Monday, December 21, 2009

The Return of Lucernarium

Hi there,

I finally submitted by Masters thesis on Wednesday Decemeber 9.

The title is: 'Ancient Ways, Future Days: Praying Evening Prayer'.

Some of you may recognise the title which is the same as Liam Lawton's music collection from 2001. I asked his permission to use the title, which he generously agreed to.

Now the thesis has been submitted, I plan to return to blogging and to share with you ideas about a parish celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, liturgical music and liturgy in general.

I will begin posting again in January 2010.

Thanks for your patience.

Bye now.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lucernarium in recess

Thanks to everyone who has been leaving messages and emailing me about this Blog.

The idea of blogging still appeals to me, but my time is being eaten up by other things at the moment.

You will be pleased and interested to know, that following the general theme of this Blog, I have taken up a Research Masters program focusing on Evening Prayer in a modern Parish context. I am in the middle of writing it and along with being a Husband, Father and full-time school teacher - you will understand my reason for not blogging of late.

In fact, it might be best to say that Lucernarium will go into recess until after March 2009 [after my submission date for my thesis has past].

Those of you who enjoy the work I have started here, may be saddened by this - but the way I see it, by the time post-March 2009 comes around - I will have a lot more to say about the Liturgy of the Hours [and have the time to do so!].

So, for the meantime...Auf Wiedersehen. Please use this Blog as a resourse for your own approaches for the implimentation of the Hours in your parish, school etc.

March 2009 will be here before we know it.

Until then...

In the Heart of Jesus,


Thursday, September 07, 2006

CD REVIEW: ST. LOUIS JESUITS ‘Morning Light’ [OCP Publications, 2005]

After many years, the St Louis Jesuits have returned with a collection that shows precisely why they established themselves so firmly and successfully in post-Vatican II Catholic liturgical music.

While they haven’t recorded together in over 20 years, their liturgical compositions have found their way into parishes the world over with such classics as ‘Here I Am Lord’, ‘City of God’ and ‘Though the Mountains May Fall’ to name but a few. With so many other St Louis Jesuits hymns part of our collective liturgical music lexicon, I found myself asking, ‘do we need more St. Louis Jesuits music?’ or ‘will it be as good as the older stuff?’ My questions have been suitably answered and any anxiety duly satisfied upon listening, singing and praying along with this recording.

What we are presented with is a collection of 12 songs ranging in style and also displaying the individual songwriting talents of Dan Schutte, John Foley S.J., Bob Dufford S.J. and Robert ‘Roc’ O’Connor, S.J.. Additional input is given by one-time St Louis Jesuit Tim Manion.

Things begin with the Foley penned ‘Now My Heart’. There is an immediacy with this hymn which lends on a call and response type of approach. Foley sounds older (and wiser) as he calls ‘Now my heart is ready Lord’ with strong response by the other singers ‘Now to wake the morning’. Clearly a fine choice for early morning Eucharistic celebrations or Morning Prayer, the song diverts from this explicit theme halfway through and enters a subdued digression picking up themes of evening. This song seemingly has it all! Things then segue back into the rolling tempo established at the start of the song until it resolves on an optimistic note. The flute work in Now My Heart is particularly good and dances around the place giving it a Celtic influence. A strong start.

‘Give Us Faith Lord’ written by Dan Schutte is a flatter moment on this recording. The melody is a bit predictable and the instrumentation sounds like it has been exhumed from a forgettable 1980’s Kenny-G b-side. The saxophone and cheesy synth is distracting, which is a pity given the strong compositional influence Dan Schutte has wielded in the past with such classics as ‘Blest Be the Lord’ and ‘Sing a New Song’. This aside, the song has potential application in Reconciliation services or as a song of dismissal.

‘O Beauty, Ever Ancient’ is a triumph. Though penned by O’Connor the vocal is sung by Tim Manion who provides one of the vocal highlights of the entire collection. There is a warm strength to Manion’s voice and coupled with his well phrased guitar passages, creates a wonderful sense of yearning. The lyrics are poignant:

O late have I turned,
turned from seeking you in creatures,
fleeing grief and pain within

By the end of the song, the words speak of hope with Manion singing ‘Let me find my life in you’. For this reason, O Beauty, Ever Ancient would be perfect for selection throughout the season of Lent as a hymn of longing and the turning away from things that block the Love of God. The underlying themes of trust and hope along with the soothing tones of Manion’s voice and guitar work would contribute nicely in a retreat setting. One of the tall trees on the recording for sure!

The St Louis Jesuits have long been recognized for applying stirring melodies to scripture. ‘Well of Tears’ [Bob Dufford] continues this tradition using Jeremiah 8 as its backdrop. The track begins in a sombre fashion, but begins to rouse in the bridge leading up to the refrain. With a key change and thumping timpani drums heralding the climax of the chorus, this becomes a real surprise moment of the recording. The lyrics in places may be mournful, but this is turned around by the surging instrumentation of the refrains. It would make for a powerful selection in a funeral liturgy or even the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls).

John Foley offers another hymn in the form of ‘Teach Us To Pray’. This is a big, robust number and is presented more like an anthem. It reminds me of a hymn [and I do use the word *hymn*] I would hear in a big Cathedral. The choir in this particular track is prominent and is the ‘primary voice’. No solos here…just big congregational input. Trumpets are used to good effect, harking one’s mind back to the smart trumpet work achieved in ‘Here I Am Lord’…but perhaps not with the same sense of swagger. With its devotional leanings, it could work very well as a Reflection piece or as a Morning Hymn at Morning Prayer. Think Songs of Praise you will be moving towards the style in which Teach Us to Pray is written. It goes to show that this recording caters to a large cross section of musical styles for liturgy.

‘You Are the Light’ written by Robert ‘Roc’ O’Connor swings the pendulum back in the other direction to a more contemporary setting. The instrumentation is vibrant, complete with guitars and drums [!!] and will no doubt cause some members of our vast constituency to die of heart failure, but for the rest of us [!], it is a joy filled and happy moment of the recording. There are obvious applications here for use in Evening Prayer with lyrics in the refrain such as:

You are the light that shines in the darkness
You shine through the night
That we might seek and find our way
Christ be our light!
Let your love be a lamp to guide our way
Christ be our light!

The scriptural references keep on coming in ‘Behind Me and Before Me’ as a setting of Psalm 139. This particular setting has a pleasant guitar introduction similar to the light work displayed in O Beauty, Ever Ancient, but lacks the same level of conviction. The vocal work of John Foley and Bob Dufford are delivered in a pleasant manner, but things are a bit wishy-washy here. The strings are a bit over the top and a source of distraction rather than an enhancement to proceedings. There are some nice harmonies in the third verse which raise things a little, but nothing here rises to the same level of what we have already heard so far on this release. This track is a little disappointing. Sorry Bob.

Without a shadow of doubt, the clear standout track on Morning Light is the wonderful ‘Gather the People’ composed by Dan Schutte. This is great as a Song of Preparation [I have tried it in my parish – to a very enthusiastic response from members of the assembly!] The song also has possibilities as a song of Gathering or at Communion. The percussion from the very start of the track establishes a driving tempo that is maintained throughout the song without ever dominating. The song begins with the refrain which is instantly singable and moves nicely into a simple and rousing verse that could be sung either by a cantor or the congregation. Add this one to ‘Sing to the Mountains’ et al. This is an instant classic! Add it to your parish repertoire. It is simply that good.

‘Come Home’ [Dufford] is a slower paced track that speaks of longing. It could be used for any celebration throughout Lent or even in a funeral liturgy with its very appropriate and recurring lyric of ‘come home’.

John Foley’s moving setting of Psalm 42 and 43 - ‘Running Streams’ is one of the better settings of this psalm I have heard for some time. The solo cantor work by Foley is heartfelt and is given substance later in the song when Tim Manion joins in for some very nice harmony work. Mr. Manion seems very understated and perhaps even under-used in this recording. The times he is featured, he really shines. Perhaps this will be a springboard for more work by Manion in the future. [?]

‘The Saving Power of God’ rocks along. The rollicking nature of this track is reminiscent of ‘Lift Up Your Hearts’ taken from the 1981 Lord of Light recording. Saving Power perhaps has a bit more attitude…the guitars sound a bit tougher and the energy levels are high. This would make for a vibrant song of Gathering and also speak very nicely to Christmas themes. This O’Connor penned song is probably at the opposite end of the style/ sound spectrum compared with the aforementioned Teach us to Pray. The diversity on this collection by now is clearly realized displaying to all and sundry that the St. Louis Jesuits are still a force to be reckoned with even after all these years.

Dan Schutte signs off with the gentle ‘These Alone Are Enough’. With the refrain of:

Give me nothing more
Than your love and grace
These alone, O God
Are enough for me could see the application of this song to moments of commissioning i.e.: Special Ministries within a parish, or even school graduations. It certainly has a sense of sending forth so it would work well at the conclusion of a celebration. Its choice as the final track on this timely release is also fitting.

At the beginning of B16’s papacy, I remember there being a lot of talk by some folk, that liturgical music such as the St. Louis Jesuits would not last. There were even some who boasted somewhat pompously that with the new Pope, such music would be outlawed and banned which certainly raised eyebrows in some quarters. What Morning Light does [apart from displaying that the St. Louis Jesuits are still a potent and talented group of composers] is totally dispel such arguments as false and furthermore, boldly assert that music can be unifying and heal such tiresome divisions. The musical scope and diversity on this recording is testament to the liturgical, musical and pastoral sensibilities of this rather extraordinary ensemble from St Louis. They show us through Morning Light a vision of church which not only is contemporary and fresh, but beautifully speaks to our tradition of sung prayer in a variety of ways. Morning Light is therefore an album of hope and for that reason alone – you know you must go and buy it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Wisdom of David Haas

I have recently read a online report on the National Pastoral Musicians Western Regional Convention in Sacramento, USA. By all accounts it sounds like the occasion was an excellent gathering of liturgists and musicians. I wish I could have been there.

It seems to me that we need up-front and wise figures in liturgical music circles at the moment. Keynote spreaker David Haas [pictured] had this to say about the current *political* climate of liturgical music in the Catholic Church:

"We need to resist going down the black hole of anger regarding how we translate our texts, what we will sing, or which musical styles are most appropriate for our Masses,"

and later,

"We have to stop fighting, put down our swords, truly love one another --- intentionally and unconditionally --- and listen to one another in love," he said. "Because these debates are tearing us apart."

Over the past few months, there has been an increase in the amount of discussion about what types of music should be used for liturgy and whether certain types of music should be banned. This seems to originated from the comments made by Benedict XVI at a concert conducted in the Sistine Chapel, on Saturday, June 24, by Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci.

What has been of particular concern is the amount of 'ear play' that some sections of the media have had in suddenly thinking that they have the right to claim that all musical instruments that resemble any whiff of modernity will soon be outlawed by the Pope. Also of concern is the level of malice that has been sprewked by some in regards to musicians and exponents of post-Vatican II liturgical music. I wish there was something that could be done to stop the venom such writers have for those whose expression of faith is different to their own. I may very well be an open fan of David Haas and Marty Haugen and use their music to a great extent...but I don't hate other musical forms and those who have composed them and contributed to the 2000 tradition of the Church. I don't understand where a lot of these people are coming from.

Another thing that has been niggling me a bit lately has been the frantic and almost frenzied speed that some bloggers and journalists jumped up to say that because the Pope said a few words at the aforementioned concert at the Sistine Chapel in support of the tradition of music in the Church, that whatever he said is now rule and law of the Catholic Church.

I think all of us could do with a greater sence of restraint and disgression until the Pope has issued an official document that speaks to the ongoing development and reform of the liturgy and the music that is intergral to its celebration. It seems to me that that we should be careful not to lose our understanding of the work 'infallible' everytime the Pope opens his mouth.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Pope says some very striking and moving things (see: Deus Caritas Est)...but even the Pope's opinion is merely that. Opinion. Until he places his authoritive stamp in the form of a Papal Bull or some other official document, is it worth any of us squabbling over things that are not set in stone?

I think anyone who speaks of a loving response to our neighbour deserves big respect. David Haas speaks to this with authority and open, loving invitation. Jesus did the same. Let this Wisdom find its way into the hearts of all who are willing to listen.

Monday, May 29, 2006

CD REVIEW: TONY ALONSO & MICHAEL MAHLER ‘Songs from Another Room’ [G.I.A. Publications, 2005]

Once more, G.I.A. have invested wisely in the talents of Tony Alonso and Michael Mahler to produce a recording of liturgical music that is instantly accessible, yet has all the hallmarks of excellence and liturgical sensitivity which will no doubt see ‘Songs from Another Room’ become an enduring release for time to come.

The bio from G.I.A. about this collection was an intriguing tease…suggesting the recording was an somewhat organic and acoustic affair recorded in a casual manner:

The range and versatility between these two young GIA artists surges with a palpable energy that only this kind of chemistry creates. Armed with only acoustic instruments, Alonso and Mahler deliver electric's acoustic music with a positive charge!

Upon reading this, immediate images of an era where simple, stripped back recording approaches were the norm in the production and marketing of liturgical music flashed before my eyes [i.e.: Neither Silver Nor Gold by the St Louis Jesuits, 1974]. I have previously blogged on this issue and wondered what exactly these two boys were up to.

Additionally, what was with the title ‘Songs from Another Room’. [??] What did that actually mean? Did it refer to the style and perhaps motivating factors that lay behind the composition of these songs? Did from Another Room allude to music whose purpose lay beyond merely liturgical practice? So many questions! And these were before I even had got my hands on a copy to discern what was going on.

Alonso and Mahler have consequently delivered perhaps their most diverse and eclectic sounding album of liturgical music to date and the results are exceedingly good.

Things begin with the lilting ‘Were I the Perfect Child of God’. The mood is distinctly Celtic complete with Fiddle, Mandolin [both played by Glen Duncan] and Tin Whistle played by the continuing talents of Dominic Trumfio who featured throughout the wonderful ‘As Morning Breaks and Evening Sets’. Not surprisingly, the words to this particular piece have been penned by Iona stalwart John L. Bell based on a traditional Scottish melody. By the third verse, the vocal harmony work of Mahler and Alonso come together beautifully accentuating a fine lyric of hope:

God grant me what I still require that I;
In others, might inspire the hidden hope;
The deep desire to love and follow Jesus

As a result, the piece would be best utilised as a song of gathering or dismissal.

Following this is the Mahler composition ‘My Savior, Your Son’. The feel of this particular track, more so than the others, is very contemporary in sound and style. In fact, when I first heard the track, I grabbed the liner notes to see if what I was listening to was in fact liturgical music. [!] It certainly doesn’t sound like liturgical music I have come to expect from the Mahler/ Alonso/ True catalogue in recent years.

This is the kind of music I would expect Christian Radio stations would gladly add to their play lists. Is this one of those songs from another room stated in the title of this collection? Does it come from the room where liturgical music is forged and created? Or from another room? Is ‘My Savior, Your Son’ a thinly veiled attempt by G.I.A. to diversify the target market audience of this collection? Would such a song be more at home on a Disciple Records release? Many questions.

Questions aside, the song has a lyric that speaks of discernment and faith-inspired action. Clearly, it would therefore make for a wonderful song of mission.

I do have one little niggle in listening to this song. The lyrical content and indeed the title focus explicitly on the self i.e.: ‘My Savior, Your Son’ and the many references to ‘I’.

I don’t whether it is just me being overly critical or perhaps it is a reflection on the seemingly increasing presence of Hillsong-style worship music that is infiltrating Catholic liturgical repertoires. It is well documented that Hillsong style of worship music tends to be incredibly self-absorbed and all about me me me. There is a big emphasis on my relationship with God and God as my savior and through all of this somehow the crux of the matter is about my salvation.

Very little of this kind of music I have listened to speaks about the ‘we’ or ‘us’ or the collective. It is these words of ‘we’ and ‘us’ that connect us more deeply together when we sing our prayer. The theology of ‘us’ and ‘we’ is celebratory in style. When we use these small but influential and powerful words we are entering into celebration and communion together…to use the words of St Paul, David Haas etc…we are the Body of Christ.

So it irks me when I hear all this music seeping into Catholic liturgy because firstly it is not composed specifically for Catholic liturgy [yet it is used] and second, the theology is weak [and in a Post Vatican II Church], dated somewhat.

It follows then, that when I hear Catholic composers like Michael Mahler sing in the first person and in a style that could fit very well into a Hillsong setlist, alarm bells begin to ring.

But then again, this is a collection of songs from another room…isn’t it? Perhaps Malher and Alonso covered their bases in the selection of the title. Clever.

I digress.

Returning to the recording, ‘Te Ensalzare (I Will Praise You)’ is the first of two songs sung entirely in Spanish…and are what add to the eclectic nature of this release. Previous offerings in Spanish by Mahler and Alonso appear on the very fine 2003 bilingual recording ‘Cantemos al Senor/ Let Us Sing to the Lord’. What sets ‘Te Ensalzare’ and the later track ‘Amore, Es Vida (Love Is Life)’ apart are that they are sung entirely in Spanish…and the results are wonderful.

Out of the two Spanish tracks, it is the latter, ‘Amor Es Vida (Love Is Life)’ which is the highlight…and one of the stronger moments of the album. While the English translation is included in the accompanying booklet, it does not read [or sound, if voiced] as poetic as the Spanish. There is a rhythm and eloquence to the Spanish…which prompted me to follow the Spanish along with the music and start singing. Singing along in Spanish had a powerful effect on me. Even though it is not a language I know or speak…knowing what I was singing due to the translation gave me an insight into the universality of our Catholic faith. A timely reminder of the power of language – given that we celebrate Pentecost this coming Sunday.

The words of the song are uplifting and speaks of pilgrimage and the celebration of creation. The third verse deals with ideas about the morning and could have application for Morning Prayer:

Yo soy feliz por cada dia nuevo,
por la illusion de ver amanecer,
por las estrellas y por el cielo,
por la alegria de renacer

Translated to English:

I am happy for each new day,
for the desire of seeing a new dawn,
for the stars and the new sky,
for the joy of being reborn

Again, the duelling recorder work of Dominic Trumfio is outstanding and adds to the Spanish feel of the song. Any song that has a refrain that states:

Alegra estoy,
cantando voy,
este es el dia que hizo el Senor


I am happy,
I am always singing,
This is the day the Lord has made

…deserves to be sung from the rafters of any Church! This is a great song that would be perfect for an opening anthem of faith. It’s utterly infectious!

The Mahler penned ‘A Child Will Lead Us’ is a quiet triumph. This rolling acoustic number would be great for use in Baptisms…and perhaps even as a piece of preparation during the season of Advent. The Pedal steel guitar playing by Tom Bleu Mortensen adds a lazy and contemporary feel to the song.

‘And Jesus Said’ features the words of New Zealand native Shirley Erena Murray. I have previously mentioned the strengths of this gifted wordsmith…and the praise continues here. The encouragement of Murray’s text drawing upon Jesus’ mantra of ‘Don’t be afraid’ is ably supported by the gentle compositional structure of Tony Alonso.

‘My Love Will Be Waiting For You’ composed by Mahler follows in a somewhat similar vein to ‘My Savior, Your Son’ in its contemporary style and sound. What really sets this song apart from other tracks on the album is its lack of liturgical focus. If its liturgical application is there, you will really need to twist the song to make it fit into the context of liturgical celebration…and even then…you will be struggling to make use of it in liturgy.

The text is apparently an autobiographical account of Mahler’s life journeys so far and the love of his mother…which is nice I guess. It seems out of place on this recording and a bit too self indulgent. I’m sure Mahler’s mother will be as proud as punch for Michael having written it for her…but clearly this is one of those songs from [and perhaps for] another room. [??!!]

The scripturally based ‘Emmaus’ by Tony Alonso, interprets the account of the Road to Emmaus story from Luke’s gospel. The instrumentation is light and similar in tone to ‘A Child Will Lead Us’. Its application at the Preparation of the Gifts or as a Communion piece would make the best sense.

Without a shadow of doubt, the highlight of the recording is the Mahler composition ‘God Is Love’. Following some questionable compositional work in ‘My Savior, Your Son’ and ‘My Love Will Be Waiting For You’ Mahler is fully redeemed in ‘God Is Love’. This is an outstanding piece of liturgical music that tugs at the heart, mind and soul of the listener and begs immediate and active participation. I would go as far as to say that we are witnessing the emergence of an instant classic in the same way David Haas’ ‘You Are Mine’ or Marty Haugen’s ‘Gather Us In’ has become part of the modern Catholic liturgical lexicon. It is that good. The theology is perfect, the composition is refined, yet simple and inviting. One is immediately struck by its beauty and left in a state of inspiration and sublime joy long after the track has ended. This needs to be a song of focus at the upcoming World Youth Day in Sydney, 2008. The gospel of Love must be proclaimed – this song does that triumphantly – and what not better platform than in Sydney in 2008? Mr. Mahler has blessed us all with this gem.

‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’ by Tony Alonso speaks to themes of justice and inclusion and is reminiscent of ‘I Am Standing Waiting’ taken from Alonso’s earlier work Fresh As the Morning. This would be a logical choice for Social Justice Sunday.

The collection concludes with the gentle ‘This Is My Song’. Singing of universal themes that connect all peoples of faith throughout the world, the piece is a timely and welcome song that speaks very much to our current and turbulent global situation:

Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him
And hearts united learn to live as one
So hear my prayer, O God of all the nations.
Myself I give you; let your will be done.

‘Songs from Another Room’ continues to show that Tony Alonso and Michael Mahler have well and truly arrived on the liturgical music scene and are developing and growing in their ministry. While this particular recording contains some music this is at times seemingly at odds with conventional liturgical practice, it also contains new works that are enriching and, I would argue, essential for any parish musician’s repertoire. Clearly the standout track, ‘God Is Love’ is reason alone for one to purchase this release and tip your hat to the liturgical juggernauts that are Mr Michael Mahler and Mr Tony Alonso.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

CD REVIEW: DAN MCGOWAN - Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs [Independent]

‘Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs’ by Colorado-based Dan McGowan demonstrates a testament to passionate and skilful execution of sung prayer. The strength of this release lies in its understated simplicity. The songs are crafted simply, yet effectively allowing them to stand alone as vibrant and enthusiastic expressions of prayer.

McGowan begins this 15-track offering with the upbeat ‘Beautiful Day’. Swelling synths build to a crescendo with a pulsing bass line, which sounds very 80’s before seguing into a happy and rollicking hymn of praise. With obvious applications to morning services with the recurring catch cry of, ‘This is a beautiful day, this is the day that the Lord has made’, it makes for a good start to a solid recording.

Next, is the gospel tinged ‘You Did’ which highlights McGowan’s ability to show off his song craft. This self-penned track displays a simple message of the glory and wonders of God in nature. The refrain lifts very nicely into a harmonised passage that is stirring and motivating. Without downplaying the strength of the song, the simple and light style of this particular track would lend itself nicely to children’s liturgy. There is scope here for wonderful catechesis of children either in a school setting or perhaps in a parish setting as part of a Sunday children’s Liturgy of the Word.

‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ is one of three traditional hymns that appear on this release. The track shows McGowan as powerful cantor with a strong gospel influence in his vocal delivery. His lush vibrato accentuates the ‘traditional’ vibe of the hymn and made me grab the CD sleeve to check if the late Derek Campbell hadn’t made a guest appearance. No. It’s all McGowan here. Very nice.

Another McGowan offering, ‘His Love Remains’ displays a simple arrangement with a singable refrain. The percussion is light [a simple tambourine] and is typical of many of the songs on ‘Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Hymns’. Percussion can so often overwhelm production values, but here it is used sparingly to serve the song, which ultimately serves a higher purpose of prayer.

‘Dance With Joy’ is a snazzy little offering, which leads itself to congregational singing. The brass lines sound a little thin on this particular track and sound like they are being played through a cheap and nasty little Casio. One could imagine a honking and hooting live brass section really lifting this song into the stratosphere complete with sliding trombones and duelling muted trumpets. This aside, the mood is infectious and when that key change kicks in and McGowan exclaims a little ‘wooo!’ – things definitely end up on uplifting note.

The hymn ‘There Is A Harvest’ speaks of evangelisation and would make for a wonderful song of mission at the conclusion of a liturgy. Once again, the percussion is light and tasteful which accompanies the swelling moments of the song that are further helped by great sung harmony lines.

‘Amazing Grace’ is included as another traditional piece and is a welcome addition to the collection. McGowan’s working of this standard is sincere. The instrumentation is simple; piano and voice with a hint of ethereal keyboard interspersed towards the conclusion for good effect.

‘If We Only Knew’ is a song of hope and jubilant praise of God which uses images of raising one’s hands to give God praise. It is clear, as the title of the CD implies, that McGowan has been shaped by the beauty and poetry of the psalms. ‘My Soul Finds Rests’ continues in a similar vein to the previous track and features some flamenco style picked guitar in the background, which caught the ear of this little blogger [we all have our weaknesses, I guess].

‘I Cry Holy’ is essentially a love song to God and is the kind of tune that has you scratching you head thinking ‘I feel I heard this somewhere before’…but no…yet another McGowan penned tune. As ‘Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs’ progresses and with subsequent listens, you get a real sense that this release is the result of many years of active ministry. The theology is rich, rooted in the psalms and the songcraft is established and well and truly tested. You can hear it. This begs the question, where has Dan McGowan been all this time and why have we not heard more of his inspirational and prayerful music before now? Why hasn’t his music been marketed and pushed by some publishing house to greater effect? There are plenty of people out there who would have their prayer augmented by the riches that are found here.

‘You Love Me’ is one of the highlights of the recording. McGowan’s daughter, Rachel sings the main vocal line and the results are stunning. Rachel McGowan has an achingly beautiful quality to her voice and this adds to the sincerity of this already impressive recording. By the time the bridge hits and father and daughter harmonise vocally, there is no turning back…one can only say that this is nothing short of a triumph. Wonderful prayer. Just wonderful.

‘I Refuse’ follows a similar vibe to ‘Beautiful Day’…a punchy, straight-up hymn declaring the trust in Jesus. ‘Well Done’ is a fitting song to conclude the collection and would be ideally suited for use in funerals and memorial services celebrating the life of those departed. There is a wonderful sense of hope and optimism here with the line of:

When I’ve seen my last setting sun
I want to hear Well Done!

‘Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs’ is a successful collection of hymns that will undoubtedly assist communities in their prayer. Dan McGowan’s songcraft and production techniques serves the prayerfulness of these texts and offer to all who will listen, an insight into how worship can be done simply and at the same time powerfully. The tracks lend themselves to congregational active participation with refrains that are easy to sing and memorable. One hopes this fine independent release will open doors for McGowan as a composer and prayer leader. Let’s pray for it.

For more information on 'Psalm, Hymns, Spiritual Songs' and online purchasing details go to Dan McGowan's Recordings page.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Proof in the Pudding: A Lenten experience of Daily Prayer in a Parish setting

During Lent, the school which I work at offered ‘Lenten Communal Prayer’. I lead proceedings and found the process to be a positive experience of Daily Prayer based on the Liturgy of the Hours.

It demonstrated to me the adaptability of the Hours, and, in light of my previous blog, the proof that the Daily Prayer of the Church does not need to be an exclusive liturgical activity relegated to members of the clergy.

On the contrary, what was one of the most refreshing aspects of this experience of prayer was that it was open to many different types of people.

It was initiated at the school level and was open to students and staff. However, the location for ‘Lenten Communal Prayer’ was held in the neighbouring parish Church [pictured] of St Luke’s, Noarlunga. This in turn was an avenue for parishioners to join those already gathered – which they did. Therefore, weekly gatherings were a cross section of staff, students and parishioners and there was a wonderful sense of community and shared faith.

The structure of the prayer, revolved around the use of sung psalmody. A selected psalm refrain was interspersed throughout proceedings and also sung in full. Below is the structure that was used:

Sign of the Cross
Sung Psalm Refrain
Opening Prayer
Psalm [sung]
General Intercessions
The Lord’s Prayer
Sign of Peace
Sung Psalm Refrain

The length of our time together was relatively short...between 15 and 20 minutes. It was held during lunchtime on Wednesdays allowing students to come along if they wished. The average number of people who met was approximately 15, some of which were students who are in the process of becoming full members of the the experience for them was particularly special.

I was heartened by this experience and see no reason why it be a seasonal venture.

The possibility for it continuing in an ongoing basis is real and I look forward to developing the idea building on the experience of this past season of Lent.