Category Archives: Praise Music from the Past

My parish’s Christmas tradition: its own carol

This is a refeature of a post that originally ran December 19, 2012.

I suspect very few parishes have this sort of tradition during the Christmas season: a hymn, composed by a member of the parish, that is sung every year. And at my main parish, we sing this carol every year as a tie between the church as it stands now and the church throughout its history.

The hymn writer, Deneen Ashley, was a longtime member of the parish, I am told. (Also, despite the first name, Deneen was a guy.) He wrote this in 1951 and apparently renewed the copyright (?) in the 1970s. It’s a testament to this man that we continue to sing his carol every year — a carol that is sung nowhere else (though I wouldn’t complain if it were picked up worldwide).

Here’s the carol, with my variation on his accompaniment and my own singing:

If the embed isn’t showing up, click here.

Praise music from the past: Marty Haugen’s “Tales of Wonder”

An occasional feature.

Oh, do I remember this … well, vaguely. But I was in at least two productions of “Tales of Wonder”  growing up (possibly three), because the nun who ran music at the parish I was at growing up liked it and had the choirs (and me, because I was the son of a choir member and available to badly state a couple lines, plus some other kids) perform it. I remember having to blurt out “EVEN ME??????” during an ending dialogue scene, holding up a cardboard sun and moon during a song, and walking in a circle of people holding candles during another song. Ah, the early ’90s. The memories. (Single, solitary tear goes down face.)

I have no idea what the background is for this album.

And so keep all that in mind when I reflect on “Tales of Wonder,” a Biblical musical (supposedly designed for kids) that isn’t designed to be done during Mass but does have pieces that could be used during it. I’ve talked about Marty Haugen on this blog a few times before, especially in a post picking out his good stuff. Two pieces in “Tales of Wonder” are on that list. And even if some of this stuff isn’t the best, it keeps a little place in my heart because of those concerts when I was little. Continue reading

Praise music from the past: “Sons of God, Hear His Holy Word”

An occasional feature taking a look at God-oriented music, some usable at Mass, some better off at the circus.

I was born in 1985, a time when the folk Mass was already falling out of favor. So I can say with near-absolute certainty that I never had heard this song until inadvertently stumbling across it and then working on this post in the following convoluted fashion:

1. Look up pretty good Spanish language song “Entre Tus Manos” for another blog post. Continue reading

My parish’s Christmas tradition: its own carol

I suspect very few parishes have this sort of tradition during the Christmas season: a hymn, composed by a member of the parish, that is sung every year. And at my main parish, we sing this carol every year as a tie between the church as it stands now and the church throughout its history.

The hymn writer, Deneen Ashley, was a longtime member of the parish, I am told. (Also, despite the first name, Deneen was a guy.) He wrote this in 1951 and apparently renewed the copyright (?) in the 1970s. It’s a testament to this man that we continue to sing his carol every year — a carol that is sung nowhere else (though I wouldn’t complain if it were picked up worldwide).

Here’s the carol, with my variation on his accompaniment and my own singing:

If the embed isn’t showing up, click here.

Praise music from the past: “Mary, Did You Know?”

Here’s the issue I have with this song: The answer is, um, “yes,” to many of the questions posed in the lyrics. Doubtless Mary knew something about the promises in the Scriptures about the Messiah. Also, the Scriptures tell us that the angel informed her of at least some other stuff here.

But here’s the loophole that can be used to make these lyrics make a little less weird: Luke’ s gospel also notes that she did a lot of pondering. A-ha! See, now we can take guesses at what she’s thinking.

The song’s lyrics are written by Mark Lowry, a signer and Christian comedian (?). (I guess that’s a thing.)  Normally I’d do more of a bio section, but I just don’t think this guy is that interesting, so, sorry.

Mark Lowry. If this is Christian comedy, get me far away from it, please. (Promotional photo.)

Anyway, here’s the big question: Can/should this be used at Mass? (I’ve played it once for a choir, if memory serves, and I have a copy of it in case someone wants to sing it.) Turns out there’s a diversity of opinion on this topic. Now, I’m not a theologian, so I cannot vouch one way or the other as to whether these lyrics are heretical. (There are claims floating out there that the writer deliberately wrote one line to counter the Catholic teaching on the Immaculate Conception, but I cannot find anything to substantiate these claims, so Lowry gets the benefit of the doubt.) But these lyrics, to me, don’t pass the stupid test. Based on the things I know about the Visitation and the Nativity, I would feel stupid singing it. I know the answers to some of these questions. So for my money, I can’t recommend doing it at Mass. Do a Magnificat or a better Christmas carol instead. If you want something Marian-related, do “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

Praise music from the past: “Day by Day”

Latest in an occasional series of worship music, some super-reverent, others well-intended but skunky.

This is probably a generational gap thing: I had never heard of this song (and was only vaguely aware of “Godspell,” the musical from which it is taken) until recently. And I still haven’t listened to the rest of the musical. (I’ll get to it, I promise.)

But as for “Day by Day,” it’s basically a perfect song, in my view. The words are easy to remember and legitimately spiritual (and more challenging to your basic nondenominational church). And even though it was written in the cesspool of the ’70s, where most songs quickly sounded dated, this one has survived and aged relatively well.

I first heard the song, as it so happens, on Catholic radio, which I rarely listen to live. The original cast recording (that’s what’s above) was played as part of morning prayer, and I was hooked on the song.

“Godspell,” with music written by Stephen Schwartz, came out in the early 1970s off Broadway (though it’s had a Broadway revival). If Schwartz seems like a vaguely familiar name, it’s because he also wrote “Wicked,” which I’m not interested in. (Sorry.) The musical is roughly based on parts of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and that’s really about all I know about it, because I’ve never seen the whole thing and don’t want to pontificate on stuff I don’t know much about. I also can’t opine on the theological accuracy of the material, because, again, I don’t know.

Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz

As for using it at Mass, I might, as a choir piece. My worry, though, is that because of its origins as a musical (albeit a religious one), it might be an inadvertent distraction. But at a concert? I’m totally up for that.

Praise music from the past: “Morning Has Broken”

Latest in a series of posts dealing with music that could pop up at Mass, though some of it probably shouldn’t.

So let’s dispel with one popular misconception right off the bat: Cat Stevens did not write “Morning Has Broken,” though he certainly popularized it, making it one of the many Christian-themed songs that gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s.

Did not write this hymn.

The actual writer was a Brit named Eleanor Farjeon. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot is known about her; according to a site dedicated to her:

Eleanor Farjeon was an endearing, eccentric, gifted writer. She wrote about her own childhood; she wrote about the poet Edward Thomas, whom she loved; and she wrote countless plays, poems and stories, many of which achieved international recognition. But of Eleanor Farjeon the woman, little is known.

Apparently, most people in her house were writers. And she wrote a lot of stuff. And that’s about it about her. She was Catholic for at least part of her life; the sources I found conflict on for how long, though she apparently had converted from the Church of England. As for hymns, another well-known one she’s written is the Advent hymn “People, Look East.” 

Eleanor Farjeon (Photo credit: farjeon.org.)

The hymntune, “Bunessan,” predated Farjeon, and it’s been used in countless hymns. But I suspect it wouldn’t be as popular with Stevens finding himself loving the song.

This is, of course, still totally usable at Mass, and my parish uses it a decent amount. It’s prone to overuse, but I think it’s still one to keep in the rotation — that having been said, use the regular accompaniment, and don’t use the Cat Stevens one, which will be a distraction.

Though I admit, I have a copy of the sheet music for the Cat Stevens version at home. And it’s soooooo tempting to want to play it at Mass, believe me.