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 performances...it'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
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
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.
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,
este es el dia que hizo el SenorTranslated:
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.