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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

For Liturgical Composers Forum: Putting the "Sing" into "Fundraising"

My awesome colleagues and friends, mostly from LCF,
now surround me in my office and bring me joy
and inspiration. I think that's what they bring me...
One possible downside of being a published composer is that it's never a secret how old you are. No matter how many times I ask them to change my birthday to, say, a decade or two later than it seems to be recorded as, my publishers, bless their hearts, keep writing 1952. My birthday is May 29, so on that day, I will be 39. Well, for the 27th time. 66, if you want to be all scientific about it.

On the upside, I still just have one date, as in (1952 - ). So things could be worse. Or maybe better, for you. (See my rant about "The Dash" here.)

With first communions and confirmation taking place almost entirely in April this year, Deo gratias, I've had a more reflective May than I expected to have, and that kind of leisure around one's birthday almost inexorably leads to thinking about one's blessings and the amazing good fortune life has brought me. Let me clarify: not a fortune, exactly, lucre-wise, but I've been able to live my life among wonderful friends and family, I've made something like a living doing what I really love, and I've been affirmed in my work over many years by the people whom it has been my pleasure to serve.

Music is a grand collaboration, a school of cooperation and surrender. I've said a million times, and I believe it, that there is a sense in which I am so aware that I have no business doing what I do, that almost everyone else I know in the ministry of music and liturgy knows more or is more gifted or practiced and studied more. In a room full of my colleagues, everyone is better than I am at some aspect of ministry. But I know also that I've been given enough, and that it's not about me anyway, but about the collaboration, about building musical communities, about reminding people that Christians were "born singing," in Pere Gelineau's wonderful phrase, that God is love, and that people in love make signs of love, like singing, even nonsense syllables like ahhhh❤️---lehhhh---loo❤️ooo----yaaaa😍ah, and so on. It takes a village to make a musician, and all the unselfish friends and mentors and teachers I have had since I was a child at St. Vincent de Paul School in Phoenix, with the wonderful Daughters of Charity for teachers and choir directors, have given me a high bar to stretch toward in music ministry, and a constant reminder that, again, it's not about me, it's about us, and it's about God-with-us.

The last time I wrote an article about the Liturgical Composers Forum (though I did post a set list of a concert in other years here and here), I mentioned that they had somehow miscounted the ballots and elected me to the steering committee, where I was able to work with Tom Kendzia, Carol Browning, Jaime Cortez, Feargal King, most recently Tony Ward and Christian Cosas, and the St. Louis executive committee members Betty Halley and Paul Hasser for four years, trying to envision our future as a group and shape it not just for survival but for growth. This past January, in what had to be some kind of lesson in both humility and the need for better communication, I was re-elected to the steering committee and made chairperson in absentia. I took this as you might expect, that it was a sign from God that no one else wanted to do it, and as a punishment for missing the meeting to have lunch with my local friends from St. Vincent's church. But I also took it seriously, in the sense that, something wonderful had been given to us all—to us composers and to the church—by the work that had been begun by John Foley, SJ, from the Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University, and then by all the team members who have served the Liturgical Composers Forum (LCF) since, under the various members of the steering committee, led by Roc O'Connor SJ, and then by Tom Kendzia.

The Forum's membership, from our point of view, has always been anyone and everyone who has a "significant body of work" published by a major publisher. After some discernment about this while we were writing up and discussing some bylaws a few years ago, the membership came up with a few wrinkles on that original idea. We're still working through some of these, but one that we did implement was that people whose goals and ministries align with ours are now admitted on a case-by-case basis as "associate members," with all the rights and privileges (such as they are) of full members except the right to vote. We welcomed some of our first associate members this past January, and we look for others in the future. We imagine that composition and liturgy students, text writers, publishers, and people who might liaise with other similar groups (NPM, AGO, FDLC, etc.) might also become associate members. We've consciously tried to recruit and welcome more Hispanic composers, and we are also quite conscious of trying to encourage more women composers to attend. We had our largest turnout so far this year of women composers, but certainly are looking for more parity as we grow.

Costs are always a concern. Four years ago, we added a concert to the last night of our meeting, an option for those members who are able to stay. We invite the friends of Composers Forum and the church of St. Louis to an evening of our compositions led and sung by the members. This has been of benefit both to us and to the Mercy Center, the conference and retreat center where we meet each year, run by the Sisters of Mercy. We manage to (at least) break even every year through a combination of (modest) dues and a conference fee. We did a book project, edited by John Foley and published by Liturgical Press, a three-volume series of essays by the membership on aspects of liturgical music and composition. Under the umbrella title The Heart of Our Music (link above), the three books explored various aspects of our craft:
The Heart of Our Music: Underpinning Our Thinking: Reflections on Music and Liturgy by Members of the Liturgical Composers Forum 
The Heart of Our Music: Practical Considerations: Reflections on Music and Liturgy by Members of the Liturgical Composers Forum 
The Heart of Our Music: Digging Deeper: Reflections on Music and Liturgy by Members of the Liturgical Composers Forum
The royalties from all three volumes were donated by the members to the LCF.

Two areas where we currently need funding are scholarships for composers unable to pay registration costs and stipends for our two hardworking executive committee members. In the latter case, we voted that a stipend for them is a matter of justice, and we're currently working on getting grants to help cover these costs. But guess who's trying to get the grants? You guessed it: our hardworking executive committee. We think that in a year or so we may have this under control. But we feel that underwriting worthy but needy members who can't afford to come to our meetings will be an ongoing ministry of the group. We need everyone's voice. The  publishers really help underwrite our costs, we closely watch our budget and our yearly fees, but things happen. Each year we work toward better communication with each other, sharing ideas and strategies for writing and balancing the demands of family, work (most in parishes or academia), and faith, we work toward new ways of mentoring and helping each other make our work better.

This is why you may have noticed that I have a birthday fundraiser going for LCF this year. Already, less than a week into the two-week drive (and it's not even my birthday), we've far exceeded my expectations, making me wish I'd just asked everyone to send ME money, and I could have had a much better vacation this summer! But instead this has been put through the fundraising arm of Facebook, and over fifty people have already contributed.

If it's possible for you to contribute via Facebook (link here), please do. LCF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so your donations are tax deductible. If you aren't a Facebook user, you can make a donation directly to LCF by sending your donation to
Liturgical Composers Forum
c/o Betty Halley
1355 Kraft Street
St. Louis, MO 63139

You don't have to worry: this won't be a yearly event for me! I just wanted to try to give us a small financial cushion going into the 2019 meeting, when we hope to give a push for women composers, and make more inroads welcoming the wonderful Spanish-language composers working for the church.

Look, I just want to say "Thank you" to all of you who support your local church musicians and especially composers and text writers. I want thank everyone who teaches music and poetry and language and theology and inspires young(ish) people of faith to want to be songwriters. I am so very grateful to people like Rev. David Windsor, CM, and Sr. Georgianna and Sr. Thomas Anne DCs, of my first parish, SVdP in Phoenix, and to Bob Klimek, Bill Fraher, Mike Javor, the late Jim Mahoney, Sr. Anthony Poerio IBVM, who has also gone before us into glory, Cyprian (Daniel) Consiglio OSB Cam., the late John Gallen, SJ, Tom Kendzia, Gary Daigle, Tom Conry, every choir member or cantor or instrumentalist who ever worked with me, my mom, my grandfather, Terry Donohoo and everyone else who inspired me, encouraged me, taught me, helped me learn to be more generous and broader in my lyrical brush strokes. There are dozens, maybe hundreds more of you, of course.

At 66, I know that my life is nearly half over, and it's about time to pass the torch to the next generation of church musicians so that they, too, can know the special kind of anonymity that comes from writing songs, the joy of teaching a pew to sing. But to borrow a couple of phrases, "to you who bow," "we will make music to you while we breathe." It's so worth the effort. It's such a joyful, rewarding ministry. It is a great honor to be a part of the Liturgical Composers Forum, and I hope you will join me in making a gift this spring for the health and longevity of our ministry!