February 28, 2018
Composers / Pastoral Musicians of the Month

MARCH 2018: BONNIE FABER, JOHN FOLEY, SJ; & GEORGE MILLER

Bonnie Faber

It is almost impossible for me to speak objectively about Bonnie.  She has been a most precious friend for about 35 years now, and so when I speak of her and what she has been for the cause of pastoral music, it is laced with such gratitude and thanks to God.  That being said, those who have known Bonnie and served with her over the years in numerous parishes and other faith communities would most certainly agree with me.  A tireless minister and passionate teacher, Bonnie has never wavered in her commitment to the cause of quality liturgical music leadership that embodies the well-known liturgical, pastoral, and musical judgments that are at the center of what our calling is as pastoral musicians.  Coming from a very large family in rural Watkins, Minnesota; Bonnie studied vocal music education at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and from there taught for several years in both public and Catholic schools, before turning her focus to parish ministry.  Over these many years, Bonnie has served as a full time music and liturgy director for many diverse parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, always committed to quality music making among her cantors, choir members and instrumentalists, but always focused and pointed toward what has been her primary passion as a pastoral musician – which should the passion for all of us doing this important work – empowering the singing and praying voice of the gathered assembly.

Bonnie has become well-known over the years nationally as well, first as a soloist and group singer on many liturgical music recordings, and as a workshop presenter at various gatherings of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM).  This presence began, I am proud to say, when I invited her to sing on my first recording project with GIA, We Have Been Told, in 1982.  Since then, Bonnie has been a part of every single recording project I have done since.  Her beautiful singing has helped bring to life many of my song-prayers over the years, most notably (in my humble and correct opinion) on “In the Shadow of Your Wings” and “God is My Light” (from Light and Peace); “God Is Love” and “We Who Once Were Dead” (from As Water to the Thirsty); “I Want to Call You” (from Creating God); “The Water I Give,” “Jesus, Heal Us,” and “You Are God’s Work of Art,” (from Who Calls You By Name) and “How Shall I Sing to God” and “Birthsong” (from I Shall See God).  Beyond her own singing, she has coached many other soloists on my recordings over the years (including me), and has also been one of the choral directors during many of the sessions in the studio.  I am not alone in being blest by Bonnie’s voice and presence in recording liturgical music.  Other composers that have had her as an integral part of their studio work include Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas, Fran O’Brien, Lori True, John Foley, Ricky Manalo, Paul Tate, Jeanne Cotter, Ian Callanan, Liam Lawton, and Donna Pena, just to name a few.

Amidst all of this activity, at the center of Bonnie’s vocation as a pastoral musician is that of being a teacher.  For several years Bonnie was on the faculty at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, where she worked alongside Sue Seid-Martin, and helped to unlock and set free the vocal potential of not only seminarians and future priests, but many other graduate students who found important guidance in her vocal studio.  I was fortunate to be composer-in-residence there at the Divinity school from 1985-1988, and our two studios were right next to each other, and I have to reveal, that through the very thin walls that divided our spaces, I could hear and testify to many miracles she performed among some of the most challenging students with a variety of vocal problems and challenges.  She also has been a vital team member for the Music Ministry Alive! program since its inception. And to this day, in her private home studio, Bonnie has tirelessly helped hundreds of students over the years – young, old, professional and amateur – to literally, “find their voice.”  Every single student of hers has discovered growth and achieved many victories in their vocal journey.  This is at the heart of Bonnie’s legacy as a pastoral musician – she has helped us in our song and our prayer to find our true voice.  And because of that, we have become that much closer to God.  (DH: 2.27.18)

John Foley, SJ

It would be very difficult to argue against the simple fact that the influence of John Foley is a cornerstone of the liturgical music renewal that has come with sung prayer in the English-speaking world over the past 45 years.  Together with the St. Louis Jesuits and through his “solo” efforts over the years, his contributions to the contemporary liturgical music cause is a challenge to summarize.  Certainly among Catholics, but also for Christians throughout the world, John’s prayerful and scripture-based song prayers have touched the hearts of thousands, and are part and parcel of the core repertoire that fills almost every parish and faith community.

John’s first song that rocked the world of the post Vatican II singing church was arguably, “For You Are My God.”  After that, dozens and dozens of songs, psalms, hymns and ritual music settings have been part of the fabric of our liturgical prayer life: “Earthen Vessels,” “Take, Lord, Receive,” “Turn, O Turn,” “A Dwelling Place,” “The Cry of the Poor,” “One Bread, One Body,” and “Come to the Water” barely scratch the surface of not only his prolific output, but his tremendous skill and gift for blending together the important elements that are key to liturgical composition: a knowledge and reverence for scripture; musical craft; the gift of creating a beautiful melody; the love of the liturgy; and the key element that should be front and center for all liturgical composers- singability and accessibility, alongside the ability to create settings that endure over time.  For me, personally, his music has naturally pulled me into prayer. This has has been a model for me and for so many other composers over the years.  In the mid 1980’s, John lived and had a studio in St. Paul, and it was during that time that he and I became fast friends.  As it was the case with Michael and Marty, during that time John became a good and honest guide during those years when I was finding my own way as a composer, and I was so honored that he sang on a couple of my recordings. An even more humbling gift was when I was invited to be a soloist on the St. Louis Jesuit recording, The Steadfast Love.

In the past 20 some years, John’s ministry has been teaching, primarily at St. Louis University, and in establishing the Liturgical Composer’s Forum, a gathering held every January in St. Louis.  John has been the convener and spirit leading the way for the fraternal and communal support among not only established published composers, but also for the young and emerging sung prayer artisans that are now becoming such important voices for the singing Church.  I have been a part of this yearly gathering for the most of the years it has been held, and during these weeks I – and all who have participated – have not only learned much, but have come to deepen and nurture friendships among colleagues that have become treasures for me.  Just this past January, the Forum celebrated its 20th Anniversary, and at our closing banquet we presented John with a gift of our appreciation, and then, spontaneously, Tom Kendzia sat at the piano and led us in a John Foley medley of “Earthen Vessels,” “Turn, O Turn,” “One Bread, One Body,” “Come to the Water,” and we concluded, yes, with “For You Are My God.”  We sang and prayed these songs as so many have over the years, totally by heart, singing all of the refrains and verses, and praying from the depths of our hearts.  At this moment, through the look in his eyes, the smiles on our faces, and the gratitude filling our hearts, we gave thanks to God for this true servant of the liturgy and its music.  God bless you, John.  What a gift you have given us.  (DH: 2.27.18)

George Miller

In the world of ministry, one of the highest callings is to be attentive to, and to empower our young people.  George Miller has been doing such holy work for over 30 years as a pastoral musician, campus minister – and in recent years as Associate Director – at Loyola University in Maryland (Baltimore).  At Loyola, George has worn and continues to wear many hats.  He oversees the entire liturgical and musical life at the University Chapel for both daily and weekly Sunday liturgies, weekly Evensong, and the well-known “big” events that every college level pastoral musician and liturgist is expected to pull off, such as the beginning of the school year celebrations and the yearly baccalaureate services.  George is the founder and director of the amazing Loyola Chapel Choir, and is responsible not only for their musical sung prayer leadership, but he also provides the liturgical and spiritual formation that grounds these young collegiate pastoral musicians.  One of the big events each year that has gained great attention is the annual Loyola University Lessons and Carols that the choir presents every Advent.

George has a very special relationship with Loyola, because he himself is an alum who graduated there majoring in theology and vocal music education (1976). His dedication to the students at Loyola is an irrational one – a stance that all ministers should have for the young people under their care!  He also holds an M.A. in vocal pedagogy and conducting and has also done advanced liturgical studies over the years. He has held leadership positions with several national organizations such as the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) and has served as a regular team and faculty member for Music Ministry Alive!  George is also a professional singer outside of the liturgical music world, having performed with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and the Baltimore, Washington, and Annapolis Opera Companies.

Beyond all of these marvelous credentials, George is a model pastoral musician and minister holding a true servant’s heart, especially for the hundreds of students of whose lives he has touched and influenced over the years.  I have been so blest to have been able to share in the wonderful ministry that he and his students have provided for the Loyola community over the years; having visited on several occasions presenting concerts and other programs for the students.  My arrangement of Every Time I Feel the Spirit (GIA; G-6163) is dedicated to George and the music ministry at Loyola, because this most beloved spiritual expresses the joy, energy, and most spirit-filled charism that is most certainly found in George, and proclaims what sung prayer is called to do: to ignite the prayer and faith life of believers into not only singing the song, but to pray, live, and to become the song. George does this with passion and joy. Such joy, I have to honestly say, has been in peril among pastoral musicians in recent years – and thank God for George who reminds me that what we do as servants of sung prayer is both an honor and a privilege.  I cannot begin to share how much I have learned from George in the midst of our friendship that has been so sacred to me for so many years.  May God bless George and all that he has been, and continues to be, for not only the young people at Loyola, but for all of us who are now forever changed because of his witness.  (DH: 2.27.18)

%d bloggers like this: