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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

10 Songs That Influenced Me: 1985-2005

In the previous book, Theophilus...

When I started this blog last month, some of the first articles I did were about ten songs that influenced my writing in the earliest days of the renewal, between 1965 and 1985. This list will be a follow-up to that, and present ten more songs from the next 20 years. (No, I can't believe it either. I can't even believe I'm writing that sentence.) I'm sure I'll regret this list as soon as I commit myself to it: there were just so many songs in those 20 years! Still, these will be representative, and I hope to tell you why.

And once again, this is a personal list, about influence, not about use in worship. Of course these are not the songs that were necessarily used by me extensively or anyone else during that period. Some very significant songs and composers, even to me, are not represented. That doesn't mean anything of value. It's just that these were special to me. As a courtesy to the composers, I have linked the titles to the publishers' sales pages if you are interested. Where they exist, I also put iTunes links for your listening pleasure.

10. "I Shall Be Living" (Antoine Oomen, OCP; tr. Tony Barr, A. Oomen, and James Hansen) Continuing the Dutch tradition of Bernard Huijbers, Antoine Oomen produced this gem of a song with a text by Oosterhuis in a larger collection of music by several Dutch composers, called Turn Your Heart to Me. Here is a piece of music written for the piano by someone who really knows the instrument, evocative, cascading triplets washing over the melody like a Debussy song, painting with an impressionist's palette the haunting lyric of an eschaton that, somehow, we recognize:
It will be at the breaking dawn, as then.
The stone rolled away.
I have risen from the earth.
My eyes can endure the daylight.
I walk and do not stumble.
I speak and understand myself.
People are approaching me,
We find that we know each other....
Beyond this,
As crystal dazzling and blinding,
The sea that gave back her dead.
We pass the night in each other's shadow.
We are awakened by the light of dawn,
As if someone has called our true name.
I shall be living.
I shall be living.
I shall be living.
© 1979, 1983, 1996 Gooi en Sticht. Excl. agent: OCP.

9. "Justice," Cyprian (Daniel) Consiglio, NALR. I didn't really know which piece of the earlier Consiglio works I should mention, but this seemed as good as any. Better than anyone else, Cyprian was able to integrate the music he heard in the streets and airwaves with the words and emotions of scripture. In "Justice" and a number of other songs, he caught the simmering religious longing for equality and freedom that drives the reggae style of  Bob Marley and paired it with the texts of the psalms and other scriptures, creating dancing musical anthems that inspired thousands of young people in the early days of the nascent "LifeTeen" masses. "Justice" is a setting of Psalm 72, and as good an example of the joyful genre as he composed.

8. "Eucharistic Prayer II", by Marty Haugen (GIA). This is the "Loyola" setting of the prayer, in  one sense a Bauhaus kind of liturgical music: utilitarian, democratic, essentially monodic, though published with the usual assortment of optional instrumental and choral parts. What set the idea apart was that this was a democratic setting of a Eucharistic prayer, a genuinely dialogical setting of a normative liturgical text, in which the sung prayer is shared by the priest, a cantor, and the assembly in a startling and unique way. Marty belongs on this list for the sheer volume and quality of his oeuvre: his Reformation sensibilities and less centralized ecclesiology have been a good fit for American Catholics, who have taken to his music more than any Roman Catholic composer's for the last thirty years or so.

7. "Light in the Darkness," by Michael Balhoff, Gary Daigle, and Darryl Ducote, (Damean Music, GIA) Light In the Darkness - Today This Christmas anthem from the Dameans' album by the same name really stood out from most of the other songs in the collection, though there were some others to like as well, including "In the Stillness" and "O Antiphons." With his proven ability to develop a lyrical idea with simple elegance, Balhoff takes the phrase "Glory to God for light in the darkness" through a prayerful circle of gratitudes for divine action in different times and places. Darryl's Ducote's unerring sense of melody and Gary Daigle's careful harmonizations combine to create a musical chiaroscuro in an unjustly overlooked work that should have become part of the Christmas repertoire of many congregations and choirs. I like this song so much that I asked the Dameans to allow our trio re-record this song on our 2006 CD Today.

6. "On Holy Ground," Donna Peña (GIA).   On Holy Ground - I Say Yes / Digo Si  One of the first genuinely bilingual and bicultural pieces I ever experienced, "On Holy Ground" blew my socks off when I was part of the musical group that performed it for its premiere when it was the theme song of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in 1992. Verses in both English and Spanish, with a dialogical refrain that thunders back and forth in a laughing salsa rhythm between the two languages, "On Holy Ground" proclaims a new heaven and a new earth in a sexy Latin rite of spring, announcing the unity of the incarnation and resurrection in a way that simply transcends theological exposition. When you sing "On Holy Ground," you share in the passion of the woman who wrote it and the vibrant faith of the Latin American cultures for whom her music begins to speak.

How am I doing so far? Five more will appear here "soon and very soon." Apologies to Casey Kasem and David Letterman for stealing the countdown-from-ten meme.

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