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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Theological Tempests in Musical Teapots, Part 2

Maybe you saw this coming after Monday's post.

The song of mine that continually has received the most bad internet press from the champions of their own orthodoxy is "(I Myself Am the) Bread of Life," which I originally wrote in 1985, and was first recorded on the CD Mystery in 1987. Later, we recorded the song again when anthologizing the NALR years for Oregon Catholic Press. This CD was called Change Our Hearts, and we recorded it in 2000. (You can listen to a brief clip on iTunes by clicking here.)

First, let me say that I'm trying to be positive here and not be negative about the "conservative" movement in the church which tends to label as heresy everything with which they disagree. This is hardly conservatism in a church that began with political enemies breaking bread at Jesus' table (Levi, the tax collector, and Simon the Zealot) and blossomed by opening its narrow Jewish theological doors to Aristotelian logic, Roman rhetoric, and Eastern mysticism. The Christian church always been the church of "the big tent." We don't call ourselves "catholic" in the creed for nothing. We're not a parochial, civic, national, or even international church. We're catholic - universal! So the narrow-mindedness of some conservatives is a little distressing to me. Used to be more distressing; now I'm really, really trying to be less caustic and reactive, since narrow-mindedness can run both ways.

There's been an article circulating for years on the internet that originated in the Adoremus bulletin that contains the passage quoted below, which summarizes the objection to the lyrics to "I Myself Am the Bread of Life" in certain quarters. The author, I believe, mistakenly constricts all of liturgy action under the umbrella of dialogue, as though in the liturgy itself the assembly is not self-aware, or is only aware of itself when it sings praise to God in the second person. This rubric covers much of the Eucharistic liturgical action, but does not explain, for instance, the Creed, the General Intercessions (which are addressed to the assembly, then offered to the Lord), the Confiteor, liturgical hymns like Victimae Paschali Laudes, which is directed in all kinds of ways, or many liturgical acclamations from other rites, such as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The author accuses a dozen or so composers of getting the theology of the eucharist wrong, alleging that the Eucharist is a dialogue between us, the "bride," and Christ, the "bridegroom."

But this isn't the essential dialogue at the heart of the Eucharist at all. The dialogue at the heart of the Eucharist is the dialogue between Christ and the Father in the Holy Spirit. The task of the Introductory Rite is to awaken in the assembly its true but often forgotten identity: Christ. In the baptism of every person present at the Sunday Eucharist, we ceased to live as ourselves. We died in the water, and rose up again as Christ. That is the source of our identity and mission; it is the reason we gather around the table where we remember the Lamb of God who is offered again without blood to the Father, ending the murderous, bloody sacrifices that religion to that day had concocted. We are Christ. Every one of us belongs to Christ, members of his body. We did not choose to be so. We were chosen for this, filled with the Holy Spirit in our baptism, sealed with that Spirit in confirmation, and summoned again and missioned by that Spirit in the Eucharist. 

Here's part of the article, "Ritus Narcissus," by Father Paul Scalia in Adoremus vol 5, #1, March, 1999. It is reprinted and quoted in numerous places on the internet:

"Bread of Life" by Rory Cooney, provides a splendid example of this self-centered conversation. The theme of the song lends itself to the Communion rite. But unfortunately, the words distort the meaning of Communion and the dialogue that should be taking place: I myself am the bread of life you and I are the bread of life taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ that the world may live.Aside from the fact that this song radically distorts Our Lord's "Bread of Life" discourse, it also leaves God out of the conversation: we talk to ourselves.

I, for one, don't see the rhetorical difference in the language of that refrain from, for instance the Creed:
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ...
or the Confiteor:
I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters,that I have greatly sinned...

or the Easter sequence, also an ancient Christian hymn:
Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises.
The Lamb has redeemed the sheep,
The innocent Christ has reconciled sinners to the Father....
Communion antiphons of the Roman Missal often employ the first person in their rhetoric:
This is how we know what love is:
Christ gave up his life for us; and we too must give up our lives for our brothers (sic).
(26th Ord. A)
Because there is one bread,
we, though many, are one body,
for we all share in the one loaf and the one cup.
(27th Ord. A)
Perhaps most tellingly, this antiphon uses the words of Christ on the mouth of the assembly without using a qualifier like "says the Lord":
As the living Father sent me,
and I live because of the Father,
so he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live because of me.
I point this out not to confuse the issue further, but merely to point out that the nature of the liturgical dialogue is not as univocal as the author says, and, in fact, contrary to the authors explicit statement, we sometimes do in the liturgy make the Lord's words our own in song.

The lyric of the song attempts to do exactly what the General Instruction says to do, namely, "to express the communicants' union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the "communitarian" nature of the procession to receive communion." (86)

So, yes, it is the community that sings "I myself am the bread of life" and the rest of that text. How can I sing that authentically? Not because of anything that I did, but because by baptism, "I live now no longer myself, but it is Christ who lives in me." Therefore, whatever in scripture Jesus says about himself, whatever the spirit does through him, that is the calling that we have received in our baptism into Christ. Here's a comparison that IS in scripture: in John, Jesus says "I am the light of the world." In Matthew, Jesus says "You are the light of the world." Why? For the same reason. The gospel compilers believed that the community was the ongoing presence of the risen one in the world.

So I think that we are the bread of life, we are the resurrection and life, we are the way, the truth, and the life. Not because of ourselves or anything we can do, but because by baptism we live as Christ. Either we are the body of Christ or we are not. The same spirit that made Jesus messiah fills the church to make it the "anointed" of God in every age. All of 1 Cor 10-12 is about this.

The final stanza of my song "Walk in the Reign" says the same thing:

When we stand together to stand against hell,
The name of this people is 'Emmanuel.'
A couple of more thoughts: the line "a living sign of God in Christ" refers both to the bread (and cup) and the assembly. "Sign" does not mean that the presence of Christ is not real! It means that Christ is visible in a different form. The 'real presence' is the real presence of Christ, head and members. Not just Jesus, but all of Christ, because Jesus himself, through the gift of the Spirit from the cross and at Pentecost, intended it to be so.

Finally, let me make one more plea here on behalf of metaphor and poetry. If I say 'you and I are the bread of life', I'm not saying we're made of yeast and flour. I'm saying that Christ can break us, and nourish the world with us. If this is not an expression of the Catholic theology of eucharist, then all that I believe is wrong. Not only has it been wrong, but I would prefer to believe it to the alternative that some revisionist folks would have us think.

Some closing thoughts: I'm grateful to OCP for keeping this song in their hymnals for all these years in spite of the outrage of the few. That means a lot to me, but it should also mean something to you, namely, that I'm not just making this stuff up! This is a valid way for us to think about and sing about Eucharist. Also, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the publication of this song, I wrote some new verses last summer. 

I leave you with the word of St. Augustine that further help us see that this idea that we are the bread of life is a genuine and mainstream theology in the church. In one of his most famous homilies, Bishop Augustine speaks to this reality in these words: 

“If you therefore are Christ’s body and members,
it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table!
It is your own mystery that you are receiving!
Be a member of Christ’s body then,
so that your ‘Amen’ may ring true!
Be what you see; receive what you are!”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Old Folkies, and a Mighty Wind

        Gary Daigle was just in New Orleans at the Johannes Hofinger Conference, a regional religious education conference. Part of the festivities there was a reunion concert by the Dameans. Four of them had met at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and I'm guessing that this concert would have been a concert commemorating their 40th anniversary, maybe even longer than that. Gary joined them, at then-Fr. Mike Balhoff's invitation, in the early 1980s when Gary was a high-school student in Gonzales, LA. Gary's keyboard skills added a new dimension to their music, and when Remember Your Love came out in 1978, their sound was changed for good. Having had the opportunity to play with these guys over the years, and also having been able to be a part of a couple of the St. Louis Jesuit reunion concerts, made me think back over the origins of my own musical development in the church.

The Folksmen, in "A Mighty Wind"
You've probably seen the Christopher Guest movie A Mighty Wind. Every time I've watched it, and it's been a number of times, I'm a little embarrassed by how close it hits to home with the earnestness and self-absorbed naïveté of the principals, all of whom I recognize as characters in my own life, in all of whom I see a little bit of myself. I laugh a little bit, wince a little bit, and am grateful for the creative outpouring of the last forty years and the opportunities I've had to make music with some great friends and to have had some small part in the renewal of music for worship. Or maybe it would be better to say, to have had a small part in people's lives as they came to worship God in a new era of Catholicism.

St. Vincent's Seminary choir, c. 1966. Yours truly is the
fuzzy-haired guy, center left. Photo courtesy of Ed Noriega
When I arrived at Montebello, CA, at St. Vincent's Seminary in 1965, the liturgical music culture was as familiar to me as it could be to a 13-year-old. As a choirboy at St. Vincent's in Phoenix, I knew many of the Gregorian masses, chants like the Victimae Paschali Laudes, Ubi Caritas, and Veni Creator Spiritus I knew by heart, and others I would come to know under the tutelage of David Windsor. A fine organist, David was a seasoned boys' choir director, and though he knew the voices of younger boys better, he was able to bring out the best in the changing voices of high school singers, and we were able to perform TTBB choral works by Bach, Handel, and many more contemporary popular and sacred music composers and arrangers. John Lee, the well-known organist and a prolific church composer of the time, was the organist at St. Vibiana's, the old cathedral in Los Angeles, and we were taught a number of his masses as well.

The Kingston Trio
Though in the first year or two of the seminary we weren't allowed to listen to the radio or watch television (except for the news), the influence of the outside world crept in through summer and holiday contact. The influence of the folk revival was still very much alive, and a new interest in rock music was wakening. I can recall listening to groups of upperclassmen singing songs like the Zombies' "Gloria" and the Rolling Stones "Get Off of My Cloud", and others singing songs like "Lemon Tree" and "Scotch and Soda," hits of the Kingston Trio, along with songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary. As my class got to know each other, we also began to form small singing groups, and songs by the Kingston Trio were gradually replaced songs by Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles. I can remember playing songs like "Back on the Street Again" and "Distant Drum", too, learning a few keyboard licks, though I was mostly a (bad) guitar player.

As you can imagine, as the face of the liturgy began to change through those years, these influences began to seep into our liturgical music. The Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles at the time, Cardinal McIntyre, was not entirely friendly either to English in the liturgy nor to musical innovations. These came in a bit later, when Timothy Manning became the archbishop in 1968 or 69. But little by little, the influence of popular music made its way into the seminary music of the high school, and I certainly recall singing versions of "As Tears Go By" and the Beatles' "And I Love Her," with rewritten lyrics, at mass.

The Dameans, L-R, Darryl Ducote, Mike Balhoff,
Buddy Caesar, and Gary Ault
By the time we got to Santa Barbara and the novitiate in 1969-70, we were beginning to get more liturgical music from FEL and World Library in a newer style, and the music of Ray Repp ("Wake Up, My People"), Sebastian Temple ("Sing, People of God, Sing" and "The Mass Is Ended") and Clarence Rivers found more and more of a home alongside hymnody in our seminary liturgies. We sang "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" using bass lines and rhythms of Carlos Santana, and sang the heck also out of Peter Scholtes' "Missa Bossa Nova", with its Latin flavor, as well. In this all-male environment, the influence of the sound of men's voices on the radio, of the Kingston Trio, the Lettermen, Simon and Garfunkel, and, let's face it, the Beatles, was a sound to which we could all relate. Traveling groups of seminarians with names like "The Roamin' Collars" were common. The Dameans emerged from this matrix, and later, the St. Louis Jesuits.

The church music sphere was not only influenced by the sound of these groups, but by the singer-songwriter ethos as well. I don't have any first-hand evidence, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out a similar line of influence between Joan Baez, Mimi Fariña, Mary Travers, and Judy Collins going through such women composers as Miriam Therese Winter and the Medical Mission Sisters and others among the less numerous women composers of the era. Of course, this is just one piece of the wide history of the development of liturgical music at the beginning of the post-conciliar era.

Later influences would move the sound of popular liturgical music away from the male-dominated guitar scene toward the mixed ensemble sound. One of the big reasons for this, I think, would be the popularity of the Broadway quasi-religious musicals like "Godspell," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and "Jesus Christ Superstar," which featured women and men singing together and orchestral rock scores.

        It is a great privilege to have been allowed to lead people in prayer through song. In the movie, the "mighty wind" was a sympathetic if vulgar metaphor for the earnest but occasionally vacuous music and performers of the folk era. Looking back over forty years of church music, I've seen (and made) a lot of wind, yes. I believe, however, that it has been in the service of a mightier Wind, a Spiritus, one that is eroding the structures of human greed and violence in order to renew the face of the earth. I hope we're on the right track. A lot of us have staked our lives on it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Theological Tempests in Musical Teapots, Part 1

“Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The "today" part of the gospel can be a bone of contention. On the one hand, if God is, then God is patient. How else can we explain what appears to be the glacial pace of justice in the world? Some posit an omnipotent God who gave people free will, and this explains why evil so consistently triumphs. To me, this is like saying that human freedom is somehow the square circle that God has made, the box God has created from which God can't escape. I reject that notion of God, but it's out there. On the other hand, there is an urgency in the gospel itself for people like us to accept it now, because as long as we don't (and let's face it, we don't) then the march of civilization is away from God, no matter how pious and frequent our sacrifices. Everything depends on what we do NOW.

Vision (GIA, 1992) Link goes to iTunes, where you can hear an excerpt of "Now"
I have a song called "Now," and it's one of a handful of songs that some people just won't tolerate. (This is fine with me. There are a lot of songs out there, and you should sing whatever helps you save other people's lives. They don't have to be mine, and they certainly don't have to be "Now.") I'll occasionally get a letter or email from a distressed music director with parishioners or pastor who are just apoplectic about the lyrics.

Ref.: Now is the moment, now is the time,
This very day there is salvation.

1. Don't want a heaven after I'm gone:
I need a place to keep my family warm.
Don't want a vision of saints robed in white:
I want the blind to see the sweet morning light.

2. Don't want a future where God sets things right.
I need a neighborhood to walk safe at night.
Don't want a banquet in heaven above
'Til no one is hungry in this world that I love.

3. Don't want a kingdom, don't want a crown
'Til all the nations lay their angry weapons down.
No Armageddon, no thousand years,
No more tomorrows, only now, only here.
© 1992 GIA Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

A brief word about writing "Now" - I wrote it for a prayer service at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in about 1991. We needed a song that could be sung by about 20,000 people with no rehearsal and in the dark, so there wouldn't be a worship aid. Brevity and repetition in the refrain were the order of the day, hence the refrain. Congress always happens in Lent, usually the first or second Sunday, hence the text.

The way I intend it, the verses just bring out the meaning of the admonition in the refrain. I mean, if everything is all right the way things are, why do we need salvation? But things aren't all right now, not for most people in the world. The idea, of course, is that you can't preach the gospel to a hungry person, the saints have told us that over and over. Feed someone first, then give them the gospel. Jesus certainly knew that. Talk about heaven and the afterlife is just cruel if there's injustice on the streets: it makes of religion what Karl Marx called an anesthetic, "the opiate of the people." We just anesthetize them to get through this life (mind you, while good religious people and their priests and politicians often live off the fat of the land), so that they can be with God forever in the next world. That's just insane. I don't want to be a part of a religion like that, a religion that says this world doesn't matter, that only the next one does. Fortunately, the Christian church doesn't believe that, not in its best tradition.

To do good works because we want a reward is not love. To act well because we want or need a reward or out of fear is acting out of the ego or superego, not the conscience. Love acts out of the will, out of the quest for what is good, whether or not anyone approves us, rewards us, or keeps us safe. Love acts like God-in-Christ: it is self-emptying, not clinging to the status quo, even if the status quo is being God.

I didn't make it up: it was St. Paul who said "The day of salvation is now." We just heard this yesterday, when Jesus gives his inaugural sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). It is his message when he comes roaring out of the desert after John's death in Mark: "The reign of God is at hand!" "Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." It is if we take Jesus' word and begin to live in that reign, and make each other aware of just what is un-saved about the world and do something about it. We can either do that, or sit in our pews and take the opiates we're given so often.

Context is everything. It's not like anyone only sings "Now." Other songs flesh out the fullness of the message, along with the scripture proclaimed, the homily, and the texts of the liturgy themselves. But to deny the immediacy of the message, to say, however subtly, that the poor should just "take it" until the next world comes is to proclaim a cynical God of pain and disillusionment.

Having said all that, I feel I have to say that it's better not to divide a community over a given song. There are lots of ways to get to where we want to go. You and I may disagree over the specifics of one person's way of expressing the truth of God. I'm satisfied that mine clarifies one way of seeing the mystery of salvation as preached by Jesus. But you know what? It's still a mystery. This discussion, nor all the discussions, cannot exhaust it. If "Now" doesn't work for your priests, let it go. There will be other Lents and other priests. Find something they can live with, and go on from there. The song itself can be good or bad, but generally speaking, division in the community is always bad.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Good News or Bad News? (C3O)

What a rich tapestry of Scripture we are treated to today! I am particularly partial to 1 Cor. 12, another section of which we read today, about the Spirit’s work in the Church, making us the Body of Christ in a particular way. Afterward, we hear the apparently unrelated gospel of the Jesus’s “first sermon” at the synagogue in Nazareth, returning there in the “power of the Spirit” after his baptism in the Jordan.

It always feels like a missed opportunity to me that the gospels for this week and next week, “part 1” and “part 2” of the same story, aren’t read on a single weekend. In a sense, I can see the wisdom of being able to preach on jubilee, the word of God being alive right now and “fulfilled in your hearing” this week, and then go into the consequences of believing that, of announcing that the jubilee is for everyone, including one’s enemies, and the hatred and abuse that engenders in people whom you thought were your friends, the following week. But the story really only makes sense when it’s read together, the change in mood and irony only congeal when one hears the entire section of Luke 4 read at once. I’m sure that Luke wanted us to hear how the message of “good news to the poor,” which sounded good on first hearing from the local boy, the “favorite son,” suddenly turned sour when he tried to get them to see with God’s eyes and outside their parochial boundaries. “Led by the Spirit,” Jesus was not about to mince words: he drew two stories from his tradition, that of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:7 ff.; in Sidon, a Phoenician state) and the leper Naaman, a Syrian (2 Kgs 5: 14ff), both of whom were beneficiaries of God’s goodness even though they were not Jews. The mood in the synagogue goes in a minute from admiration to murderous rage as the good news of the jubilee, thought to be the birthright of the chosen, is extended to the world. We’re meant to get a sense of foreboding, because this first sermon of Jesus’s nearly gets him killed, and for the same reason that he eventually will be killed: the proclamation of a God whose love is without boundaries, and whose love places upon the community of believers a responsibility to care for strangers and even enemies in the way that God does, as beloved children.

That same Spirit is the Spirit Paul says gives all the gifts to the Church that make it the body of Christ. These gifts are given freely to all. They all different, but do not detract from the unity of the body, because they are all given for the good of the whole. Anyone who’s ever had a migraine, or a toothache, or a backache, knows exactly what St. Paul is talking about when he tells us to respect the gifts of others and our own gifts with openheartedness and gratitude; as, for that matter, anyone does who has ended a perfect meal with a crème brûlée and a cappuccino:

“But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” 

The sermon in the Nazareth synagogue is good and bad news. Good news for everyone who waits for the day of God's favor: the poor, the indebted, the prisoner, the indentured servant, sharecroppers, all those who are on the margins of the economic and political power grid. It’s bad news for all who are content to amass, hoard, accumulate while others don't have enough. It's bad news for anyone who is threatened by a God who is for everyone, for freedom, for equality.

Gospel life is dangerous work, no less dangerous for those who work for it now than for Jesus and those who have followed his path through the centuries. But the same Spirit that made Jesus “Christos,” the anointed one, the Messiah, is sent upon the Church today, upon us, to make the same proclamation that Jesus made, which was the same as Isaiah before him, about the jubilee of God:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me 
to bring glad tidings to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives 
and recovery of sight to the blind,
 to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. 

When we remind ourselves and each other that those “poor” might be migrant obreros living illegally in the United States, that those captives might be in Guantanamo Bay, that the blind might be children in Africa suffering from AIDS, that the “oppressed” might be those working for slave wages in sweatshops in China and Indonesia for profitable multi-national corporations, or Palestinians waiting for a homeland, then there may be some uneasiness and hostility in receiving that word. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

Like the infancy stories we heard during the Christmas-Epiphany cycle, this gospel is a microcosm of the Paschal Mystery as it unfolded in the life of Jesus. He is the incarnation of the Paschal Mystery that is the life of God. The rest of his public ministry is one sign after another, very often concretized by meals shared with prostitutes, tax collector/collaborators and other “sinners,” that God's blessing is not visible in religious “orthodoxy” or financial status but freely given by God to all who receive it with gratitude and humility. May the same Spirit give us light as we reflect this year on this gospel, grapple with the sin, inequality, and scandal in our own lives, in the church, and in our civilization. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

“Your words, O God, are spirit and life.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ten Songs that Make a Difference (to me) - 6-10

Here I continue the list of ten songs that have influenced and even shaped my songwriting spirituality, from the years 1965-1985.

Mary's Song (text: Huub Oosterhuis; music: J. Michael Joncas, © 1979, New Dawn)

I think it's fair to say that Michael Joncas's collection On Eagle's Wings was a revelation to a lot of us in music ministry. Scriptural, lyric, choral, accessible, OEW set the bar a little higher for composers and choirs alike, and marked the debut of a man who has gone on to become one of the great lights of the Church in the United States, a pastoral scholar and a pastoral musician with a scientist's thirst for truth, a seeker's heart, and a missionary's passion. 

"Mary's Song" was striking to me from the outset because of the refrain which is the quintessential Advent text describing Mary and the Church: "Happy are they who believe that the promise of the Lord will be fulfilled." Such a delicious sentence, brimming with temporal paradox! Joncas's music is both familiar and modern-sounding. The metric text of the verses is set to two different melodies, one voiced for two singers, the other for SATB choir. In the latter case, rich chord clusters burst into joyful cadences announcing that God "strips us bare of our self-conceit" and "sends the rich away with empty hands". A very satisfying Magnificat!

Of course, the collection also contained the great title song, "I Have Loved You," his beautiful setting of Psalm 84, "How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place," and "The Lord Is Near/May the Angels," which we sing at every funeral at St. Anne's. Thanks, Michael.

When from Our Exile (Oosterhuis/Huijbers etal., NALR/OCP)
Almost everyone I know who has been in liturgical music since the 70s remembers their sense of wonder and gratitude when first exposed to this first American release by the Dutch composer Bernard Huijbers and lyricist Huub Oosterhuis, edited for English by several sensitive translators. Huijbers and Oosterhuis were a huge influence on many of us, notably Tom Conry and Tony Barr. But Huijbers's theory of the "performing audience" as a model of worship singing and sacrament of church has come to be the blueprint for most of us as we design music for liturgy in our parishes.

The songs have been retranslated over the years; the title song has become "Home from Our Exile" and the only song from the collection that has continued to be anthologized is "Hold Me in Life," a haunting paraphrase of Psalm 25. But there was much more that was memorable within, lyrics that will not leave the singer alone, even after thirty years. For instance, there was the closing piece in the collection, "Even Then", which simply repeated this text:
Even then, even then I'll cling to you,
Cling to you, cling tight to you,
Whether you want me or not.
In your good grace, or even out of it,
"Save me, save me!" I cry to you,
Or maybe only, "Love me! Love me!"

Huijbers, a former Jesuit, passed away about ten years ago. But his work continues to edify and build our faith, his spirit continues to strengthen the Church in the communion of saints.

I Shall See God (Tom Conry, TEAM Publications, OCP)

I don't think any other composer's work has influenced me more than Conry's. It is difficult to pick the one song of his that was most significant, but while his first collection, Ashes, demonstrated the kitsch-and-jargon-scorning angularity of text and tune that were his trademark, the second collection, We the Living, demonstrated the maturity of a few more years of experience and the influence of Huijbers, including some of Huijbers own material generously introduced by Tom to American churches. 

Notable among these were two eucharistic prayers, "You Who Know" and "To Become Man in People". Achingly beautiful texts set to Huijbers's characteristically elemental melodies successfully juxtaposed scriptural images with the human experience of longing, sin, fear, and solidarity in a way that has not really been equalled since, except possibly by Antoine Oomen, and Michael Joncas's stunning Eucharistic Prayer called "The Winter Name of God," which pays homage to Huijbers in one of its musical motifs.

I shall never forget being in the assembly at the NPM closing liturgy in Detroit, maybe in 1981 or so, and singing with two or three thousand other musicians the words of this song of Tom's:
"I shall sing while I live.
I will be there for you.
And I shall see God 
and celebrate what my life may be."
The ceiling of ballroom trembled, and there was a sense that we had encountered the truth of what liturgy might be.

Tom has mentored me and a lot of us through the last twenty years or so. His commitment to scripture, his resolute rejection of nostalgia, romance, and platonism in liturgical song, his clear vision of the political imperative of liturgical solidarity, all of these have made us better writers and better preparers of worship, wary of ritual into a substitute for life. I'm grateful for his presence and his art. 

My favorite memory, among many, of making music with Tom: singing Phil Ochs's song, "The Crucifixion", together with him at a concert in Phoenix in the late 1980's.

Beginning Today (Ducote, Damean Music, GIA)

"Here I Am, Lord," by Dan Schutte was a natural evolution of the St. Louis Jesuit's style. It was just so strong, its passion so condensed, that I can remember hearing it for the first time and thinking what a wonderful song it was, and suspecting it would be hugely popular. The same thing happened when I first heard Bernadette Farrell's "Christ Be Our Light" on an OCP sampler recording. But I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the Dameans' "Beginning Today,"  (in our mobile home, in Glendale, AZ, in about 1975), and I was just floored.

Hearing the song now, with its simple chord progression and innocent text, it is easy to shove off as folksy kitsch, but the thing is that in its time it was an invisible seam between popular folk music and music written for worship. The lyrics often ambiguous "you" in this tender love song was revealed in the verses to be the divine lover, but as you heard it and sang it, you could imagine it was written for and sung to a human lover, and so it became a popular song at weddings. Now, as I reflect on the text, it seems more baptismal, a springtime ode to the passion of conversion desire.

Over the years, I've had a number of opportunities to meet and occasionally make music with the Dameans. Gary Daigle, a late but transformative addition to the quartet, has been my friend, colleague, and collaborate for going on thirty years. Their 1978 collection Remember Your Love, the first Gary Daigle collaboration, was another moment for me, and in my part of the country, marked a move toward including piano in music for worship in Catholic churches. But "Beginning Today" was my introduction to Gary Ault and the music of the Dameans, and I'm glad for their contribution, the spirituality and honesty of their efforts from the FEL years through their association with NALR and GIA. Thanks, guys.

In Your Love, Remember Me (Tom Kendzia, NALR, OCP © 1980)

Tom Kendzia has been a great friend and fellow traveler on this musical journey for over thirty years. Our first musical association was his asking me to direct a choir to showcase his music at the Detroit NPM National Convention, in 1980 or 81. Before that, I had only known his name through the NALR catalog and advertisements. Preparing the music for that conference, I began to realize what a talent he had for harmony and pop music hooks, way beyond my grasp of the craft. His piano playing, too, was confident and fresh, playing with familiar pop patterns and bringing the energy of arena and theater venues to the music he wrote for American churches.

Light of the World was the collection he had just finished, with Paul Quinlan producing, and it was different from anything else at the time that I was aware of. The orchestrations were punchy and rich, the synthesizer made an intelligent and mesmerizing appearance, and there were unembarrassed rhythm tracks that further livened the songs. What Daniel (now Cyprian, OSBCam) Consiglio was doing to integrate the sound of Bob Marley and the Police into music for teens at St. Jerome in Phoenix (that eventually morphed into LifeTeen, through the passion and genius of Daniel's padewan, Tom Booth, and others), Tom was doing with the sound of Elton John and Billy Joel.

Of all the songs on Light of the World, "In Your Love Remember Me" blew me away most completely. It is a ballad in verse-refrain form, with two verses having different melodies, and a haunting refrain with a melody crafted as though from a remembered dream. Hearing it, singing it, I felt I was in the presence of a vision greater than myself. Tom has proven his versatility and adaptability over and over again through the years. But the freshness of some of these early songs, this one, "As a Doe," especially the instrumental bridge and the cadence of the refrain, and the exuberant title song, made me grateful for his invitation to get to know his music better when we met that day in Phoenix so long ago.

As I close, I want you to know that these are not the ten songs that I have used the most since I heard them. The choices are very personal. They're more about my perception of liturgical music and its lines than they are my favorites when planning worship. The songs I choose for worship, as well as songs I've written, are all experienced and even judged through the filter of these watershed songs of my life. I hope that clarifies a little.

Here's the list, a recap before saying goodbye:

1. I Am the Bread of Life, by S. Suzanne Toolan, SM (GIA, c 1966)
2. Song of the Three Young Men (Richard Proulx, c. 1973)
3. We Come to Join in Your Banquet of Love by Tom Parker (WLP, c. 1968) 
4. Psalm 100 "Let All the Earth Cry Out to God with Joy," by Ralph Verdi, C.Pp.S. (Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship).
5. It's a Brand New Day Paul Quinlan, FEL.
6. Mary's Song (text: Huub Oosterhuis; music: J. Michael Joncas, 1979, New Dawn)
7. When from Our Exile (Oosterhuis/Huijbers etal., NALR/OCP)
8. I Shall See God (Tom Conry, TEAM Publications, OCP)
9. Beginning Today (Ducote, Damean Music, GIA)
10. In Your Love, Remember Me (Kendzia, NALR, OCP)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ten Songs That Made a Difference (to me) - 1-5

It's a good exercise to remember whence one has come. In 2006, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians ran a survey among its members called "Songs that Made a Difference." This and similar surveys show what a great breadth of liturgical song has touched the hearts of RC worshippers in the USA, and well it should be. Descendants of immigrants, we, this glorious rainbow of ethnicities that make up the Church in the United States, ought to cling to a wide range of music, for that is our birthright. From chant, to polyphony, to hymnody, to folk songs of various nations, a lot of different music has, over the years, revealed the unseen God to us, and allowed us to sing our praise in a manner beyond mere words. 
As I thought about this, I thought of a number of songs that influence who I am, how I perceive worship music, and how I pray. The songs on the NPM list were good ones, of course, but most of them were, in a sense, the second generation of the "new music," at least as they came to me, not being from St. Louis or Minneapolis. There are too many to list at once, so I've tried to limit myself to ten liturgical songs from the first 20 years of the reform, from 1965-1985. Obviously, a lot of other music has influenced me and all of us as well, and maybe I'll get around to that some day too. But you want some "roots" music of cooneytoons? ☺ Here you go! (In no particular order...) 

I Am the Bread of Life, by S. Suzanne Toolan, SM (GIA, © 1966). I can remember where I was when I first heard this song. I was a high school seminarian, and my school or choir was attending a solemn funeral at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California. It might have been for Cardinal McIntyre, it might have been for a deceased Vincentian, I don't recall that part. What I do recall is the joy and amazement I felt, the revelation, of that refrain, sequencing higher and higher, until the glorious resolution on the words, "and I will raise (him) up on the last day." One of the gems of our songbook today! I published an arrangement of this song in our 1998 collection, This Very Morning.

Song of the Three Young Men by Richard Proulx, © 1973) Again, I recall the first time I heard this song, at the ordination of some friends of mine in Lemont, Illinois, at DeAndreis Theologate. The rhythmic quasi-chant, the haunting organ accompaniment, the use of tambourine and drum with organ, the repeated refrain "praised and exalted above all forever" from the book of Daniel, all of these are mixed forever with the smell of incense and the joy of newly ordained friends. Proulx's music was introduced to me through the Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship. He was one of the great lights of US Church music, and until his death in 2010 was one of its major influences and practitioners. It’s still available today from GIA, under the title of “Song of the Three Children.” 

We Come to Join in Your Banquet of Love by Tom Parker (WLP, © 1968) I've always wanted to meet Tom Parker, to thank him for his enthusiastic and genuinely different music written for World Library's youth hymnal back in the 60s and early 70s. Another fine piece that came from that collection of music was a communion by Robert Schaffer that I used for many years entitled "In Love We Gather." Parker's music was easy to sing and play, and the lyrics so unusual. The intensely passionate praise of God in Christ in this song still stuns me, and the several verses were arranged for duet singing, which was also unusual in the contemporary idiom. Another of Parker's songs, "Let All the Earth Sing His Praise," included exhortations to different nations and peoples to praise God in their own way and voice ("Come men of distant China, boys of Peru,/All children of the sea, girls of Brittany too.") Tom is a well-respected pastoral musician in the DC area.

Psalm 100 "Let All the Earth Cry Out to God with Joy," by Ralph Verdi, C.Pp.S. (Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship). Before describing this luscious piece of Bernsteinesque psalmody, I should say a word in honor of CFCW and its choleric founder, Robert I. Blanchard. 

I was still in college when I had the privilege of attending an FDLC meeting in Kansas City. It had to have been in 1972 or early 1973. It was there that I first met Frank Schoen, Frank Quinn, and probably a lot of others (in a recent conversation with him, I discovered that a young Paul Turner was there as well), but certainly it's where I met Bob Blanchard. Simultaneously carefree and irascible, he had a small music engraving facility in Sugar Creek, Missouri, across the river from Kansas City, and it was from here that he organized and spearheaded the Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship. It was funded as a liturgical study and research institute by the NCCB for four or five years, as I recall. 
The idea worked fairly simply: composers were commissioned to write a specific work for the liturgy. Members would join the Forum for an annual fee. In exchange for membership, we received a copy of everything that was published with permission to copy as much as necessary for choir and assembly in any form, with the further proviso that feedback about how the piece was received in the liturgy was sent back to the office, and then to the composer. Commissioned pieces included gospel acclamations with lectionary refrains, eucharistic prayers, various responsorial psalms, generally with several (even all) of the lectionary refrains set to match the same verses, and even some baptismal acclamations. There was a particularly lovely setting of the ICEL text of "Where Charity and Love are Found" by a Sister Maria of the Cross, from whom I've never seen another piece of music (was it a pen name?) Well known composers like Flor Peeters of Belgium, Noel Goemanne, Theodore Marier, Richard Proulx, and Theophane Hytrek were among those commissioned. For some strange reason, Bob took an interest in my writing, and I was invited to set a couple of acclamations for the sprinkling rite (Psalm 51) and a Lamb of God, and these were my first pieces ever published. (The Lamb of God was still in the GIA catalog, last time I looked, in the Cantor-Congregation series.) One of the gospel acclamations published endures as the "Joyful Alleluia" (Howard Hughes, SM), found in Gather and RitualSong. So there was some enduring work that came out of the short-lived Forum. 
Bob tried to make a go of it, but the grants dried up, and I think he felt abandoned by many of the writers whose careers he thought he had helped along. He used to call me at home, years after we had last seen each other, and cry on the telephone about how things hadn't worked out as he had hoped. I heard a year or two ago that he had died in his native South Carolina, and that he had left instructions that there was to be no music at his funeral. I wonder whether his request was acceded to, or whether, in his honor and to God's glory, he was sent to eternity with music? 
Well, that was a long set-up, wasn't it? But the thing is, that is what a blog is for, or what I'm using it for. To write down my memories and thoughts as they come along, and not try to do too much editing. Caveat lector!! Back to the song: Ralph Verdi has written other music, of course, but this setting of Psalm 100 blew all of us away at St. Mary of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri. It was set for organ and clarinet, cantor and assembly. The melodies of the refrain and the through-composed verses were soaring, the harmonies fresh and American, almost Broadway-like in their emotive power. And the clarinet descant was amazing. Remember that in 1971 or so we hadn't seen too much church music written for clarinet, not in the U.S. anyway, and not for the Catholic liturgy. Singing this setting was a revelation: I remember that we used it as an entrance antiphon, as the responsorial psalm, or as a communion song at different times. I'm surprised that it has faded into oblivion. Much of that music was worth remembering, though it has fallen by the wayside, including a setting of Psalm 98 by Proulx that had set all the refrains of the lectionary with all the verses from the Grail translation of the psalm. 

It's a Brand New Day Paul Quinlan, FEL. Paul was a crazy Bostonian who lived in Phoenix. A former Jesuit seminarian who had taught at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix, he later married and ended up working for NALR during the first years the company was based in Phoenix. He left the company, as I recall, by 1981 or 82. Paul had had a number of songs in the various hymnals published by the controversial FEL Publishing Company. "Sing to God a Brand New Canticle" was certainly one of his "hits" in the church of the 70s, but my favorite was always "It's a Brand New Day," a free-wheeling paraphrase of Psalm 8 with a fairly complex form for the folk-rock idiom (long verse, pre-chorus, chorus) and a guitar vamp that reminded everyone of the Zombies' "Gloria". Other songs and composers from the "Hymnal for Young Christians" by FEL that fall into the same general category as this one include such songs as "Wake Up, My People" (Ray Repp), "God Is Love" (Clarence Rivers), "We Long for You, O Lord" (Cyril Reilly), and, of course, Peter Scholtes "They'll Know We Are Christians" and "Missa Bossa Nova." I know we've come a long way, but that was a good start, wasn't it? Paul also introduced me to Tom Kendzia, encouraged me, and helped talk up my music to NALR and get me in a position to record my first album in 1984. Thanks, Paul, wherever you are.

5 more next time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Speaking of Epiphanies

Three epiphanies have helped to move my faith-life along as a songwriter in the Church. There have been more, personal events and relationships that have vectored my work in this way or that, but three have really shaped the passion in me for trying to find words and music to help my Church find a reason, a song, and a voice to praise God with integrity in this time and place.

First, there was the cluster of changes and development around the liturgy that followed the Second Vatican Council. As a boy, I knew the mass in Latin by heart, and had sung many of the plainsong chant masses and songs in Latin right up  through the first years of my seminary high school education. As a server and sacristan in my Catholic grammar school years, I had a fairly long experience of daily mass, of high mass and low mass, of simple singing and choral singing. What was an epiphany to me was getting into high school and then college, hearing the words  of the mass in my own language, and, perhaps even more forcefully, hearing daily the words of scripture in my own language. The work of Frs. Deiss and Gelineau and the early editions of the People's Mass Book allowed me to sing those words in worship with others, and the creative spirit in the air through the late 1960s and beyond caught up my imagination and others' with a sense that we could begin to write music for worship out of our own inspiration.

Second, there was a seminar on Christology taught to us on novitiate in 1969 or 1970 that awakened my soul to the beauty and reality of Christ. Using the texts of St. Paul in Romans, Corinthians and elsewhere, Vincentian scripture scholar William Lynch helped set a permanent fire to my heart as I was invited to dwell in the mystery of the mystical body of Christ, which was an open doorway to both the mystery of the Church and a fuller appreciation of the gift of the Eucharist.

Finally, fifteen years later in the mid-1980s, after working in church ministry part time for years and full time for about a year, I met Gary Daigle at the Corpus Christi Center for Advanced Liturgical Study in Phoenix, where we were students of the late John Gallen, SJ, and many others, learning enthusiasm for the liturgy from such lights as Robert Taft, SJ, Austin Fleming, John Baldovin, SJ, Virgil Funk, Thomas Talley, and many others. In a sense, this experience braked our creativity, showed me the beauty and wisdom of submitting to the discipline of the liturgy while continuing to embrace the challenge of adaptation and enculturation.

There have been others: working with Christianne Brusselmans, James Dunning, and the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, learning from the late Robert I. Blanchard and his craft and vision that birthed the Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship, my encounter with the work of René Girard, and the dozens of fine musicians, liturgists, and theologians who have enriched my life over the years with their generosity and artistry. 

There has been a tremendous influence on my work from the communities in which I have worked, notably the Vincentian (Congregation of the Mission) community at St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville, Missouri, St. Jerome Catholic Community in Phoenix, Arizona, and currently St. Anne Catholic Community in Barrington, Illinois. From my first collection of songs in 1984 through my most recent efforts, every song has been conceived and written with voices of these people in my heart. I hear my friends in the seminary in 1971 singing the refrain of Psalm 40 ("Here I am, Lord, here I am; I come to do your will") on a wintry Sunday morning, the assembly in Phoenix taking to the refrains of "Jerusalem, My Destiny" and the Exodus reading in their spring liturgies, and the generous choir and assemblies of St. Anne's nursing the music that is Christ the Icon and Today into being, along with the growing number of pieces I've written since those collections.

The influence and dance of these epiphanies can be seen throughout the entire collection of my songs. Christ the Icon and Today represent music I have written almost entirely since my move to the Chicago area in 1994. But those three epiphanies are visible in each song: the words of psalms and other scripture, the church as the mystical Christ, and the influence the great liturgical thinkers of the American church since the Council.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Back to Cana and Corinthians for a second

You might think, after reading what I wrote last week about Cana and the transforming power of God, that I somehow have my eyes closed and just wander around in some kind of euphoric fog thinking about how wonderful things are in the new creation. If you know me, you know that nothing is further from the truth, that I’m as crabby as anyone else you know, just as trapped in the idolatrous economics of “the world” as everyone else, selfish and self-absorbed. But enough about me. My point was just that I believe the gospel; I’ve had enough experience in my life to know that love does change water into wine, and causes other smaller miracles too. 

Since I can connect with the truth of the miracle, I tend to believe in the whole message. Making the jump from tentative belief to complete trust is a little harder, I guess, but in some ways that are economic as well as spiritual I guess I have, over the years, found ways of giving my life over to the reign of God. All of them have been because of my vocation to a community. No private revelations, no secret bank accounts, no televangelist’s program of riches and blessings in return for faith; it’s just been that, generally, when I've done the work I've been called to by baptism, I've been generally happy, my life has meaning, and my needs have been met. Sandwiched between the reading from third-Isaiah on Sunday and the gospel was the beginning of the marvelous passage from the middle of 1 Corinthians in which St. Paul lays out his revelation about the body of Christ, the Church, called together and organized by the Holy Spirit of God, the same Spirit that called Jesus and made him Messiah. The transforming power of God not only rescues shabby nations from exile and chooses them for marriage, not only changes water into wine, dispensing with rite in favor of hospitality and celebration, but turns the atomized, alienated, idolatrous gaggle of humanity into nothing less than the incarnate Logos of God. Not through any merit of our own, God has chosen us to be so intimately joined in Christ that we become one body, cells in an organism, each with gifts that are needed for the health of the whole, the whole giving a sense of belonging and identity to the individual. 

Here we get the real depth of transformation hinted at in the gospel of Cana: in Christ, humanity is called to share in divinity, and it’s wonderful, and the word of Christ can do it, and it starts here and now, in this world. Of course, this process (it’s a process as we experience it in spacetime, but as God’s work it is outside of time, always now) unfolds gradually in the life of the Church; sometimes corporately and as individuals we act as anything but divine beings. The paschal mystery unfolds in us as it unfolded in Christ; sometimes it takes the form of hospitality, or healing, or a shared meal, shared pain; it may be the foregoing of one’s rights or opportunities that the life of others may be bettered; it could be the spending of one’s life-time for the good of others, time which cannot be retracted and spent in any selfish pursuit. What baptism does is save us from the pointless pursuit of counterfeits and phantoms that merely pose as goodness; it points us away from self-direction and places us in the apprenticeship of the gospel and the community which the gospel has called together. 

St. Paul tries to clarify all that with the “body” metaphor in 1 Cor 12 and in Romans 12, though in a way it seems to me what he’s actually exhorting them (and us) on is the role of the Spirit in salvation, the unifying, empowering, missioning Spirit that is the life of the Body of Christ, the Church. I was fortunate, as a young man in the novitiate at age 18 or so, to have spent an intensive week with a Vincentian scripture scholar by the name of Bill Lynch whose sole purpose was to open us up to the mystery of the Body. For an entire week, in a format that was part retreat and part class, he “opened up the Scriptures to us” and I caught the fire from him. I’ve never lost my passion for that cluster of scriptural images around the Body of Christ. That metaphor surely pervades everything I’ve ever written, and to me it’s as fresh and true as it was when it first came to Paul as he wrote to the contentious, fledgling community in Corinth. 

The psalm for this past Sunday, whose purpose is ostensibly to help us chew on the words of scriptures heard even as we proclaim them in our song, invited us to “proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations” in the words of one of the Hallels, Psalm 96. Unlike human rulers, God rules “all the peoples of earth with constancy,” faithful and equitable treatment to people of every race, creed, and time. Importantly, we have learned that God "rules" by service, by humbling Self, by putting godliness aside. But how will they know, if no one tells them? The Church, through its preaching of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments, particularly baptism and eucharist, as ritual symbols of its life in the cities, towns, and countrysides of the world, is charged with awakening us to our divine calling, to our divine origin, and energizing us to live in an organism called community that is made in the image and likeness of God himself. We are a body, with Christ as head, whose life is the very Spirit of God. Again, let me invoke the words of the sacred liturgy as I leave you for another day and time, with a prayer that we may "come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."