly pursues his or her muse in an enforced aloofness, seeking the originality and clarity of vision at all costs. I came to see, we all did, if we hadn't considered it before, how useless such a perception is in the quest of Christian art, which is of its very nature communitarian, given as a gift by the Holy Spirit but directed toward the need of the whole body, for the life of the world.

Terry and Gary at the Alamo, 2002
Honestly, this misperception hasn't really been an issue for me lately, though I can recall thinking of myself as a kind of musical (OK, let's face it – and moral) Lone Ranger when I was younger. But the friendships and collaborations of my life have taught me to think of the art of a liturgical musician differently. I was apprenticed in Christian living. I was taught how to sing, how to sing with others, what the words of Scripture mean, what the words of the liturgy mean, how music reveals those meanings, or hides them. I learned the shape and form of song from others, learned to love many musical styles because of the artistry of others, learned not to be underprepared by their expertise and from my own shortcomings. No one is a "lone ranger" in the Christian community; even prophets have to answer to the discernment of the whole body. Whatever we think of as ours, we, in fact, didn't build it. Not alone.

And actually, that's a great relief. So, even though there have been dozens, no, hundreds or even thousands of people who have had an influence on my own life and writing, there are three fine people who I think of today to single out for their influence. You probably know them all.


With Terry at the Bean, November 2011

I met my wife, Terry Donohoo, longer ago than I am allowed to say publicly any more.  Her extraordinary and unique singing always catches the listener by surprise. It is at once clear and rich, expressing new emotions and meanings in musical phrases that delight the ear time after time. No one fails to notice the clarity and expressiveness of her singing, and these bubble up from a constant heart and a loving, reflective soul. After so many years of hearing her sing my songs, really making them live in public performance, I am still thrilled by the sound of her voice.




Tom and I, near Watch Hill, RI, September 2012
Tom Kendzia and I met in about 1980 at a NALR event in Phoenix, before he had even moved to the area. Tom asked me to direct a choir at the Detroit NPM convention for a showcase he was doing of his newly released album "Light of the World," and that was the beginning of a friendship that has endured for over thirty years. Even though we were both well into our twenties at the time, we joke with each other that in fact we regress to adolescence in each other's company, and are generally not fit for others' company. KIDDING. Sort of. But from the moment I started studying Tom's music for that showcase, I realized that his musicality and craftsmanship were of a whole new level, and I've never ceased to admire both his playing and writing. Tom produced all of my NALR recordings, and was responsible for insisting, in the cricket-infested studio at NALR in 1984, that Terry become the voice of Cooneytoons. When he's right, he's right!

Wasting money and time
with Gary at Wrigley Field, summer 2012.
Gary Daigle moved to Phoenix in about 1985, and we met in class on September night with Fr. John Gallen, and have been friends from that very evening. In addition to collaborating with me on compositions over the years and doing workshops and concerts all over this country and couple of others, Gary has produced all my recordings since Safety Harbor, and we even got to work together for a couple of years at St. Anne's in Barrington. You will never meet a more generous musician, a more talented ear for musical sound, or a more honest, reliable human being. Only about a year or two after I moved to the Chicago area, Gary moved his family to the area as well, and even though his journey has been circuitous, we're still standing, and he's still doing great work, not only on our own music, but with many other composers as well.

I just started out to say that no one is a musical island, and that Christian artists aren't involved in an essentially isolated project. We are writing music out of a community experience that is thousands of years old, trying to find words and music here and now to praise a God who is also something like a community. We don't delude ourselves that we are creating in the sense that God does; rather, we share in God's creation, shaping ideas and sounds that pre-existed us. What is unique is the moment in which the community takes those words and songs and expresses their faith, but what is original is always the work of the divine artist whose Spirit is the inSpiration and life-breath that makes the song and the singing possible.

Terry, Tom, and Gary. Three fine people you ought to know, and whose names, among others, will come up again in these reveries, I'm sure.