Sometime in the late spring of 1997, there was a knock on the door of my Barrington home, and there at the door were Laura Dankler and Ron Rendek, with a modest proposal. This new youth hymnal project was coming up, and they were hoping I would consider writing a few songs for it. Of course I was honored. Here, for the first time every, was a publisher actually asking me for songs, instead of me having to sell my songs to a publisher. On the other hand, I was mildly apprehensive about the task, which had a deadline and was out of my "comfort zone" in the sense that I rarely wrote specifically to that target audience. In fact, I don't think that, even when I was writing as a young man, I was writing to that target audience. The congregation in my head is people of all ages, but I think largely adults and, maybe necessarily, like the people I know. The music I write is like popular music, but more like standards and oldies than like anything remotely hip, even 15 years ago!
But when someone comes to your door asking you to write songs, it's not the right time to say no. There would be time for that later in the editorial process if what I wrote wasn't a fit for their project. So I told them that I would do it, and that I would enlist the help of my daughter Claire, a budding writer and poet who was 16 at the time. That summer, when she came to visit for a few months, we would find time to write together.
I gave Claire some possible texts (from Scripture), and told her to concentrate on psalms and stories that interested her, where she was in her own life, and to "translate them into English." I wasn't so concerned about the texts sounding like other people's, or even my, voices, but what she as a Gen X-Y (b. 1981) child might hear in those texts, and how she might want to express them in her prayer. There are some really fine examples in her writing, even at that young age. I was hoping for an edge of idealism in the texts that might appeal to other young people, and Claire's most consistent metaphor for idealism was "dreams." Her lyric for "Jerusalem of Dreams," for instance, a paraphrase or inspiration from Psalm 122, while not one of the original songs submitted to WLP, was one we used on Keep Awake. You can make out the contours of the ancient song of ascent as you read or sing her words, probably gently edited by her father:
We have found our Jerusalem of Dreams,
A place for coming clean,
Wash away the sweat and soil.
We have found our Jerusalem of Dreams.
Shall we rest?
What dreams will come next?...
We, a tribe,
Each is blood to all,
Drawn to march by the memory of a call.
Weary, battered, bruised,
Marching to Jerusalem of Dreams.
We have found our Jerusalem of Dreams,Claire and I would go together to the Parish Center for a couple of hours a few times a week where I would take her lyrics and play with various feels and melodies until I could capture what I thought I was hearing in her lyric, and we would settle on ideas together that I would develop. We sent to World Library four co-written songs, "Stranger and the Nets," "Holy You," "I Choose You," and "You" (at least no one could accuse our song titles of being Pelagian!) and two of mine, "Morning Song" and "Fly Together." I wrote "Morning Song" several years before while working as a youth minister one summer at "Youth Sing Praise" during its second year, when they produced the musical Champion of Israel with book by Fr. Ron Brassard and music by Chris Brubeck. I had been writing songs for my children's graduation masses at St. Jerome School in Phoenix, and wrote "Fly Together" that year for Aidan's graduation. I remember writing much of the lyric for "Fly Together" in the studio in New Orleans as Gary was recording some overdubs for our GIA album This Very Morning, including the street musicians who played trumpet, trombone, and clarinet on our "A Litany of Saints" that features the refrain of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." Those six songs, sent as our contribution to the hymnal Voices As One, formed the beginning of the collection that became Keep Awake.
Bright, shining, and serene
And we pledge we shall be loyal.
We have found our Jerusalem of Dreams.
Shall we rest?
What dreams will come next?
Gary had moved back to his hometown of Gonzales, LA, and built a studio into the house, where the CD was recorded. He made frequent trips to Chicago because of his association with the publishers there, and this was the first time we used our current modus operandi in recording my music. As I've mentioned before, I hate studio work, you know, so much repetition past the point where I can hear a difference. Terry and Gary, on the other hand, thrive in the environment. So Gary came in and we played through the songs, and he made notes and recorded me playing the songs on my little piano. He then took that information back to Louisiana, and, using local musicians and singers, made the recording. Terry went down and did some overdubs, I think, because I remember being down there for some infamous events involving our sons, Desi and Grant, making an unbelievable mess of their 5-year-old selves in a mud hole.
I still find this recording a pleasure to listen to. The songs did not "hit" with the audience, and did not appear in later editions of Voices As One, and as usual I'm at a loss to explain it. It could just be that they are too idiosyncratic, and not traditional enough in either words or music to appeal to churchgoers. They seem to have a life on Rhapsody and Pandora, which is encouraging. I'm particularly proud of "Apocalypse," which was our take on Daniel's vision, sort of expanded into a more general and universal "dream" of new world saved by a community in solidarity, and of the title track, "Keep Awake," another end-time song that ends with a litany I wrote, based on Mt 25, as a kind of homage to Bruce Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams." Great guitar work and an outstanding vocal performance by Gary on that song really give it wings. In our concerts, we give "Apocalypse" and "Stranger and the Nets" frequent play, and occasionally "Fly Together" and "I Choose You."
Terry's performance of our take on the Magnificat, "In God I Will Rejoice," is a country-tinged smile that I can't help but love, and Claire's ebullient lyric "Is This Goodness God?" appealed not only to me as a writer, but then to the wonderful Meredith Dean Augustin, who covered it on her CD Deep River. If you haven't heard the songs on Keep Awake, I hope you'll give them a listen. You can audition them on iTunes using the links at the bottom of this page, and get the flavor of what Claire and I set out to do. At any rate, it was a great first experience making music for a wonderful company that has only gotten better over the intervening years. Our next CD with World Library would come five years later, when we recorded Christ the Icon.
Keep Awake, by Claire Cooney and Rory Cooney
© 2001, World Library Publications
- Morning Song (by Rory Cooney)
- I Choose You
- Fly Together (by Rory Cooney)
- Psalm 146: All in You
- In God I Will Rejoice
- Holy You
- Is This Goodness God?
- Jerusalem of Dreams
- The Stranger and the Nets
- Keep Awake