Search This Blog

Thursday, May 9, 2013

SongStories 9 - Covenant Hymn (1992, Vision; 1994, Praise the Maker's Love, GIA)

I met Gary Daigle when he moved to Phoenix to take a job at the Franciscan Renewal Center (Casa de Paz y Bien) in Scottsdale in 1985. He wasn't a part of You Alone, but he was a force when we recorded Do Not Fear to Hope in 1985 with Tom Kendzia producing. Gary was enrolled with his "boss," Fr. John Gallen, at the Corpus Christi Center classes the same as I was. A few years younger than I, he was also a few more years younger than his colleagues in the musical quartet The Dameans, with whom he had begun collaborating and performing shortly before their important 1978 recording Remember Your Love. I was the biggest fan in the world of the songs on RYL, more so even than I had been of earlier Dameans' collections, and I admit to being a little giddy that we had just met in class and were already goofing off together. It really took about zero seconds for us to hit it off, our friendship and collegiality anticipated and probably orchestrated
Gary (far left) with the Dameans, c. 1980?
by Gallen, who had also taken a liking to my songs, and who not infrequently said mass at St. Jerome's where I was working.

We had already collaborated on a handful of songs. On the NALR album Mystery, for example, Gary contributed a contrasting melody for a B section of the title song. It was originally a hymn with seven stanzas, but Gary thought it would be more effective with two of the verses (3 and 6) set to a different tune, which he supplied. I'm always amazed at how musicians manage harmony and melody, and Gary's ability to wander through keys in a short passage without giving the singer any kind of anxiety about locating a pitch is a real gift. On the same record, he also wrote the music for a text of mine to create a song called "In Our Hands." A couple of years later, we collaborated on three songs for the Safety Harbor recording, two psalm settings (116, "I Will Walk in the Presence of God", and 30, "I Will Praise You, Lord") as well as on the hymn "Carol of the Word."

All of this is by way of saying that we were not strangers to collaborating when he gave me one evening at my house a half-sheet of manuscript paper on which he had written a simple melody in the key of F, with the words "wherever you go I will follow" (and, I think, "For Maria"). He said I could use or not use the text idea, but he thought the musical idea was good and had a lot of room for him to work with an arrangement. I said, Cool, and stuck it in a folder.

I would like to be able to tell you that my world was rocked by the melody, that I couldn't get it out of my head, that I sat down immediately that night and started cranking out a text for his tune, but alas, it didn't happen that way. In fact, days and weeks went by, and even with reminders and inquiries from Gary, it didn't move to the front burner. Weeks turned into months, and he started realizing we were going nowhere fast. In the meantime, I decided one way to pay attention to this aspect of my creative life was to get away, so I went to (I think?) my mother-in-law's house in Prescott Valley, a scenic and somewhat remote setting, where I only had a notebook, a guitar, and a bible for company. I started writing a few lyrics that became some of the songs on Vision, "Create Me Again" from Psalm 51, All Things New, Spirits Seeking Light and Beauty, "Roots in the Earth" from Psalm 1, and "One Is," a eucharistic anthem I had been wanting to write that united some images in my mind from scripture with insights from Thomas Merton and the Gospel of Thomas about radical unity amid the diversity of creation. (Aside: I dream about that notebook, that I have a lot of lyrics in it that I haven't set to music, and I dream that I can't find it. I know that there are a couple of dozen songs in there, but I can't find it. Ack! Who needs dreams like that?)

But nothing for Gary's little tune on the manuscript paper.

Not to be deterred, Gary thought if it worked once, maybe it would work again, so we got a cabin somewhere in Prescott a couple of months later, and worked on some things together. What came out of that two-or-three day session was our collaboration "May We Be One," which ended up on Gary's 1994 album Praise the Maker's Love, and, thanks be to God, a text for his melody. I'm not sure what catalyzed it. It might have been rethinking the famous text from Ruth about her mother-in-law, a text that is surely more about
Rory, Terry, and Gary in St. Louis, November 1992
solidarity than it is about marriage, which is how it has so often been used, as a text for the RCIA. When I was writing it, I tried to keep solidarity as the key dynamic in mind, so that the song could be sung about all different kinds of relationships. But the primary one that we had in mind was that of a community singing to its catechumens the "new song" of a solidarity unto death. In fact, we insisted, when GIA informed us that they were going to put "Covenant Hymn" into their new edition of Gather, that they place it in the "Initiation" section of the book, rather than "marriage" or some other place, which they happily obliged.

There are two versions recorded. On Vision, we did a simple version with guitar, cello, and oboe, and just Gary and Terry singing. Later, when Gary recorded a CD under his own name called Praise the Maker's Love, he did an orchestration for strings and oboe, and set the melody for SATB.

"Covenant Hymn" remains one of our most requested concert songs, and invariably calls forth stories from people about situations in which the words and music helped them through difficult times. Funny how that "solidarity" thing works in church, isn't it, when it's so strong, and so out of our control, that it connects us and strengthens us even when we don't know each other. It consistently leads the songs from Vision in iTunes sales, and is one of our top five overall most-downloaded songs. 

Thank you for your support, and for reading the little story about the creation of "Covenant Hymn."

Covenant Hymn (Wherever You Go) - Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo (iTunes ® link)

Covenant Hymn
lyrics by Rory Cooney

Wherever you go, I will follow,
Wherever you live is my home.
Though days be of blessing or sorrow,
Though house be of canvas or stone,
Though Eden be lost to the past,
Though mountains before us be vast,
Wherever you go, I am with you.
I will never leave you alone.

Whatever you dream, I am with you,
When stars call your name in the night.
Though shadows and mist cloud the future,
Together we bear there a light.
Like Abram and Sarah we stand, 
With only a promise in hand.
But lead where you dream: I will follow.
To dream with you is my delight.

And though you should fall, you will find me,
When no other friend can you claim,
When foes beat you down or betray you,
And others desert you in shame.
When home and dreams aren’t enough,
And you run away from my love,
I’ll raise you from where you have fallen.
"Faithful to you" is my name.

Wherever you die, I will be there
To sing you to sleep with a psalm,
To soothe you with tales of our journey,
Your fears and doubts I will calm.
We’ll live when journeys are done
Forever in mem’ry as one.
And we will be buried together,
And waken to greet a new dawn.

Wherever you go, I will follow.
Behold! The horizon shines clear.
The possible gleams like a city:
Together we’ve nothing to fear.
So speak with words bold and true
The message my heart speaks to you.
You won’t be alone, I have promised.
Wherever you go, I am here.

Copyright © 1992 GIA Publications. All rights reserved.


  1. Absolutely one of my favorites! Thank you for sharing the story "behind the scenes". I find in these lyrics, tenderness, compassion, strength, comfort, joy and hope. Brilliant!

  2. Beautiful Convenant Hymn which I've only discovered in 2018 on Spotify. Thanks for the lyrics which are so meaningful.