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Friday, May 17, 2013

Albums (6) - Cries of the Spirit, Volume 1 (1991, NALR)

My sixth recording was Cries of the Spirit, Volume 1, which was released in 1991. We had finished our first CD with GIA. The situation, as I saw it at least, was that I was now musically "bi-ritual," and had published with two publishers, finally getting out of the "right of first refusal" clauses that had kept me tied to North American Liturgy Resources (NALR) for so long. To my way of thinking, every publisher always has the right of first refusal. It's just that I have the right to decide, song by song or album by album, who gets to exercise that right!

Now, there are some good reasons to stay with a single publisher, especially if they treat you well, and possibly open new doors to you as a reward of loyalty. For instance, raising the royalty rate from 10% to something higher. Let me just be clear that, to this day, no publisher has ever done this for me, except for OCP, who raises the royalty rate on pieces once they cross a sales threshold. Since octavos were not "grandfathered" in from the NALR days, I only have one song, "Yours Today," which has crossed this threshold to the higher (15%) level. But if you stay with a single publisher, people always know where to look for your music. When you have two or three, you have to go on a song by song basis, which is easy enough for you, but try briefing the wonderful parish volunteers at places where you do a concert. Not easy! Still, as the old song goes, "freedom isn't free," and one learns to be grateful for the various relationships forged with different publishers, different philosophies, business models, and points of view. My vision of church music also develops over time. As I mentioned in a recent post, the freedom I enjoy, while it can seem paralyzing at times, allows me to think through the best venue to get my music out, targeted to an appropriate audience, by being able to work through any publisher. These days, a number of composers have used several publishers. Not so much 20 years ago.

I found myself in a situation in which a number of my psalms had been used in NALR's short-lived yearly worship aid, AssemblyBook, during the four or five years it had been in existence. Some had been written specifically for the book, some were pieces of mine that had not been published before, or had been published or recorded by Bill Fosterr at Resource Publications in the late 1970s, but they were all in jeopardy of being lost if we didn't do something fast. So I asked Ray Bruno at NALR, through Tom Kendzia, if we might salvage some of those psalms, at least, by publishing a collection of them. In 1990 we signed a contract.

Tom and his family had moved back to his native Rhode Island, and he was producing this recording. He had also started working with music software made by a company called "Mark of the Unicorn," a suite called "Performer" for sequencing and "Professional Composer" for importing sequences and turning them into notes on a page. This was my first experience recording in this way. By obtaining a copy of "Composer," I was able to take the tracks and develop the printed music on a computer for the first time. 

We had a tight budget. Tom tended at the time to do a lot of live studio work, improvising parts and using musicians who were good improvisers, in addition to his arranging work. My tendency was to write everything out in advance so that I knew how the song was going to sound. I know this isn't the most creative way to do music, and I've reformed under the influence of all my fantastic musician friends, but in these days I wrote out nearly everything. So when you hear the string parts on Psalm 40 (Here I Am), for instance, or Psalm 72 (Justice Shall Flourish) on this CD, you are hearing me play each string line onto a different track using some synthesizer or other in Tom's studio lab. We  used real woodwind players—the awesome Mark and Carol Mellis—occasionally to trick the ear into listening to the "real" music, as well as percussion by the late Bob Warren and guitar by Mr. Daigle. But a lot of the string tracks weren't just "pads," they were note-by-note reproductions of my scores.

The songs on Cries of the Spirit were written between 1971 and about 1987. The earliest ones were written when I was still in the college seminary, and wasn't even twenty years old! I can't believe how long ago that was, over forty years. I'll tell you below what I remember about the couple of them that I have memories of. Two of the psalms appeared in a collection that was a suite of songs and mass parts called Missa America, which was published in a comb-bound edition, but never really caught on except, in a small way, for the Glory to God. The rest were written for, or appeared in, AssemblyBook. The greater number of the songs actually composed for AssemblyBook appeared in Volume 2, along with the psalm settings orphaned from the first two NALR collections when they went out of print.

Tracks 1, 3, 8,10, 11, 12, and 13 date from my years at St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville, Missouri, from 1971-1973. I remember, as I believe I have mentioned before, writing the music for "Here I Am" in my head one January morning as I walked toward the village cemetery through the snow during meditation time. It wasn't much, just a tune for a refrain to play on the guitar, and then the verses came later. Over the years, as I worked with mixed voices and other instruments, it grew into the SATB arrangement with strings and flute you may know from OCP books and even from GIA's Gather hymnals, since 1993's original Gather Comprehensive book.

Other tracks also developed over time. I'm sure I wrote the string parts for "Justice Shall Flourish" and "Send Out Your Spirit" just for the album, but the woodwind parts were already in use. One of my mentors in the seminary, an amazing pianist (or organist) by the name of Mike Javor, encouraged me in the writing of "Song of Longing," Psalm 41-42. Mike was 3 years older than I, which in seminary language means that I was crap in his eyes. Seminary life had it benefits, of course, and most of it was wonderful, but "vocational order" and the brutality of upperclassmen over freshmen especially was something best forgotten by everybody. Later in the year, Mike must have seen something worth encouraging in me. He loved jazz, and even though I didn't particularly think of "Song of Longing" as a jazzy piece, he told me that he thought it was "the book of psalms meets MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet)," and he had the keyboard skills to really make it come alive.

I'll just say here that most of these songs are workhorses. They're not flashy, but they're solid enough, and melodically carry the meaning of the texts as well as I could do that as a young man who had just discovered that I had "permission" to write settings of psalms. The psalms were where I started, thanks to the breviary and daily mass, and where I still love to be. In fact, just last month, I finished my second setting of Psalm 104 for Pentecost, probably 42 years after I wrote my first one. And I'm still learning. 

Psalm 100, "Come to the House," was a new refrain I had written for verses to an older psalm with the traditional refrain, "We are his people, the sheep of his flock." The new refrain captures better the elation in the original verses, possibly because I felt less fettered by the ovine language of the predecessor. 
All the earth, all you peoples,
Lift your voices as one.
Come to the house of God: this is your home.
Father Lucien Deiss, with whom I had the pleasure to work many times when we were in Phoenix, dropped in on the recording session for the choir, and said, "I like this music very much. I believe that I wrote it." I always hoped it was his broken English way of saying, "I also set Psalm 100 - you may have heard of my little ditty, 'All the Earth.'" I would hate to think that he thought I had plagiarized it! No, he was too kind of a man. I believe that, even if it were note for note a steal, he would have said nothing in that case. The Missa America Psalm 24 was my attempt to write a more American-sounding Taizé style ostinato, which began in the key of E and rose, each verse, through F and then F# major. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. When the soloist asks, "Who can ascend the mountain of God," on her way to the F# on the second syllable of "ascend," she probably thought the music was an allegory of the text. The setting of Isaiah 12 was in 7/8 time, like a couple of other movements of Missa America, an homage to Leonard Bernstein and Dave Brubeck, among others. All I can say is, "a man's reach should exceed his grasp." It certainly pertains to my compositional acumen, at least sometimes.

The setting of Psalm 121, "Our Help," was written specifically for AssemblyBook. David Serey used some algorithm (eeny-meeny-miney-mo?) to allocate settings for publication each year as the book needed psalm settings for each Sunday. I drew a few of those assignments, and think I did a good job for the most part. This one I set in what I imagined, at least, to be the style of Tom Conry: rhythmically bold, declamatory, bracing. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the digital art cover of "Cries" that my brother-in-law, Gary Palmatier, came up with. He designed a number of color schemes so that we could do a whole bunch of volumes with equally striking covers. Sad to say, I guess, we only needed two. But he certainly did an incredible job.

I will post a few of this on SoundCloud so you can hear them. To hear samples of each track, visit the Cries of the Spirit, Volume 1 page at OCP, here. A few endure in OCP's missalette psalms, and at least Psalm 40, "Here I Am," also still lives in Gather. In my life, God has been good a long time. Almost 61 years, in fact!

Well, a little more than that, I guess. 

Track List

  1. Psalm 40: Here I Am
  2. Psalm 24: This Is the People (responsorial psalm from Missa America)
  3. Psalm 116: Our Blessing Cup
  4. Psalm 19: Your Words, O God
  5. Psalm 34: Taste and See
  6. Isaiah 12: You Will Draw Water (sprinkling rite from Missa America)
  7. Psalm 100: Come to the House of God
  8. Psalm 41-42: Song of Longing
  9. Psalm 121: Our Help
  10. Psalm 72: Justice Shall Flourish
  11. Psalm 25: Remember Your Mercies
  12. Psalm 104: Send Out Your Spirit
  13. Psalm 98: Forever I Will Sing

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