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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Albums (5) — "Safety Harbor" (1989)

Our happy trio, almost a quarter century ago,
on the Big Island, looking like the locals. Not.
That is I, looking very groovy, on the left.
This is the one where we talk about the "right of first refusal" clause in contracts, and how to get out of it. Safety Harbor marked a major move for us, from one publisher to another. It was music mostly written in the amazing year of 1989, with the Berlin Wall coming down, the showdown in Tienanmen Square, and the negotiation of the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. It was also the year of successful heart surgery for our friend and mentor, John Gallen, S.J.

Since I've done "SongStories" posts on "Jerusalem, My Destiny" and "Safety Harbor," I will just reference those posts when I am talking about the individual songs on this collection. Psalms 137 and 139 were also covered in an earlier post about musician Bill Foster who was the first to record them on his Resource Publications record, "If I Forget You, Jerusalem." Look for the "sidebar" located, unpredictably, at the end of the story.

I had gotten involved with North American Liturgy Resources (NALR) in Phoenix in 1980 as I mentioned in another post, when I met Paul Quinlan and then Tom Kendzia. I was the choir director at the cathedral parish, Ss. Simon and Jude, which had no music director at the time. I was also co-directing the diocesan chorale, which is why NALR came to me for their 10th anniversary Festival of Sacred Music, to direct a choir for John Michael Talbot's "The Lord's Supper." As things moved along, I made my first recordings with NALR between 1984 and 1987. I would make two more in the early 90s, Cries of the Spirit, Volumes 1 and 2, psalm collections of material previously published in Assemblybook and in the Glory and Praise series. 

But in 1989, in spite of the friendly relationship we had with individuals in the company, our relationship with the company had begun to fray over the issue of royalty payments. Whatever the case actually was, we felt that we had been underpaid and too-slowly paid for our sales, and had had enough. We decided it was time to investigate other publishers.

Easier said than done, though, because at the time we were under contract with NALR, which, when taking on a new project, would insert a right-of-first-refusal clause into the contract. This boiled down to a commitment that, during the two years following the signing of the deal, NALR had the exclusive right to publish any new work. If NALR wanted it, they would publish it under their terms. If they refused it, then one could take it to another publisher. There was no point in trying to fight this clause. We had signed the contract, and we were definitely too poor to hire a lawyer to help us escape. So we decided to wait it out for the two year period.

As chance would have it, in November of 1989 when the two years was up, the three of us happened to be in Hawaii (see exciting photo above) as presenters and guests of BILAC, the Big Island Liturgical Arts Conference, at the time held in the Hawaiian homelands outside of Hilo. I remember sitting together and calling Michael Cymbala from there, and telling him that we had a collection of music ready to record that we felt was very solid, and Michael being most gracious and saying he was looking forward to working with us. It was as easy as that. We were about to make our first recording with GIA.

In moving from one publisher to another, virtually nothing changed in the way we made the record. We still used Vintage Recorders, on 11th Street and Camelback in central Phoenix, and the recording was engineered by Mary Carol Kendzia's talented sister, Paula Wolak. Many of the choir members and players were the same we had used before, though now I had friends from St. Jerome singing along with Gary's colleagues from the Casa. The great Steve Fitch played percussion along with the late Bob Warren. Fred Forney anchored the horn section again, with his friend and colleague, the late Tom Miles. The second violinist was the redoubtable Eugene Lombardi, for many years the concertmaster of the Phoenix Symphony and head of the Arizona State University music department. Tim and Julie Smith, who led the music ministry at St. Timothy's in Mesa so inimitably for so long both sang on the recording. I've already sung the praise of so many others, but feel the need to mention again Beth Lederman, who played piano for all the tracks.

The Songs: Organization - Loosely speaking, we divided the songs into and Advent side and a Lent side, though there were some songs that were clearly general, like the title song. 
Gary Palmatier's original artwork that graced the cover.

1. Canticle of the Turning has become one of my most popular songs ever, and I'm so grateful to everyone. It has been arranged by the great John Ferguson and the great Hal Hopson, and appears in both Lutheran and Mennonite hymnals. Honestly, you just never know. No sense saying more about this song, as it's a clear candidate for a "SongStories" post like #8 and #9 below, but thank you to everyone who has tried it out, downloaded it, made a YouTube video, or covered it on a church recording. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
2. Carol of the Word was one of three collaborations on this recording between Gary Daigle and me. It's an Advent processional that uses imagery from each of the four Sundays in its four stanzas. Gary's fresh melody crackles along, paired with Bob Warren's sidestick pattern reminiscent of Sting and the Police, and Tony Malaby's soprano sax line ties the pieces together perfectly. I love the restless energy of this piece, which to me embodies the Advent spirit, waiting, longing, hoping.
3. Psalm 63: My Soul Is Longing. In the days before music software (for my next album, I put the scores into Mark of the Unicorn's Professional Performer and Composer) all of these scores were written out by hand, and I remember having these huge pads of manuscript paper, probably 14" x 20", a yellowing-orange color, and it was on this paper I started writing this setting of Psalm 63, using the NAB translation. Musically set for piano, cello, and oboe, I wanted to do what I had seen composers do in the days of the Composers' Forum for Catholic Worship, that is, set each verse musically in a way that expressed its text, rather than stacking verses with the same melody or cantillation. For the cantor, I imagine this psalm is a lot of fun, spanning an octave and a half and both major and minor tonalities. And of course, Terry's interpretation on the recording is beautiful.
4. Sing We Maranatha is a little Advent carol that I love, playing with the theological paradox of praying "Maranatha (Come, Lord!)" to the Lord who is, in fact, all around us, even within us! The verses enumerate ways in which the Lord is near, "here in robin, there in trout,/Every choice, and every doubt..." and the refrain is a prayer for sight: "Let us see you where you are,/Breath of lovers, Seed of star,/ Source and heart of everything!/ Sing we 'Maranatha'!" In the madrigal-like setting, the word "sing" in the chorus is anticipated before the bar, giving the whole song a sense of exultation. I love to pull this one out every couple of years.
5. Say the Word is a duet for alto and tenor, taking the "roles" of Mary and Gabriel in the annunciation story. I wrote about this in my post about the recording Mystery because it is from the same mini-musical, Song of Mary, that "To My Surprise" is from. In my "translation" of Mary's "fiat" - "What must I do? Say the word!" I was going for a little play on the idiom that means "I'll do anything" and a deeper sense, of which she might be unaware, that in the incarnation God will indeed "say the Word" that will bring about salvation. 
6. Psalm 139: Wings of Dawn At the bottom of the post "If I Forget You" (linked by the song title) I wrote some of the origins of both this and #13, written in the summer of 1973.
7. Walk in the Reign is one of our favorite songs to sing in concert and at liturgy. The year this song was written, when several of these songs were written, was a heady year for humanity. The Advent words of Isaiah seemed fresher than ever, as "close as tomorrow," and again, the first three verses of this song, and the bridge ("Bethlehem!...") were meant to call to mind imagery from each of the four Sundays. The fourth verse, "The schools of Soweto, the docks at Gdansk...", was meant to bring it all even more into the present. And by present, I just mean our lifetime, our era! I've updated the last verse occasionally, but I think that the original text carries as much meaning today as it did when I wrote it. But whatever the events, "when we stand together to stand against hell,/ The name of this people is Emmanuel." We, I, don't always measure up to that name and vocation. We sometimes rush to judgment about what "hell" is. But I think that's the risk God took with the incarnation, and as long as we are aware and keep discerning together, acting humbly, peacefully, without violence, we'll be all right.
8. Safety Harbor (link to "SongStories" post)
9. Jerusalem, My Destiny (link to "SongStories post)
10. Psalm 30: I Will Praise You, with #11 below are the other two collaborations with Gary Daigle that appear on this album. In both cases, Gary wrote the music and I wrote the words (on Psalm 116, I think I also wrote the melody of verse three, and I did the orchestration). We approach the songs differently, and I do not remember whether he started with melodies and asked me to set verses, or if he just asked me for a metric paraphrase and set it to music. On this song, what I do remember is sitting by the piano at St. Jerome in Phoenix while we were working out the three-part arrangement for our trio of the vocals. Terry and Gary are natural musicians, they hear intervals, chords, and what should go where right away. Me, I'm an idiot. I need someone to write it down, and then when I can see the music, I can sing it. This is not from being a trained musician. It's from not being talented in that way natural musicians are. I hate that about both of them. KIDDING.

11. Psalm 116: I Will Walk in the Presence of God
12. Psalm 8: How Glorious Is Your Name is a pretty standard psalm setting using the NAB text of the psalm, except that it employs two cantors on the verses, sometimes singing alone, sometimes in harmony. We still use this psalm a few times a year at weddings, and this year (year C of the lectionary) it is the psalm for Trinity Sunday. Orchestration is string quartet, keyboard, and flute. 
13. Psalm 137: If I Forget You (see note at #6)

Hits - "Canticle" and "Jerusalem, My Destiny" have both been tremendously successful for me over the years. In spite of this, neither has found its way into the anthologies of OCP or World Library, a fact that just makes me shake my head. In addition to those, Walk in the Reign, Psalm 116, and Psalm 8 all made it into the first and/or second edition of Gather Comprehensive, but none are in the current incarnation. Still, I am most grateful for all those, of many faiths, who have been able to pray using those songs for almost twenty-five years. What a privilege for me to have been an instrument of that. No, I don't get it, but I give thanks. 

Misses - "Sing We Maranatha" and "Carol of the Word" are the two songs that I wish had had a better hearing, or had fallen on the ears and hearts of music directors better! I think there's a lot of good in them that might yet be mined, and certainly some homily fodder. That's already in the Advent liturgy, of course, but a song can be a bridge between the newspaper and the bible, don't you think? 


  1. Rory,
    Canticle of the Turning changed my life in many ways. The first time I heard it, I was at a Call to Action conference in Milwaukee. I was a theology major at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio and I had gone to CTA that year with 3 other students. Sr. Joan Chittister was the plenary speaker that year, and we opened up her talk with Canticle of the Turning. I was only 19 years old - a mere college sophomore. I was pulling my "little red wagon" of social justice ministry around campus and was starting to be formed in the liturgical rites of the church to prepare myself for professional ministry. It was such a time of hope for me . . . .for many reasons that I don't want to spill out here on Google. A few years ago, I purchased the John Ferguson arrangement from GIA to use on the organ.....LOVE IT. Keep writing Rory. That song changed my life in many ways. I am still transformed by it when I listen to it, or play it on the organ, or the piano.

    1. Thanks, Jason! Such a great story. Keep up the good work. I'll do my best.