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Monday, November 11, 2013

Albums 13 - "This Very Morning" - (1998, GIA)

In 1998, at Mark Karney's Norwest Sound Studios in Barrington, we started working on our first recording in the Chicago area. Norwest is right in the heart of the village of Barrington, which is very cool: it is in the basement of a wonderful Starbucks, and it's just a block from the Metra commuter rail, making it easy access for gigsters coming from the city. It's also occasionally a pain in the arse: it's in the basement of a Starbucks (think of late-night recording—is there another kind?—with chairs and tables squeaking across the floor above, even with lots of soundproofing) and its less than a block from the Metra commuter rail (three dozen trains a day on the Northwest line). What tips the balance in its favor is that Mark owns the place, Gary knows the recording equipment so well, and there are a number of worthy eateries within walking distance. At the time of this recording in 1998, and through all the records we have made since, Terry and I lived, and I worked, just two blocks away. There is something to be said for small-town life in the Midwest. (I purchased a Ford Focus new in 2003, and today, in 2013, it has barely 60,000 miles on it.)

What had begun to collect and what we thought would be the heart of a good new collection was music for Holy Week and Triduum. My work with the North American Forum, as well as our work at our jobs in Phoenix, had us working to create music for more "family friendly" Triduum celebrations, as I wrote about in a previous blog post. We also had the millennium-themed "Trumpet in the Morning," a spring-flavored graduation song that fit the general mood of the album, and an Easter-Pentecost anthem I had written for a friend's anniversary of ordination that would provide the title song for the collection. GIA was interested in a new collection, so we got to work.

I've written more extensively on a number of these songs, so there are links to those songs with their "song stories" if you missed them. On a couple of them I have added some reminiscences about the recording process.

Tracklist and comments

1. Trumpet in the Morning
2. Quiet Strength
I wrote "Quiet Strength" for my daughter Claire's eighth grade graduation mass as St. Jerome School in 1994. I had previously done the same for Joel ("Building a City") and would do so again for Aidan ("Fly Together"). The song title was actually the class theme for their respective year. This little ballad just expresses hope in the peaceful growth of things moving toward maturity, and asks for God's favor on the process of waiting in silence and breaking free. These three songs taken together especially are very special to me, trying to express both the hopeful optimism of a proud parent and the faith that believes that God guides the path to the future by inviting us to go there together, in whatever messy peace we can compromise.

3. Palm Sunday Processional
One big difference between the midwest and the southwest is the weather in winter and early spring. Most of the time, we wouldn't dream of having a Palm Sunday procession outdoors in northern Illinois, but it was not unusual in Phoenix at all. When we thought about doing this, it always seemed difficult to manage a form and style of music that was amicable to walking with minimal accompaniment, and not dependent on a worship aid that would both be distracting from the procession and probably a deterrent to participation, since people wouldn't probably look at it anyway. My thought one year was to write this chant-like litany with a refrain that had a sort of walking rhythm to it and lots of repetition.

The bonus was being able to add instruments to the processional music as the congregation enters the church so that there is a natural crescendo of both depth and excitement to the music as we gather. This simple little litany has proven very successful over the years, and has been in the last two editions (2nd and 3rd) of GIA's Gather Hymnal, and appears in Worship 4th edition as well.

4. Lenten Gospel Acclamation
A simple setting of the last dispensations "Glory to you, Word of God" acclamation, with a Lenten verse and one for Triduum. It can be done a cappella, with ensemble instruments or organ, and has instrumental parts for Holy Thursday use.

5. Precious Blood
A couple of years previous to this, Terry recorded a collection with Pamela Warrick-Smith and Donna Peña entitled One Heart. You may have noticed that I left a hole at "12" for that album, in case I can get Terry to write a little bit about her memories of recording it. See, I can't, because we recorded it in Minneapolis, where Donna lives. Pamela, a wonderful chanteuse from New York, had spearheaded the effort to make this recording, and she and Donna did most of the writing and arranging for it. I was singularly blessed to contribute "Precious Blood" to the effort because of Terry's participation. On the One Heart collection, Pam had sung the song. Terry sings it here. More information at the link to the "SongStories" page.

6. Fraction Rite and "Tableprayer"
Gary's generous nature as a musician and collaborator may well be learned behavior from his years as a member of the Dameans. Their song "Tableprayer" is a beautiful litanic song that praises God for the gift of the eucharist in a series of invocations to which the assembly responds with the words, "How wondrous are your gifts to us." It appeared on their fine collection Morning to Night in 1985. For our collection, Gary wrote a Fraction Rite (Lamb of God) to segue into the communion song, for which I wrote additional invocations or tropes. The Dameans allowed me to add some more verses to their lovely text in order to make it more useful for longer communion processions. "Tableprayer" (the Dameans original version) appeared in the first edition of Gather Comprehensive in 1994, and in RitualSong.

7. Concertato on "I Am the Bread of Life"
No one needs any introduction to Sr. Suzanne Toolan's wonderful communion song, whose origin dates back to the late 1960s. As I mentioned in a recent post, she nearly threw it away, but it was rescued by a young postulant who heard her singing it. It has been part of my liturgical spirituality since then, and I was honored that she allowed me to share my arrangement on this collection. It is always in the top five of my most popular downloads on iTunes, not because of my arrangement, but because people love the song.

8. Psalm 31: I Place My Life
We had recording this psalm on Psalms for the Church Year, Volume 4, when we were in Phoenix, with the great baritone Mike Wieser cantoring. (Spellcheck wants to make that participle "cantering," but in fact he was standing still as he sang.) For this recording, we wanted to have Terry sing it, bringing it another rich layer of meaning and emotion. Annually the responsorial psalm for Good Friday, many people look forward to the 3pm service at St. Anne's when she leads the singing of this psalm in the liturgy of the word and leads us on the psalmist's journey from desolation to hope.

9. Genesis Reading for the Great Vigil
Nothing much to say about this, except that I hear so much, from so many places, that people enjoy participating in the proclamation of the Genesis (and Exodus) readings through my setting, and that I love the CEV translation of "be fruitful and multiply," to wit, "Have a lot of children!"

There was a moment of near disaster (and, consequently, murder) in the studio when huge sections of this piece, largely necessarily improvised, were erased during mixing after the choir had recorded them. Gary was able to re-record some sections of the narration and incidental music, and fly in other refrains from other tracks. Necessity is the mother of improvisation, but it can be a real mother. If you follow me.

10. Psalm 118 (Easter Alleluia) for the Great Vigil, with Easter Gospel according to John
11. A Litany of Saints
Terry and I (mis)conceived of this litany that blends the invocations to the saints with the refrain of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" while staying at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans with Gary one year at the Hofinger conference. A little shaken by the staid and solemn liturgy at the cathedral we had just briefly witnessed as we walked in the Vieux Carré on a Sunday morning, we wondered why this city that played such an important role in American music didn't have a more American sounding liturgy in its cathedral, and began thinking about how it might be reimagined. One of the ideas we threw around was a litany of the saints based on "Marchin'", and this is what happened.

The local instruments you hear on the refrain were recorded later by Gary in New Orleans. What a coup. So grateful for the opportunities we've had over the years to do this sort of thing.

12. You Have Put on Christ
Gary and I collaborated on this little baptismal acclamation, though my contribution was simply adapting the scriptural acclamations in the RCIA to Gary's music. Easy to sing and perform, simple and joyful, I think it fits the definition of "acclamation" to a tee, and is further adaptable as a sprinkling rite by changing "You" to "we" in the refrain.

13. This Very Morning
I worked with Fr. Stan Szcapa in the North American Forum's institutes on reconciliation, first called "Re-Membering Church" and then "Becoming Reconciling Communities." Stan asked me if I would write a song for the 25th anniversary of his ordination, which was going to take place on or near Pentecost in 1996. The link in the title above will take you to a Pentecost post where I shared the text of the song as a prayer. I still think it's about as good a lyric as I'm capable of, with multiple scriptural images wrapped around the single theme of Pentecost as a moment happening now.

This Very Morning - product page at GIA website

Hits and misses. I've been very happy with the reception of the music on this collection. Two songs (three, if you include Table Prayer) have been anthologized in hymnals, several others are popular in choral music and in reprints. I cannot explain why the song "This Very Morning" didn't work for anybody else. It must just be sign of my interior disorientation: the closer I get to the best I can do, the further away from general acceptance. Just God's way of smiting me, and sparing me from the worst ravages of my own ego. It makes me very grateful for my choir, who humor me, and continually offer me the support and affirmation that gives me the courage to go on. That is how it's supposed to work, it seems to me, at least on this very morning.