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Thursday, August 1, 2013


I watched with no little pride yesterday the live stream from OCP's music showcase from the annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Washington, D.C. With the huge hall full of robustly singing musicians, and a choir made up of composers and friends of OCP, the fourth or fifth song in the program was a song that Tom Kendzia and I wrote together last year, "Faithful Cross." Full disclosure: Tom wrote the tune for the normative text of Crux Fidelis, used on Good Friday. I sometimes do a little Finale work for him, and as I was setting the piece, I was blown away by the beauty of his melody, but appalled by the often clumsy and artless translation of the Latin hymn, and I told him that the text was unworthy of his melody. So he asked me to write something for it, and I did. I had been wanting to explore again some of the meaning of the cross (as I see it, of course, which is all I can do) and this provided a great opportunity for that. The reaction at NPM seemed very favorable. I'm very happy with the whole song, but of course have no control over how people receive it!

Coupled with my last blog entry about Gary Daigle's album Praise the Maker's Love, it seemed like a good idea to write a blog about my collaborations over the years, not just with Gary and Tom, but with other artists living and dead. So here we go.

No church songwriter is really non-collaborative. We all end up setting other people's words, other peoples' way of expressing faith, whether its the words of the liturgy itself or the words of psalms and other scripture. We're all cooperating in expressing and handing on a living faith that does not belong to us, any more than the ocean belongs to one who is swimming in it. Even our so-called original texts are just expressing faith that we've received from elsewhere, a turning of the jewel, so to speak, perhaps with a new glint that arises from our unique experience. But it's familiarity to others, their ability to align with it, is based on the common language and common experience of God that we express.

So it has been with my music, when in college I realized that I had "permission" to express the psalms and mass texts in my own musical idiom. I contributed a lyric called "Parade" to the extraordinary Michael Javor, a musician three years older than I, who paired it with a Carpenters melody called "Crescent Noon." That was probably my first liturgical collaboration, though I think that later there were a few others. 

When I left college, I wrote to one of my former professors, my English teacher, Sr. Josephine Burns, D.C., and asked her if she would write a text for me based on the Kenosis Hymn in Philippians. She did so, a beautiful text in heroic couplets no less, that I set to music and was actually on my first NALR album, You Alone. 

He was divine, with Godhead's light and majesty,
But he refused to hoard divinity.
He poured his godhead out, assumed the lowly form
Of slave. In human likeness he was born.
We watched him grow, we heard him speak and saw him cry.
Clearly a man, he even stooped to die. 
Still more, his death was suffered harshly on a cross.
He humbly embraced abandonment and loss.
Put on the mind and heart of Christ your Lord.
Kenosis Hymn - S. Josephine Burns, D.C. (© 1984 NALR)

I won't spend a lot of time on my collaboration with Gary, since I talk about him all the time in the album posts and the "SongStories" posts when they are collaboration stories. But our work has included songs on recordings beginning with 1987's Mystery, including the communion song "In Our Hands," and the title song. On Safety Harbor, we co-wrote "Psalm 116: I Will Walk in the Presence of God," as well as "Carol of the Word," and "Psalm 30: I Will Praise You, Lord." In the case of "I Will Walk," in addition to the metric paraphrase of the text, I contributed the idea for the resolution of the third verse when Gary hit a dead end, as well as the orchestration. It's a very organic collaboration, when generally we just divide our collaboration at the music/lyric border.

Other Cooney-Daigle works include "Covenant Hymn" (Vision); "Advent Gathering," and "May We Be One," "Penitential Litany," and "Hymn of Thanksgiving," as I mentioned in this week's "Albums" post on Praise the Maker's Love. In the late 1990s, we co-wrote the theme song for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, "Way, Truth, and Life," which appeared on the GIA compilation CD Awaken Hope, Shout Jubilee.  

I also came to collaborate sideways with Gary's colleagues in the Dameans. For Terry's 2003 collection Family Resemblance, Gary Ault graciously allowed me to reshape the text of his 1971 song "Come In, Pilgrim," the musical style of which so perfectly fits Terry's vocal style. And for our collection This Very Morning, the Dameans let me add a couple of verses to, and let Gary and I compose a fraction rite around, their lovely litanic song "TablePrayer" from the beautiful Morning to Night album, rounding it out into a communion rite. It is always a privilege to work with such great material.

I have also set a Brian Wren text, "Welcome the Wild One" or "Advent Herald," which Terry sang with choir on her 1998 CD, On Christmas Day in the Morning. Brian Wren's lyrics are always challenging and have catch-in-the-throat clarity, their sharp brilliance inviting an ever-deeper plunge into gospel truth. For our second World Library recording, I set a text by Garrett Theological's wonderful professor Dr. Ruth Duck, called "New Families," which opens the singers heart and mind to the many shapes and sizes of families in the world, praying for creative light and action for all of us.

I will eventually be doing an "Albums" post on 2001's World Library collection Keep Awake (see iTunes window below), of which 10 of the 12 songs were collaborations with my daughter Claire. What a wonderful experience to write with my daughter, and see how she interacted with ancient texts as well as voiced her own hopes and dreams in original texts. Some of those songs appeared in the first Voices as One hymnal. We would sit in the gym-which-was-our-church at St. Anne's before the new church was built, and she would listen to me try to evoke the spirit of her lyrics in music. 

Finally, for today at least, there have been three collaborations with my longtime friend Tom Kendzia. First there was "Here With Us Now," a text I gave him for his birthday in the late 1980s. He did a beautiful job setting this lyric, which was an attempt to evoke the cosmic presence of God much as Psalm 150 does, though with a decidedly 20th century take. 

We have heard you in the whisper and in tempest's thund'ring rage,
In the sighing of the timber, in the call of age to age,
And everywhere we see you, in silent praise we bow.
You are near, you are here with us now.
We have seen you in the oceans and in star parades of night,
In your servant's life-devotion to the poor we see your light,
And everywhere we see you, in silent praise we bow.
You are near, you are here with us now...
You who see our global madness, come and touch us in our dread,
In our ecstasy and sadness, in the breaking of the bread,
In every way you touch us that our stony hearts allow,
O be near, be here with us now.

Tom's melody catches both the gratitude and resolute hope that I tried to put in to the words. Unfortunately, this song is not on iTunes, but it is available at OCP. In his latest release, Like a River, Tom included two recent collaborations of ours, "Faithful Cross" and "One in Love." We are very happy with how these two songs came out, and have been gratified by the response they have received from other pastoral musicians, so far, as well!

Most recently, a couple of unusual collaborations have been part of my work. I did a piece of music for Jack Jezreel's "" educational ministry, entitled "Announce the Good News", or Turn Around, as we call it at my place. The difference in titling is an example of what happens with collaboration. To work best with their overall project, the "good news" aspect needed to be featured, and the words appear in the text of the refrain, so that works fine for me. As a songwriter, though, I tend to try to put the words into the title most identifiable as the "hook," and I think "Turn Around" is just the more natural title, but no one cares much about that. The process of actually writing the lyric when the ministry and livelihood of the commissioning entity is at stake was a new experience for me, though, and we worked through a number of areas in the original text together until the final version became clear. There is a version of this song, or part of it, on my SoundCloud page (link here.)

I was asked earlier this year to write a song for the 50th anniversary mass celebration of Marist High School, on the south side of Chicago. The wonderful Therese Lenz gave me lots of information on the high school and the Marist founder, St. Marcelline Champagnat, from which I was able to construct the lyric for a song I entitled "Love Them All," which sums up the affirming philosophy of this energetic French saint. The music followed shortly thereafter. But what I was really up against was the performing audience here: a high school chorus, outdoors, on a Monday morning, accompanied by the school's concert band. I knew exactly what I had to do: find a real musician to do the orchestration. And the truly astonishing Bob Moore, a GIA colleague from Jacksonville, Florida, came to the rescue. I sent him my little 5-staff song (choir and piano score), and a few days later received back from him a score with more than 25 staves, including three percussion staves, and instruments which I didn't even know existed. He had, in fact, spoken to the band director at Marist, and scored the song for exactly the instruments that Marist had available in its orchestra! The debut of this piece is on September 9 at the high school, and I can't wait to hear how this liturgical Tusk collaboration with Bob comes out in the open air. 

Well, that's a little of my history as a collaborator in the world of liturgical music. There have been others, with poets from other times and places, both published (like the texts of "Save the People" and the metric paraphrase of Psalm 103, "The Lord Is Kind," which are on the recording Do Not Fear to Hope. Details on that "Albums" page) and unpublished (like my settings of "Turn Back, O Man" by Clifford Bax, and Vachel Lindsay's haunting "Who Can Surrender to Christ.) There will be more, I'm sure. But this is a good start. Thanks to everyone who has shared the experience of musical collaboration with me: Claire, Tom, Gary, Bob, all of you and all the rest. It's a way to make a gratifying and humbling experience more gratifying. And certainly more humbling!