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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NPM 2014: Quite a week

Last week, I attended the 37th annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, which was held in St. Louis. It was a homecoming of sorts, since Terry grew up there, and that made lots of time for her and Des available for visiting mom and family. For me, this was probably the most I have ever had to do at one of these conferences, working for several hours a day for all five days of the conference. And back here in Barrington, people thought we were going on vacation!

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) has been a part of my life since 1980-81, which means I've been in NPM longer than I've been out of it. During the first twenty years or so, I attend national or regional conventions most of the time, often on NALR's or GIA's dime, less often in the last ten years or so, but I've gone when possible, especially when I had something to. NPM is an international organization, really, if you go by membership and convention attendance, but it is organized for U.S. musicians, clergy, and educators "to foster the art of musical liturgy."

L-R, Rick Reed, Paul Inwood, me, Mark Wunder, last day
I was privileged to have been asked by the association and Paul Inwood to lead a five-day "institute" for composers and songwriters interested in getting better at the craft; privileged, I say, because the supposition might be that I had something to offer them. Paul Inwood is a well-traveled and distinguished British composer, a member of the original St. Thomas More group of composers with the likes of Chris Walker, Ernest Sands, and Bernadette Farrell, and former director of music at the cathedral of the diocese of Portsmouth. He is a part of the Psallite project, new church music from Liturgical Press written by a collaboration of artists and specifically focused on assembly singing, with or without accompaniment. Since I have some experience of his egregious talent, thanks to annual meetings with him and other composers in St. Louis, I did not hesitate long in saying "yes" to the opportunity, knowing we would all be in good hands.

It was important to me that our institute go really well. Attendees paid an extra fee, nearly $100, over and above the convention registration, to attend, and were committing to skipping every other workshop block for the entire week in order to attend the institute. Paul had the idea that we would use the first day's time block, about four hours, to share our own process and give some input about ways to approach writing texts, set them to music, and perhaps apply some theological insight to the task. We assigned the attendees the task of setting an original Genevieve Glen OSB text and a Grail psalter text, and spent the other 8 hours singing through each of those settings and learning about the craft by some (admittedly hasty) analysis of them as we did. All who submitted works got to hear their pieces sung and played, and received the benefit of some loving mutual critique from colleagues in the same ministry. All things considered, this played out very well.

We used projection for the entire process - no trees were killed in the edification of these composers. On the downside, two projectors were pilfered from our supposedly secure room, and we were finally rescued by using the personal projector of one of the security team who happened to be a St. Louis policeman in real life. I suspect that helped solve our disappearing projector problem.

It was a big convention for the simple fact that it introduced to most of us the new president of the organization, Father Rick Hilgartner, a lovely man and pastor who comes to us most recently from the office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on his way to a pastorate in Maryland. I was able, on Monday evening, to attend a reception for him in one of the hospitality suites at the hotel and have a conversation with him, and know that he is up to the task of leading the organization with energy, and he seems to have a particular gift and insight about expanding our membership and musical horizons to include more people who do this ministry. It was the first time I had met Rick, but other friends of mine told me that in the months of meetings and interviews leading up to the convention, his name kept coming up in conversation, until finally someone just said, "Why don't we call him?" I have high hopes for the future of NPM.

Two big aspects of any NPM convention, aside from the exhibit hall with its ongoing mini-concerts
with Jerry Galipeau at WLP party
and musical activities and merchandise, are the plenum addresses and musical showcases. In my experience, so much of the inspiration I have derived over the years from NPM come from these events, particularly the plenum addresses which are given by spiritual, musical, and liturgical leaders in the country (and, thanks be to God, these are often packed gracefully into the same people). This year, I was unable to attend all of these sessions beginning to end, though I tried, but I got to hear the brilliant and passionate Jerry Galipeau, the animated, erudite, and pastorally acute Paul Westermeyer, and the beautifully affirming and challenging Fr. Ray East for their entire sessions, and a good deal of Ann Garrido's and Sr. Honora Werner's humorous, gentle, and moving talks as well. They brought to mind the dozens of motivational exhortations we have heard for all these years from NPM stages, helping those of us who have been around a few years to give thanks that we have stood on the shoulders of spiritual giants, and been very privileged in our lives to have done so.

with Tom Kendzia (r)
with David Haas (l)
 Besides the plenum addresses were the showcases, and I was delighted to have scored a "trifecta" in this department, in that some work of mine (at least in collaboration) was presented by each of the three major Catholic publishers in their showcases. The first, on Tuesday, was World Library Publications' event, where, with many other lovely pieces, two parts of my "Mass of St. Aidan" were sung by the attendees. On Wednesday was the GIA showcase, at which was presented my most recent publication from them, "To You Who Bow," which was commissioned by my own choir on the occasion of my 60th birthday in 2012. They wanted me to write them a song, suited to their voices, which was a very touching (and not a little bit intimidating!) thing to be asked. After about six Here is a Facebook link to the performance: I don't know if it's accessible to everyone, but I hope so! Finally, on Thursday at the OCP showcase, the song "One in Love," which I co-wrote with my friend Tom Kendzia was sung by the group. I was sitting about halfway back in the center, and the effect of singing in the midst of such an assembly, with the composer-choir and orchestra accompanying, was such a wash of beautiful sound that I was overcome with gratitude, and again remembered that it was just moments like this that have been sustaining for me in my ministry for so many years.
months, I began writing the text out of a new place I think I was being led to in my spirituality, and with which those who read this blog are probably already aware. It speaks of a God who turns our expectations about what a god is and what a god does upside down by making us consider Jesus seriously from scripture. I'll write a little about this song and our current project another day, but the thrill of hearing it sung by the 1500 or more people gathered for the event, in parts, with oboe, piano, and the brilliant cello of Joe Hebert accompanying, led by Terry, was just overwhelming.

Gary Daigle, me, Marty Haugen
Me, Jaime Cortez, Terry, Ray East
But I'd be lying if I didn't say that a real high point for me of this or any NPM I've attended was receiving the "Pastoral Musician of the Year" award on Thursday morning at the members' breakfast.
Since then, I've had to endure statements like, "you deserve it" and "what took them so long" and "no one is more deserving" and other such hyperboles and adulation, but if you know me, you know that it is a surprise and wonder to me that in a room and national organization of people, any number of whom can do everything I do better than I can, I should be selected to receive this honor. I tried to say, in my remarks after getting the award, that NPM is a valuable asset in our lives as pastoral musicians, one that is responsible for fostering the vocation of liturgical musicianship in my life, helping me to see that my shortcomings aren't the last word, but that my calling is. I have received so much inspiration, vision, and formation from the association over the years, and I really want to see that continue and be passed on as vision to the next generations of pastoral musicians as well. So, thank you to NPM for that great honor, and thank you to my teachers and the parishes who have called me to service for the opportunity to share my gifts.

with Delores Dufner, OSB
receiving the Pastoral Musician of the Year award

At the table with Terry that morning, along with Fr. Rick Hilgartner and Gordon Truitt, were our great friend and colleague Gary Daigle, and my colleague at St. Anne, Courtney Murtaugh. It was at the St. Louis NPM in 1993 that Courtney contacted me about the opening at St. Anne in Barrington. Though we almost never got to meet, we did make contact, and on the weekend which, that year, was the feast of the Assumption, I visited the parish, sat in with the musicians, and was interviewed. Even though they needed someone, the pastor, Fr. Jack Dewes, said that if I wanted the job, they would get along until after Christmas so that I could put some closure to things with my Phoenix parish. The rest is history. It was very special to have Courtney at the table that morning, representing all the great people of St. Anne and my wonderful choir. Coincidentally, completely coincidentally, a song that I wrote for Fr. Jack's 40th anniversary of ordination, "Heart of a Shepherd," was the communion at the convention liturgy. Maybe there really aren't any coincidences?

I'm going to link, for archiving sake, a couple of videos on YouTube. One is a panel I took part in that was sponsored by Fr. Anthony Ruff's PrayTell blog, hosted by Nathan Chase who is running the blog while Anthony is on sabbatical. The topic was the effect of Pope Francis on liturgy and music, and I was delighted to be able to share that time with Sister Kathleen Harmon and Paul Inwood.

The other video was taken by the omnipresent Alyssa Bellia, who posted a number of interviews to the NPM Facebook page. She did a brief interview with me after the award breakfast. Watch it if you want to find out what my favorite ice cream is, at least, the only flavor not vanilla I could imagine eating at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Thank you, NPM, for a lot of years of inspiration and motivation, for helping us "claim your art," and for teaching us, little by little, how to sing the good news.

Some related posts:
Acknowledging Impostor's Syndrome
What a Liturgy Director Doesn't Do
The Privilege of Our Calling
So You Think You Want to Write Liturgical Songs - Part one - Part two
Prophets and Martyrs for a New World