May 15, 2018

REVIEW: FROM MOUNTAINS HIGH: Contemporary Catholic Music 1970-1985 By Ken Canedo

(Pastoral Press, Portland, OR; 2018)

History, context, and societal influences have always had an impact on the life of the Church, especially in its prayer life and liturgical practices.  One only needs to read one of the various editions of The History of Western Music by Donald J. Grout (and his many prodigies’) over the years to see this connection.  It comes down to this – what happens in the world around us affects our art, and for believers, it deeply informs how we pray and worship. 

While the explosion that took place since the Second Vatican Council contains dynamite that is not yet 60 years old, there are nonetheless, many stories to tell. Many tales have been told by various authors in various disciplines: scripture, ecclesiology, social justice, and of course, liturgy and the music that serves the liturgy.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) was the very first document to be promulgated amidst the deliberations of the council fathers because they had the insight to know that how we worship proclaims what we believe and who are to become as disciples of Jesus Christ.  That very constitution set the tone for the various constitutions and declarations that were to follow, and we have not been the same since. 

For the liturgical renewal, especially in North America, I would assert that there were (and are still) three critical developments that took place that rocked our world.  First, having the liturgy prayed and celebrated in the vernacular, in our own language, meant that the liturgy was an event that held the potential for not only verbal participation but a deeper investment in the liturgical action and its power for believers.  Second, turning the furniture around to face what would soon be named as the assembly, proclaimed to us that this was something we do together, not something that we watch.  And while there are many other things that have transformed our liturgical life (many of which are being broken open still), the role and approach to music in the liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, was to set forth stirrings that we are still grappling with today.  When we realize that all of this was happening during the turbulent 1960’s, makes this point even more self-evident.  The culture was at the doors of the church and the structures of the institution and the liturgy either welcomed it eagerly or in other places and corners, many resisted it with all their might. 

The most radical and controversial aspect of the place of music in the liturgy came with a revolution that could not have been predicted, and that was the beginnings of what Ken Canedo in his first book, Keep the Fire Burning (Pastoral Press/OCP, 2009), named correctly as the Folk Mass Revolution.  And a revolution it most certainly was.  Up until Ken’s marvelous introductory exploration, no one had really dug deep to provide us with a very well documented presentation of what happened, who was making it happen, and how it would lead to the various interesting chapters of contemporary liturgical music that have developed since those early days in the 1960’s.  In this introductory volume, Ken led us on a journey through the angst of the changes of the council that led certain people to not only stand up and take notice but to take the early brave steps to see what the possibilities might be.  So Ken introduced us to some novices – or reminded many of us old timers – of the initial stirrings of people like Dennis Fitzpatrick and Omer Westendorf who brought publishing efforts to this new music (FEL Publications and World Library of Sacred Music); and shared the stories of those early pioneer composers like Ray Repp, Fr. Clarence Rivers, Sr. Suzanne Toolan, Joe Wise, Sebastian Temple, Sr. Germaine Habjan, The Dameans, Jack Miffleton, Peter Scholtes, Paul Quinlan and Carey Landry.  We saw how their early efforts and risk-taking led to the development of the first-ever ecclesial document from the US Catholic Bishops on liturgical music to find its way, Music in Catholic Worship (1972), and the turmoil and controversy that accompanied these new sounds.  And most importantly, from his unique perspective as a guitarist, musician, composer and former employee of FEL Publications, Ken shares the story of how this music – regardless of what people thought of it – got us singing!  After reading through this wonderful book (as I made a similar journey myself during those early years), I read it over and over again and ached for the sequel.

Ken Canedo
Ken Canedo

 Well, the sequel has arrived in Ken’s wonderful brand new volume, From Mountains High: Contemporary Catholic Music 1970-1985. (To order, click here: ) Like the first book, Ken situates the developments of contemporary liturgical music during this time amidst the cultural shifts that were happening in society and in its popular music; the religious/spiritual movements that emerged such as the “Jesus Movement” and the Charismatic renewal; and the various cultural and ethnic sensitivities that were expanding.  We hear the stories about Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, and how these two recordings/theatre pieces were to shake up our way of looking at Jesus. From Mountains High begins where the first book ended in the story of liturgical music publishing.  With the slow disintegration of FEL Publications and the re-set that World Library was to take on, we hear the story of the beginnings and the tremendous impact of North American Liturgy Resources (NALR), and how its founder Ray Bruno, together with composers Joe Wise and Carey Landry began an enterprise that  for a while would dominate contemporary liturgical music and the resources for many years that the newly named “pastoral musician” would have at their disposal.

Janet Mead

Sr. Janet Mead

We hear the rarely shared story about Sr. Janet Mead from Australia, whose hit single “The Lord’s Prayer” sold over 1 million copies and reached #4 on the American Billboard Charts.  Ken reminds us of Donovan’s hit song, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” and we hear about Maranatha Music! and the rise of Contemporary Christian Music and its impact on the recording industry.  We see in these pages the impact on how Carey Landry’s collaboration with his future wife Carol Jean Kinghorn would bring us the well-known “Hi God!” series; and we hear more stories about Joe Wise, Neil Blunt, C.P. Mudd, and Bernard Huijbers. 

Carey Landry and Carol Jean Kinghorn
Joe Wise

Ken jogs our memories to remember the ever popular “Echo” Our Father by Sister Juliana Garza and includes the amazing story of the Monks of Weston Priory, and how this small community of Benedictines found a new contemplative and accessible repertoire to share with praying Catholics, with the composing influence of Gregory Norbert.  We begin to see certain movements taking place in the Church, like Cursillo and Marriage Encounter that were speaking to the ache for spiritual renewal among believers.  We hear the story of John Michael Talbot’s journey from Evangelical Christianity to embracing Catholicism and the tremendous output that would come as a result of his conversion.

Sr. Juliana Garza

Sr. Juliana Garza

John Michael Talbot
Gregory Norbert

We are taken through the early and developing journey of the St. Louis Jesuits (Bob Dufford, John Foley, Tim Manion, Dan Schutte, and Roc O’Connor), and the many interesting turns and chapters of their iconic ministry and contribution to the singing Church.  Ken’s in-depth look at these five men and their impact is tremendous, and I believe it is the most complete telling of this story that I have ever come across.

The St. Louis Jesuits

In these pages we learn a lot about the cultural and ethnic contributions, especially in the Spanish-speaking church and the African American community, and how people like Mary Frances Reza, Ceasareo Gabarian, Pedro Rubalcava, Grayson Warren Brown, Juan Sosa, and others brought to us a whole treasure house of repertoire and spirituality. 

Mary Frances Reza
Grayson Warren Brown

We hear Ken also share the story of the beginnings of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) and the vision of its founder, Fr. Virgil Funk; and how this organization galvanized not only liturgical musicians but deeply influenced the repertoire and how it would find its way into parishes.  NPM’s impact on liturgical music cannot be overstated, and Ken does a marvelous job at guiding us through its beginnings, development and how it has continued to influence the ministry of pastoral music to this very day. 

Fr. Virgil Funk

We learn about the wonderful and at the same time, tragic, papacy of Paul VI, and how the rupture caused by Humane Vitae impacted how the average Catholic would afterward relate to the institutional church and its leaders.  This would – and did – have a tremendous impact on our worship life.  The reader will also hear the ongoing stories of not only Carey, but of the Dameans, now with Gary Daigle as a major contributor to their ministry – and an expanding roster of new composers who hit the scene like Erich Sylvester, Ed Gutfruend, Bob Fabing, SJ; Tom Kendzia, and Michael Joncas.   

Gary Daigle
Ed Gutfruend

We hear the sad story of how NALR, basically, fell apart, and of a new chapter for GIA Publications (originally known as the “Gregorian Institute of America”), an already established and successful liturgical publisher.  In the midst of these developments, GIA began to expand its catalog beyond the more “classically” inclined composers like Fr. Joseph Gelineau, Alexander Peloquin, and Richard Proulx, to embrace more contemporary styles of music, beginning with picking up the entire catalog of Joe Wise’s music.     

Tom Kendzia
Bob Hurd

We learn about Bob Hurd’s return to the liturgical music scene, and how Oregon Catholic Press – now more actively known as OCP Publications – would expand beyond its origins as the “Catholic Truth Society” and as being the publisher of the Portland Diocesan Newspaper, “The Catholic Sentinel,” and publishing a small diocesan missalette – and emerge as the steward of the immense NALR catalog, and attract a new stable of liturgical composers.   We learn a bit about struggling efforts that never reached much success, such as Pastoral Arts Associates and Cooperative Ministries, and how Marty Haugen and yours truly found ourselves being published as liturgical composers with the beginnings of a wonderful friendship and partnership with Michael Joncas and finding a home with GIA Publications.    

Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas and David Haas

Ken explores the various contemporary congregational resources that emerged after the initial publications of FEL and World Library (the Hymnal for Young Christians being the most obvious example), to pave an opening for Glory and Praise, Gather, Breaking Bread/Today’s Missal and Flor y Canto.

My only criticism of Ken’s book is that I would have liked to have seen some mention and exploration of the tremendous contributions of Tim Schoenbachler, Tom Conry (Ashes, Anthem), Eduardo Stein, and the guitar/folk-based music of the Monks of St. Meinrad, all of whom I believe are major parts of the story Ken is attempting to present here.  I know the challenge of writing a book like this and the limitations of space and the impossibility of covering every influence, but I believe the contributions of these composers to be significant. Also missing is any mention of the contributions from other Christian traditions, like that of Betty Pulkingham and the “Fisherfolk” community in England (i.e. The Servant Song, You Will Be My Witnesses), and the music from the Taize’ community in France that began to hit our shores during this time. The music from both of these communities became (and continues to be) very popular in Catholic parishes. While some might not call the Music of the Taize’ contemporary, I certainly would, because the emergence of this music during this period began to bridge some important gaps between the different genres of music.  But the absence of exploring these influences in the book do not in any way inhibit the tremendous contribution of Ken’s work here. 

I am only scratching the surface in this review.  This new book, alongside the first volume, is a treasure beyond measure in telling the ongoing story of contemporary liturgical music from so many vantage points.  It is important for us to know whose shoulders we stand on; from whence we came as a singing church experiencing new incarnations and new chapters of birth along the way.  I read the book in one sitting – I could not put it down.  I believe that all pastoral musicians and liturgical renewal enthusiasts should read this book.  New insights will be discovered and wonderful stories will be revealed. Ken, what a blessing you have given us.  We are looking forward to volume three!  (Review by David Haas: 5/15/18)

To order “From Mountains High,” click here. 




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