I am often asked as to what were the influences, composers, or songs/collections that led me to explore the vocation of being a liturgical composer. It is very difficult to name them all, as there are so many musical expressions that were part of my life that came from many different corners and places. I grew up in a musical and faith-centered family, and studied classical music all the way through the end of my college days. I studied private piano, trumpet beginning when I was very young, in junior high I took up the guitar, and the violin while in high school. During my early college years, I was a vocal performance major. So of course, in terms of sacred music, I was exposed to so much of the classical repertoire that make up what we would today name as the “sacred treasury.” Then there were the many other musical influences that were part of my upbringing and that attracted me in those years leading up to my own composing, such as literally hundreds of musical theatre productions, my insane addiction to the music of the Beatles; and in my teenage and young adult years, being big fans of the music of Chicago, Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, and still later, Seals and Crofts and Christopher Cross.
When I entered the seminary and pursued ministry, the explosion of liturgical music that took place during those years most certainly pierced my heart – in many wonderful ways – that eventually led me (thank God for the Spirit) to explore becoming a composer of music for sung prayer. So how to focus this litany of influences that led to my beginnings as a liturgical music composer?
First – I decided to focus on music, composers and collections that I came across prior to my first national publishing efforts. I am going to limit the time frame from my earliest days a young child, all the way through to just before I published my first collections of liturgical music with GIA Publications (“Psalms for the Church Year”, with Marty Haugen, and “We Have Been Told,” both released in 1982/1983). Secondly – for the most part (there are a couple of exceptions) I am also limiting what I list here to compositions, works, recordings and resources that were composed in English, and because I am a Vatican II child (I was born in 1957, and the council began in 1960), all of the music shared here reflects this period and the happenings of that time. Also, while the exactitude may not be perfect, I am listing these resources in the best chronological order I can remember. There is a lot of diversity here, as I was listening and being formed by so much in the years leading up to my first national collection of my own music.
So here we go. Enjoy!
Little David Play on Your Harp (Spiritual)
My earliest memories of any kind of religious song was this wonderful charming spiritual that my mother used to sing to me all the time when I was very little. It makes me happy to remember those times. Without trying to be overly “deep” here, I think it was a prophetic anthem for my mother to sing to me considering where my life was headed so many years later.
The Birthday of a King (William Harold Heidlinger)
I grew up at St. Christopher’s Church in Bridgeport, Michigan (Diocese of Saginaw) and my parents were the church musicians – Dad played the organ, and Mom was the song leader (the term “cantor” was not part of our lexicon back then). I was both an altar boy and a boy soprano well up into the 8th grade actually. Anyways, during the Christmas Eve and Christmas day masses in those very early years of my life, either as a prelude or as a meditation after communion, I would walk over next to the organ, and I would sing “The Birthday of a King.” Such happy memories of this, I loved the words, and I cherished being able to begin to develop some of my expressive talents – as this song is filled with the sentiments of those seasons, especially for a young boy my age. Maybe some of you know this song:
In the little village of Bethlehem,
There lay a Child one day,
And the sky was bright with a holy light
O’er the place where Jesus lay.
Alleluia! O how the angels sang.
Alleluia! How it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light,
‘Twas the birthday of a King.
‘Twas a humble birth-place, but O how much
God gave to us that day,
From the manger bed what a path has led,
What a perfect, holy way. [Refrain]
It remained a tradition for a few years for me to sing this at Christmas. Then my voice finally changed, and well, you know …
Mass for Young Americans (Ray Repp)
I can remember very clearly in my elementary school days, when I was a young boy spending time with my Aunt and Uncle and cousins (my mother’s side of the family) up at Traverse City, Michigan, where we had many family parties and gatherings. St. Francis parish in TC was the first parish where I really came to experience the early “guitar” or “folk” masses that were emerging in parishes across the country. My oldest cousin Craig had a guitar (I did not learn the guitar until many years later), and I remember as clear as day being down in their basement, and listening to this LP, and I would mimic playing the guitar and would sing along on these great songs: “I Am the Resurrection,” “Of My Hands,” “Here We Are,” “Forevermore” and “Shout from the Highest Mountain,” just to name a few. I also remember attending our CCD classes at my home parish in Bridgeport (St. Christopher’s) and the young seminarians would come and lead us in these songs. Fr. Bert Gohm, who remains a priest of the Saginaw Diocese, would lead us all in these songs. Strong memories. Wonderful memories. To read more about Ray and his impact as being the “Father of contemporary liturgical music,” click here.
Gonna Sing My Lord (Joe Wise)
As it was with the music of Ray Repp, the music of Joe Wise was a very important part of my religious upbringing, and singing the songs from this pioneer collection of music still ring true and strong for me. This was his very first collection and recording of his music. Of course, this included the iconic, “Take Our Bread,” but also “Gonna Sing My Lord,” “My Lord Will Come Again,” and “Maleita’s Song” (named after Joe’s wife), with the beautiful words:
Have you ever seen a rose? My God has, and he loves them,
Loves them so much, he kissed them each one, gave them his color,
Blooms to open wide, leaves for to dress, thorns for to hurt,
To help us to know how he loves, my God.
And I’m in love with my God, My God’s in love with me;
And the more I love you, the more I know
I’m in love with my God.
My goodness! Just recalling these words and the beautiful melody, really brings me back. I never, ever, would have dreamed that years later, Joe and I would meet and that we would become great friends, as we still are to this day.
An American Mass Program (Clarence Rivers)
Growing up in what was then, an all-white small suburb, I had never heard any kind of gospel or spiritual music of any kind, until I heard “God is Love.” To this day, I still love it, love it, love it. I have a feature on Fr. Rivers that will break open more about this man’s tremendous influence on the early days of liturgical music renewal in the 1960’s. Just click here.
Joy Is Like the Rain (Miriam Therese Winter, MM)
“I saw raindrops on my window, joy is like the rain …” I mean, how many of us of my age and older remember this song? For its time, the poetry was refreshing and poignant. The Dominican Sisters from Grand Rapids, Michigan were my CCD teachers when I was young (there was no Catholic school near where I lived), and this was a common song that we would sing at many of our prayer services and classes.
Living Spirit (Suzanne Toolan, RSM)
While I did not discover Suzanne’s classic piece, “I Am the Bread of Life” until I was a teenager, this song from “Living Spirit” was composed and published well before then. I remember when I was in high school, my Dad and I being ahead of our time – we actually would lead songs at Mass that had the organ and guitar playing together at the same time! And this was the song that we first tried out this wonderful, cutting-edge idea! Years later I remember people saying, “you know, we should do music with the organ and guitar together.” And I would proudly say to myself, “been there, done that.” Beautiful song of course, and it still touches me to this day. Other songs from this collection I remember include “Peace Hymn,” “Advent Glad Song,” “Walk in Light,” and my favorite from this collection, “Living Waters,” which I still use from time to time. Gorgeous. I share more about Sr. Suzanne and her impact on sung prayer elsewhere here on this website
Happy the Man (Sebastian Temple)
Sebastian Temple’s music was right up there with some the earliest songs that I played and sang in those early days that began to occur in my Junior High years. Songs like “Happy the Man,” “All that I Am,” “The Mass is Ended,” and of course, “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace,” were among those songs that got us all singing in those early days. “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace” (Prayer of St. Francis) remains a classic to this day, and was sung at the funeral for Princess Diana. I dig deeper into Sebastian’s story here on the website as well. Just click here.
Songs of the New Creation (The Dameans)
I remember when I was in Junior High, my Dad was active as a CCD teacher at St. Christopher’s, and he was always very creative in how he would teach the 6th graders who were part of his yearly catechism class. He would have me help out and lead songs, and I would of course, lead the younger kids in the songs of Ray Repp, Joe Wise, Sebastian Temple and the other pioneers of this time. One spring, Dad brought me with him to Miami, Florida to attend a national conference on religious education, and this was the first time I had ever heard of, or experienced The Dameans. O my goodness. I have to say, hearing their music and being able to meet them, literally changed my life. I just had to get my hands on this music!
More than any others, their songs (along with the songs of Joe Wise) influenced those early days of playing the guitar and singing in church, and getting the people to really sing at Mass. Every single one of the eleven songs that are on this LP – we did at St. Christopher’s, and my mother, who was the high school choir director at Bridgeport High School (and this was a public school!), would have us sing many of these songs at our school concerts. There was a group of about a dozen boys at the school – we were originally dubbed “The Freshmen” (because we started singing together in the 9th grade), later became the “Gentlemen of Song” (don’t you love it?). And the songs from this collection formed the core of our repertoire. In addition to singing at our school events, word got out about us, and we would be invited to sing at churches in the area (Catholic and yes, non-Catholic), and for evening receptions and so forth. Our big number was of course, “The New Creation,” but we also included all of these other songs as well, my personal favorites being “Have You Ever Been,” “The Love of God Will Rise Before the Sun,” “Little Child” (for Christmas concerts), “Yes, Lord,” and “Sign of Total Giving.” With these songs (and many of those that were composed by Ray Repp and others), we begin to see the culture and issues that were part of the societal consciousness of the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, and how they were tethered very intentionally in these early songs. For example, consider some of the lyrics that the Dameans presented us with the verses of “The New Creation:”
Hear the voice of the prophets living today:
Too many so called Christians can’t hear what they say …
Hear the cry of the needy, your brothers each one:
Too many people talking, and nothing gets done …
And from “Have You Ever Been?”:
Signs before me everywhere: “Hey, brother, you had better care!
Other men in graves of hunger, can’t they hear the trumpet calling?
Signs are everywhere and showing;
of the time there’ll be no knowing …
Now, remember that the issue of inclusive language was not on our “screen” in these early days, but beyond that, the liturgical songs of this era were bringing together the corners of worship and social justice – and this was something never experienced before at Mass, yes?
These pieces seeped into my DNA, and I still feel their impact. Years later, when my mother retired after almost 40 some years of teaching, around 1984, quite a few of the charter members of the “Gentlemen of Song” reunited for her retirement party and sang a few of these songs by the Dameans. This music was a tremendous part of my growing love of liturgical music during my Junior High, High School, and years after. I honor the Dameans and their influence in my first post sharing the stories of the early liturgical music pioneers. Click here.
With Joyful Lips (Lucien Deiss)
The music of Fr. Lucien Deiss, along with Fr. Joseph Gelineau, represented my first exposure to music in the post-Vatican II era that was imbued with scripture. Because Catholics up until this time had almost no knowledge at all about the Bible (believe it or not), it was the music of Fr. Deiss, Fr. Gelineau (and later, the St. Louis Jesuits) that first evangelized us as a singing church to embrace the Word of God as central to our sung-prayer. The classics from this collection (and many others from Fr. Deiss) remain staples for choirs and congregations throughout the English-speaking world (especially amazing when you consider that both Fr. Deiss and Fr. Gelineau were from France, and these pieces were translated from French!): “Keep in Mind,” “All You Nations,” “All the Earth,” “There is One Lord,” and “Priestly People” – truly penetrated the repertoire of those early days, and my Mom would lead our parish choir and the congregation of St. Christopher’s with these beautiful biblical songs.
Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice)
While this certainly was not liturgical music, the explosion of this rock opera certainly opened up not only new musical styles (mainly rock) into our sacred music consciousness, it also touched upon our social consciousness and sparked a new evangelization for not only young people, but Christians of all ages and denominations. This work got people talking about Jesus in places unknown at the time. I remember our parish youth group being gathered together at St. Christopher’s (this would have been around 1970), and our new associate pastor, Fr. Gerry Banister, brought in a tremendous stereo unit into our meeting room, and after giving us a short intro and passed out the libretto, we sat and listened and were totally blown away. When I talk to other pastoral musicians, still to this day, so many have shared a similar story. During my high school years, this recording was played incessantly during our weekend retreats, and one year we “acted it out” with the recording, and I remember singing the part of Jesus.
Over the years, I always paid attention to the various versions of “Superstar” – its’ theatrical versions, the movie of course, and the more recent TV production that featured John Legend, Alice Cooper and others. While there are some problems with it – the most problematic issue being that Mary Magdalene is presented as a prostitute, and we have known now for many years that she was not – this work still does its work on us. While watching the recent TV version, it hit me that I remembered every single word by heart. So many powerful songs and some very evocative texts. One of my favorites is the very clever and humorous verse that occurs during the Last Supper:
Always thought that I’d be an apostle;
Knew that I would make it if I tried.
Then when we retire, we can write the Gospels
So they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died.
While to this day, “Superstar” is still controversial, its impact is still with us. And it most certainly impacted me, spiritually and musically.
A German Requiem (Johannes Brahms)
While not a “participatory liturgical piece,” this beautiful choral work was the first experience I ever had in singing a choral “oratorio” from beginning to end with a full orchestra. My high school band director, DeVere Fader, was member of a local choral society in Saginaw, and he brought me along to sing in the tenor section for a performance of this amazing part of the sacred choral repertoire. While I had studied various Requiem Masses by various composers, this was the first Requiem composed – I believe this to be true – that did not use the Ordinary texts of the Mass (Kyrie, Sanctus, etc), as its context, but rather, scripture, and in particular, the scriptures proclaiming the hope found in the resurrection. While usually performed in German, this performance was sung in English. I remember, literally having chills learning and singing some of the gorgeous movements: especially “Blessed are They Who Mourn,” and “How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place.” I will never forget it. And the soaring melodies of this work only underscored my bias of the need for good melodic material for all liturgical music.
Godspell (Stephen Schwartz)
Like Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell was not conceived as liturgical music, but some of it did find its way into liturgical celebrations, especially “Prepare Ye” and “Day by Day.” What I remember touching me so deeply at the time of its release, was the sense of community that this show presented, with Jesus, his followers and friends, and this aspect of his life permeates throughout. Of course, I, and so many, fell in love with the songs, and this musical, more so than “Superstar” in my opinion, became a powerful force in Catholic Youth Ministry, and it has remained to this day, a part of the youth ministry curriculum for many. A personal favorite for me, especially being a tenor who likes to sing where only “dogs could hear,” was the beautiful ballad, “All Good Gifts.”
The Peaceable Kingdom (Randall Thompson)
Before I attended college and began my music studies at Central Michigan University (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan) in the fall of 1975, one my favorite choral pieces was Randall Thompson’s gorgeous “Alleluia,” as well as other choral pieces of his. While a member of the CMU Concert Choir, we did a choir tour of Romania in 1976, and the “Peaceable Kingdom” was our primary centerpiece of the tour. The sonorities of Thompson’s choral writing in this piece, I have to say, continue to be the model for how I try to write chorally as a liturgical composer. Simple, accessible, but rich in texture. This collection of settings from Isaiah still touch my heart to this day, especially the anthems, “Say Ye to the Righteous,” “Paper Reeds by the Brooks,” and “Ye Shall Have a Song.”
Watch with Me (Joe Wise)
All of the collections and music of Joe Wise influenced me greatly, and this collection was no exception. The songs from this album still dig deep for me. The title song’s lyrics are so human, honest and real:
Watch one hour with me;
Stay just a way by my side.
When my “alleluia” days, streak into blues and greys,
Be my guide, stay a while. Watch with me.
I won’t ask you to be strong with me, I won’t ask you to be kind,
I won’t ask you to stay long with me; just help me find my mind.
Stay with me.
And in hard times I will look for you, want you gentle by my side,
and in soft eyes tell me one more time, no need to run and hide.
Stay with me.
And when death comes I’ll reach for your hand, feel our love flow in your breath;
in your eyes I’ll find a way to stand and see more life then death;
Stay with me.
(Copyright © 1971 Joe Wise / GIA Publications. Used with permission)
I remember singing this for Good Friday services with my friend Jo Infante, while at St. Christopher’s. Now, people today might not find a song and text like this suitable for liturgical use – but, what Joe’s songs always did, was to link the liturgy of Sunday morning together with the liturgy of life: real life, filled with its struggles and joys. This is but one example of such song-prayers that found a place in my soul, and that still remain there.
This collection also contained the first musical setting of “Dying You Destroyed Our Death” that I came across in the “folk” style, and I used it a lot at liturgical celebrations. “Jesus, In Our Hands” for its time, was most controversial, especially those who were at that time resisting the new option of receiving communion in the hand. Other songs, “You Are the Way,” “Re-Member Me,” and “Go Now in Peace,” – all of these brought Joe’s unique gift of crafting words that were needed to nurture my prayer life. I am so grateful for this collection.
Beginning Today (The Dameans)
This too was a groundbreaking collection for me and for so many and provided songs for weddings, especially “Beginning Today” which I sang often, and many still have it for their wedding celebrations today. Another favorite of mine from this LP for me is “Song of Thanksgiving,” truly a song of thanksgiving and gratitude (“all that we can offer you is thanks”).
Lyric Liturgy (Alexander C. Peloquin)
When I first heard the opening lines from this mass setting that spoke from Psalm 148, “God of the Heights, God of the depths!” I was totally blown away. The majesty – yet singability – of the music of this through-composed mass setting was something really new for me. Many have thought “Lyric Liturgy” to too theatrical. Not me, I always – and I still believe this – this is a passionate proclamation of all of the elements of liturgical music coming together: choir, organ, cantor, singing presider, and a singing assembly – all brought together in a doxology of praise. And to this day, the setting here of “Faith, Hope and Love” is still my favorite.
Locusts and Wild Honey (The Monks of Weston Priory)
I remember coming home to Bridgeport during spring break one year during my sophomore year of college, and going over to the house of my friend Jo Infante (my first liturgical singing partner), and she put this record down on the turntable. I heard the opening song “Come to Me” played and I became lost in contemplation. I remember her saying something about this music that I had never heard said this way before: “this music is just so prayerful.” Today, we say this all the time about music at Mass that touches our hearts. But Jo is the one who first put that sense of things into my mind. And with this collection – and of course, so many collections that followed from the Monks and the hand of Gregory Norbert – continued in that same spirit.
Earthen Vessels (The St. Louis Jesuits)
During my sophomore year at college studying music performance – and experiencing the competitive and cut-throat environment that comes with it, I remember coming home on break, and walking over to talk to Sr. Roberta Kolasa, SJ; who was on the staff of St. Christopher’s. We sat out on the porch of her house, and I was talking to her about the dissatisfaction I was feeling about my vocational path, and that I was beginning again to feel the stirring to enter the seminary (when I was a young boy I thought about it a lot, but that drifted away after elementary school). But my dilemma was, “how could I be a priest and still honor the gift of music that God had given me?” Right then and there, she had me come into her house, and she played this recording for me, and I was floored. Completely blown away. Then after a few moments she told me that these guys who wrote and were singing this music were priests. O my goodness. She let me take it home with me, but before that she called the vocation director of the Diocese of Saginaw and set up an appointment for me to meet with him the very next day.
While meeting with the vocation director, he said, “what are you doing tomorrow? I am going to an ordination here for a new priest – would you like to come with me?” And so I did, and the opening song for the liturgy was “Though the Mountains May Fall,” and the communion song was “Be Not Afraid.” I knew in these two days that God was pulling me to use my musical gifts in a radically different way. I did not know it would eventually lead to me being a composer, but I knew that there was a blend of music and ministry that I had never experienced or considered before. This recording, and the music that makes up this collection, was transformative for me, as I know it was for many.
A couple of days after the ordination, I went to my very first national liturgical music workshop with a new friend, who is now Fr. Jim Bessert. There I learned more of this music and that of other composers. But “Earthen Vessels” was a turning point. Now, as you know, I did go to the seminary, but I did not see it through to the end, obviously. But here was a new chapter to explore my vocation that would soon after lead to becoming a liturgical music composer, and a “pastoral musician.” While the music of Ray Repp, Joe Wise, and the Dameans tilled the soil, “Earthen Vessels” and the St. Louis Jesuits planted the seeds and watered them lavishly, and I have never been the same since.
Mass (Leonard Bernstein, with Stephen Schwartz)
After this new awakening had taken place, and after discerning more with the vocation director and Sr. Roberta, I decided to take a year off to think through more of what seminary I would attend, and to get more experience in different ministry experiences, both at St. Christopher’s and other parishes in the area. My pastor, Fr. Bill Taylor, took an increased interest in me, and we would share meals and discussions during this time. It was during that year (1977-1978) that he invited me over one afternoon, and played for me – from start to finish – what people still refer to as “Bernstein’s Mass.” O my goodness. This was not liturgical music for a congregation to sing – but it was a theological, musical, and cultural reflection on the Eucharist in light of the times. Again, very controversial ever since its premiere, the creativity, beauty, angst, and celebration of this work continues to stir my mind and heart. I chose to sing the opening piece, “A Simple Song” for my senior graduation recital when finishing my vocal studies, and I still sing it from time to me. There are too many selections to cite that are so powerful. If you have never heard any of this – find some time to do so. Profound and very stimulating.
A Dwelling Place (The St. Louis Jesuits)
This wonderful recording and collection followed on the heels of “Earthen Vessels,” and I remember well the pieces that jumped out at me, especially “I Lift My Soul,” “Glory and Praise,” and of course, the title song. It provided many ideas and approaches during this time now, that I started to compose some of my earliest songs.
From an Indirect Love (Ed Gutfruend)
In addition to the wonderful song that celebrates the final Advent of time, “In the Day of the Lord,” I am especially grateful to Ed for introducing me to songs (through his unique arrangements) of songs from various traditions, such as his arrangement of “How Can I Keep from Singing?” and “The Lights of the City.” Both of these arrangements of his were to become part of my concert repertoire in later years on two live concert recordings (“How Can I Keep from Singing?”), and “Glory Day.” This was also the recording that served as a model that taught me some guitar licks that I still employ today. This recording was the first time I heard the amazing playing of Bobby Fisher (who was a friend of Ed’s), and who later became the primary guitarist on my liturgical recordings over the years. “An Indirect Love” has been out of print for some time; but its influence on me and many liturgical “pickers” has been very significant.
When From Our Exile (Bernard Huijbers)
I was able to meet Bernard during the summer of 1977 at that very first liturgical music workshop that I attended, and the music from this collection (as well as others that were not published yet) was a kind of music that I had never heard before, musically, theologically, liturgically … and most profoundly through the exploration of provocative texts by Huub Oosterhuis. So much of this music is lost and out of print (though my friend Tony Barr is working on helping to re-harvest it), but these songs were so unique: “When From Our Exile,” “Song of All Seed” (one of the first pieces that utilized the call-response approach), “Our Help” (an amazing setting of Psalm 121), “Uphold Me in Life” – which later was re-translated as “Hold Me in Life,” and an amazingly unique piece and text called “Even Then,” which employed a canon:
Even then, even then, I’ll cling close to you;
Cling to close you, cling close to me, whether you want me or not.
In your good grace or even out of it,
“save me, save me,” I cry to you,
Or maybe, only “love me, love me.”
The Lord’s Supper (John Michael Talbot)
After hearing this LP for the first time, I kept playing it over and over and over and over. This was a musical setting of the Mass, composed by a new convert to Catholicism, who brought his evangelical spirit and amazing guitar playing and energy to these texts. I had never heard anything like this before. I kept thinking to myself at the time, if our celebrations of the Eucharist could have this kind of energy and passion, our faith would/could be stirred with a new sense of intentionality. I did not know who John Michael Talbot was at this point, but he sure did make a mark in the coming years with his various recordings. How I wished then (and still now) that I could play the guitar like him!
Take All the Lost Home (Joe Wise)
Joe Wise did it to my heart again with this collection, and of course, with this title song, that I sing at concerts and retreats still to this day (that I finally recorded a solo version of on my most recent CD, “I Will Bring You Home”). In this recording I found a gentleness and simplicity that has always been a hallmark of his music. I also fell in love with the baptism song on this LP, “Bathe Her in Your Love.”
Remember Your Love (The Dameans)
This is another LP/collection that I can say “changed my life” as a liturgical musician, that influenced greatly the music that I would come to write, and how I would think of responding to the needs of the praying Church. This was not just a collection of 12 more songs – this collection had a “theme” and pastoral need attached to it, namely, settings of the responsorial psalms with seasonal antiphons, presented in a contemporary way. These songs – every one of them – beautiful, prayerful, melodic and so very appropriate for the liturgy. The creative guitar and piano work (that their newest member at the time, Gary Daigle) presented here was very unique. For me, this collection led to the piano receiving some real legitimacy as a primary liturgical instrument. I don’t think I would have composed piano-centered pieces like “We Have Been Told” and “Blest Are They,” if not for the innovative accompaniments and arrangements that we began to hear more and more of, especially inaugurated in this collection. So many of these pieces are still at the center of the contemporary liturgical repertoire for most pastoral musicians with pieces like, “Come, O Lord,” “We Praise You,” and “Remember Your Love.”
Abba Father (Carey Landry)
Carey has always been a hero and model for me in how I am to embrace my call as a musical leader of prayer. I had come to know many of his songs before this collection, but the power of two songs from this recording, “And the Father Will Dance” and “In Him We Live” inspired me I believe, to compose anthems that would be musical and liturgical professions of faith.
Songs of Praise (The Word of God Community)
This was the first of many resource collections that came from the emerging “Charismatic Renewal,” and while it was composed long before I found this music book, this was where I first encountered John Foley’s piece, “For You Are My God.” Many of these songs were part of the sung repertoire of my seminary days: “Our God Reigns,” “The Light of Christ,” and many more.
Ashes (Tom Conry)
A student of both Bernard Huijbers and Huub Oosterhuis, I remember Tom’s earliest songs scribbled out by hand (we did not have music notation software back then) in xeroxed form, that were passed out to us at that summer 1997 liturgical music workshop that I keep talking about. Here we were given hand-written lead sheets of songs like “Ashes,” “Anthem,” “You Have Written Your Song,” and several others. Tom’s lens from which he was writing was so unique and so provocative.
The 2nd Chapter of Acts … with Footnotes (The 2nd Chapter of Acts)
This was certainly not a liturgical music recording – this was slamming Christian rock! Intense, passionate, full of joy and power – again, it spoke to my sense of passion and purpose that I believed all religious music, especially liturgical music, should hold. The piece that jumped out at me was their “Easter Song” with its tight vocal harmonies and soaring music. This was another record that I listened to over and over again back then.
Sacred Service (Ernest Bloch)
While finishing my music degree here in Minnesota, I was a member of what was then named as the “College of St. Thomas/College of St. Catherine Chorale,” where we were under the direction of Maurice Jones, who introduced us to many beautiful sacred choral works and oratorios. We performed “Sacred Service” with the St. Paul Civic Chorale and Orchestra, and I think for the first time I was able to really get inside the heart of our Jewish roots and the real life stories of the Jewish people. A gorgeous choral work that is not liturgical (in the way that we think of liturgical music), it opened up the Hebrew Scriptures to me in a powerful way and introduced me to the need for a praying and singing to have music to “lament’ with.
Gentle Night (The St. Louis Jesuits)
Aside from the literally thousands of secular contemporary Christmas songs out there, this was the first real contemporary resource of liturgical music for the Advent/Christmas season that I came across, and it deepened in me the beautiful blend of contemporary styles of music, working side by side with traditional SATB choirs, with pieces like “Who Has Known” and “Wake from Your Sleep.” My favorite from this collection, that later appeared on my Christmas recording (“Star Child”) is John Foley’s haunting, “Come Weal, Come Woe.” In my opinion it is one of his best pieces, although many to this day are not familiar with it.
On Eagle’s Wings (Michael Joncas)
I had heard the actual song, “On Eagle’s Wings” prior to this release, and before meeting Michael. This collection was formative for me for so many reasons, the primary one being the challenge to me to explore the galaxy of musical genres available to us for musical settings for liturgy. It helped break the stereotyping of composers has been labeled and confined to writing one particular kind of music. Michael’s breadth of writing here included folk-rock inspired songs (“Praise his Name,” “How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place,” “Let the King of Glory Come”), musical theatre types of pieces (“Lord, Come and Save Us” and “Go Out to the World”), popular music ballads (“I Have Loved You” and the title song), and classically inspired choral pieces (“Happy Are They” – his gorgeous setting of the Magnificat). It was literally within days of this recording/collection being published that we first met, and a most powerful collaboration began that continues to this day. This collection expanded the contemporary music genre beyond anything I had come across prior. Truly a classic and important collection for all contemporary liturgical composers.
Praise God in Song (GIA Publications)
When people ask me for a beginning resource and primer to help them understand the structure and possibilities for pastoral implementation of communal celebrations of the liturgy of the hours, this resource, to me, is still the fundamental “text” for doing so. I had no real first-hand experience with praying the hours in a communal pastoral setting before meeting Michael and being introduced to this resource. This is still the template for me as a liturgist, and this also served as the model for me when I was to later create my first settings of morning evening prayer in my “Light and Peace” collection. Here are complete musical settings by Michael, David Clark Isele, and Howard Hughes, plus a wealth of additional psalms and canticles. This is still on my shelf, and it still shapes my preparation for any celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer.
I Send My Light (Marty Haugen)
This was the very first introduction that I had with Marty’s music, and while many now do not know about this collection, this is a great exploration of the musical and arranging mind of Marty’s muse. As was the case with “On Eagle’s Wings” and my getting to know Michael, “I Send My Light” was a recording that I played over and over quite a bit before I had the courage to call Marty and introduce myself personally to him. There are still songs here that introduced me to a different and unique musical landscape for me as a liturgical composer, with songs like “I Send My Light,” and “All Flesh is Grass.”
We the Living (Tom Conry)
This was Tom’s second collection, and it contained songs that I was soon to use in my beginning ministry as a parish music director. His unique melodies and challenging texts that are found in this collection have fallen off the screen for many pastoral musicians, and that makes me sad. Songs like “I Shall See God,” “All People Here Who Remember,” “Bethlehem,” and my personal favorite, “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?” again, planted seeds in me that still influence how I compose music today for the liturgy.
Psalms for Feasts and Seasons (Christopher Willcock, SJ)
This was the collection that was to eventually, lead to Marty Haugen and I to work together on the first volume of “Psalms for the Church Year.” Christopher is a Jesuit from Australia, and this very unknown collection at the time (it is still widely unknown) was the first resource of psalms focused on the common seasonal lectionary psalms. The refrains are choral in nature, and the verses are very fresh and melodic renderings for the cantor. These settings are absolutely gorgeous, and I used these frequently back in my parish music days, especially “My Soul Is Thirsting” (Ps. 63) and “To You, O Lord” (Ps. 25).
Songs for the Journey (Joe Wise)
This was one of the very last liturgical music recordings and collections that Joe would create, and it is a gem. It introduced to me, like the work of Ed Gutfruend, bringing together folk styles into liturgical song, especially with his very unique, almost “square dance” version of Psalm 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd,” which became a concert opener for me during some of my earliest liturgical music concerts and programs. Marty, Michael and I included it on our popular “Come and Journey” live concert recording.
With Open Hands (Marty Haugen)
Soon after meeting Marty and our beginning sessions of sharing music together, he put together this recording/collection that gave us all some of the songs that are still staples for the parish liturgical repertoire, such as “Canticle of the Sun,” “Be with Me,” “Taste and See,” “Let Your Face Shine Upon Us,” and my personal favorite, “We Remember.” This song still wipes me out, and there are so many lines in this song that are so human yet holy: “Here a million wounded souls are yearning just to touch you and be healed.” My goodness. Marty asked me to join one of his ensembles in the studio when he recorded this “album”, and so singing on this recording taught me much about the recording process, and it became the model as to how I would work in the studio in the future. Marty taught me so much about recording in these early days, which is why I asked him to be the producer of my first recording with GIA, “We Have Been Told,” which is filled with music in the same vein and style of “With Open Hands.”
Do Not Fear to Hope (Rory Cooney)
I am one of Rory Cooney’s biggest fans in so many ways. While he had released some collections prior, this was the first that I came across. Besides the title song, I remember the first time I placed the LP and heard the sounds of the opening track, that belted out:
We are God’s chosen people,
We are the saints!
We are God’s work of art,
Signed and set apart – let us sing!
I remember saying to myself, “now, this is the kind of liturgical music that I want to write!” Thanks, Rory!
The Painter (John Michael Talbot & Terry Talbot)
Again, not a liturgical collection, but music that just leapt out at me for its passion and energy. Listened to it a lot!
All Is Ready (Tim Schoenbachler)
Tim’s music, and this collection in particular, represents a model that still to this day, I believe we need to follow as liturgical composers. This music is strong, melodic, pastoral, accessible. Again, I was slow to coming to know some of the classic and well known religious folk songs of our tradition, and so Tim’s lively arrangement of Sydney Carter’s “Lord of the Dance” was a wonderful introduction to this piece for me. He also did a wonderful adaptation of the “Word” song,” Speak, Lord.” His song of ministry, “Here I am” preceded Dan Schutte’s “Here I Am, Lord,” and it is a passionate response of faith for all who serve in any kind of ministry. But I have to say, it was his psalm settings on this recording that most touched and influenced me, especially “Forever I Will Sing” (Ps. 89), “Taste and See” (Psalm 34), and his wonderful setting of Psalm 104 for Pentecost, “Send Out Your Spirit.” Many of these pieces are still used in many communities. As they should.
Roll Down the Ages (Bob Hurd)
“Roll Down the Ages” was my very first introduction to the music of Bob Hurd, and I began to listen to this collection around the time that I was about to develop some of the music that would soon be recorded and published by GIA. His group “Anawim” provided a lush and tight vocal sound that, much like Marty’s former group, “Windspirit,” was a model for smaller ensembles and contemporary groups who were, more and more, coming to discover SATB repertoire. So many great songs here, including Greg Hayakawa’s “I Am the Light of the World,” but also Bob’s “Praise the Lord Who Heals the Brokenhearted,” “Roll Down the Ages,” his arrangement of “Gift of Love,” and the wonderful concluding piece, “All My Life.” This was a sign of more to come from Bob, who continues to compose beautiful music for the singing church.
Music from Taize’ (Jacques Berthier / Taize’ Community)
The music of the Taize’ community continues to be a source of not only music for communal liturgy, but also, for contemplation and spirituality. My first exposure to these simple, repeatable chants and acclamations – beginning with “Ubi Caritas” and “Veni Sancte Spiritus” presented me with a genre of music I had not previously explored, which was the influence that led to my setting of Psalm 100, “We Are God’s People,” and many other songs to come – eventually bringing to me to where I am at this juncture in my life, being the animator for the Cretin-Derham Hall Taize’ Community here in St. Paul.
All of these collections and resources all came into my life before I ventured out on my own with publishing and recording with GIA. They all had a part in what I was to explore, right up until this day. So very grateful. So, my fellow parish musicians and composers, what music influenced YOU in the early days of your vocation? (DH: 4.29.18)