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Monday, April 13, 2015

Songstories 44: Send Out, Send Out Your Spirit (Psalm 104) (GIA, 2015)

In 2013, our son Desi graduated from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, and somebody (Lara Lynch, then CCHS's liturgical music teacher, probably) asked me if I would write a responsorial psalm for the baccalaureate mass. So that's what I did.

It would be fair to say that there are plenty of settings of Psalm 104, the psalm used for Pentecost and for a lot of Confirmation celebrations. Here in my own parish, I've used the Peloquin setting from "Songs of Israel," I've used Tom Kendzia's energetic version from his Canticle collection, entitled "Come, O Spirit of the Lord." And I've used many others from Gather and even from Respond and Acclaim over the years. One setting that I wrote in college was part of the NALR Assemblybook psalms and eventually was published in the Cries of the Spirit Volume 1 collection of my NALR/OCP psalm settings, the collection that included my settings of Psalm 40 "Here I Am, Lord" and Psalm 72 "Justice Shall Flourish." That version, entitled "Send Out Your Spirit," was written for piano/guitar, flute, and string quartet with cantor and assembly. It's a very lyrical treatment of the psalm, I think evoking for me the creative Spirit, the spirit of tranquility and renewal.

But of course, that's not the end of the story. One thing that is true of renewal, as I said in my blog a year or two ago for Pentecost, is that very often for something new to be built other structures need to come down. So I was getting more and more uneasy with the former version I wrote, and wanted to try something a little more adventuresome. When the opportunity came up to try to write something for Desi's baccalaureate mass, I decided it was a good sign.

I had made a short list of psalms I wanted to reset with the Revised Grail translation, and this was one of them. While a cleaner version of the Grail Psalter had come under fire for having an "inclusive language agenda," the revised-revised version had finally been approved for liturgical use, with no one apparently bothered that gender-exclusive language is also an agenda, and that, in fact, language is too fluid a container in which to store orthodoxy, certainly useless for containing God. Be that as it may, in order to enter the narrow gate of Catholic worship, at least, it behooves one to take the path of ecclesiastical approbation.

So this setting of Psalm 104 is in a soft gospel-rock style. When writing a song for teens, or that will be used in worship for teens, I suppose I try to split the difference so that the musical style will appeal across a range of musical tastes and be accessible to all kinds of choirs. My friend Tom Kendzia has told many workshop audiences (my paraphrase here) to stop planning confirmation liturgies with the bishop in mind, and start planning them with the teens, the confirmands, in mind. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I imagine it also makes sense to a good number of bishops who would prefer a happy, singing assembly than a dour, bored one. So "Send Out, Send Out" tries to walk that line as well, using some familiar gospel-rock motifs that allow the tonality to sneak back and forth easily between F major and F minor.

As with many of my psalm settings, the cantor part is a bit more challenging than some. My hope, especially when working with a liturgical text over which I have no control, is always to evoke participation through melody and rhythmic interest, to provide energy and interest through choral parts that enhance that melody, and let the emotional content of the psalm text flow through a more complex or artistically demanding part for the cantor. I hope that the melodic contours and emotional life of the tune will have a lot of cantors saying to their music directors, à la Liz Lemon, "I want to go to there."

The score of "Send Out, Send Out" is available at GIA, both in a keyboard-choir edition and in a guitar-choir edition. The recording should be available soon, though we are at this point still discussing what form it will take. At any rate, the mp3 should be available on the GIA site in the near future.