Irving Berlin first wrote this song in 1918 while serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, NY; but decided that it did not fit in a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank, so he set it aside. But with the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1938, Irving Berlin, who was Jewish and had arrived in America from Russia at the age of five, felt it was time to revive it. Kate Smith introduced it on her radio show, and it became her signature song. Berlin penned an introduction that is now rarely heard, but which Smith always used:
"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer."
Did you know Berlin gave the royalties of the song to “The God Bless America Fund” for redistribution to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in New York City?
During the 1960s, the song was used in the Civil Rights Movement as well as at labor rallies. And by the late 1960s through the early 1970s, it became a staple of nationwide sporting events, even becoming a “good luck charm” for the Philadelphia Flyers.
On the evening of the September 11 terrorist attacks fifteen years ago, during a live television broadcast featuring addresses by House and Senate leaders, members of the United States Congress broke out into a spontaneous verse of "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Then ten nights later, on September 21st, Celine Dion performed the song on the TV special America: A Tribute to Heroes. A month later, Sony Music Entertainment released a benefit album called God Bless America, which featured Dion singing the song. This album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and became the first charity album to reach the top since USA for Africa's “We Are the World” in 1985. At the same time, country music artist LeAnn Rimes rereleased her 1997 cover of the song.
Next Sunday, two churches in NYC will present a 9/11 Memorial Concert in honor of its 15th Anniversary featuring Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor, Op. 48.
St. Matthias’ Roman Catholic Church Choir in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens will perform it at 4:00 PM. Then at 6:00 PM you can hear it at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue with The Really Big Chorus, the world’s largest community chorus with over 10,000 active members. 90 of them from the UK, US, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain will sing, returning five years after their concert when they were invited to perform at Lincoln Center for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.
In 1888, Fauré composed his first version of the Mass for the Dead, which he called un petit Requiem for the funeral of an architect. Over the next two years, he expanded its length to 35-minutes, reworked it for full orchestra, and premiered his Requiem in D minor, Op. 48 at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900. In 1924 it was performed for his own funeral.
He told an interviewer, "Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest. It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience.
The text of “You Gather In the Outcast” was written by Genevieve Glen, OSB, a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale, CO, and a highly regarded poet and author of hymn texts. She writes "This hymn depicts the Jesus of the gospels as he continues to be for us now: gathering, healing, encouraging, finding the lost, caring for all needs without stinting. This is the self-giving Christ embodied in the Eucharist.”
It was commissioned by The Episcopal Parish of St. John the Baptist in Portland, OR in honor of their outreach program.
Its composer, Scot Crandal states “Reading Sr. Genevieve Glen's text literally moved me to tears. I strongly felt that congregations would revel in its meaning and imagery if an accessible melody could be written that enhanced the text's power. Given the text's 76 76 D meter, the melody would need to be lengthy yet I wanted it to be memorable. After considerable revisions based on feedback from various colleagues, the melody arrived at its current form, adding harmony and an accompaniment that work to enhance the text's aesthetic.”
The “meter” Scot refers to is the rhythmic and syllabic structure of a piece of poetry, which is essentially what a hymn is. A hymn with the meter 76 76 has seven syllables in the first line, six in the second, seven in the third, and six in the fourth. The letter D at the end means "double," so then this pattern repeats itself for the fifth through eighth lines. Any hymn that’s in our Breaking Bread will have its meter listed just under it, at the beginning of the line crediting the author of the text. Though songs don’t do this, only hymns...
Accordions Around the World is a weekly series that regularly features six accordionists as well as bandoneon/bayan/concertina/harmonium-players of different musical genres performing in various locations around Bryant Park each Wednesday from 6:00 – 8:00 PM. The series represents many cultures and genres, offering audiences the chance to experience the often overlooked or little-known instrument invented in 19th century Europe.
The concertina was developed in England in 1829; while at the same time Vienna was independently patenting a similar instrument called the accordion, which is German for “harmony”. It’s played by squeezing the bellows to generate airflow while pressing buttons or keys to open valves that guide that air across vibrating reeds to produce sound. As Europeans emigrated around the world, its mobility made its popularity spread rapidly.
In keeping with the festival’s name, the emphasis is on international genres. So if you go on a scavenger hunt through the park, you can hear traditional Irish music and American rock and blues; or dance to Yiddish klezmer or Louisiana zydeco. Listen to the musette, a folk dance from southern France originally played on a small bagpipe. Enjoy the vallenato and cumbia from Columbia, where the world's largest accordion competition is held. And the bandoneon is a type of concertina in Argentina essential to both traditional tango and pop music.
The New York Times describes it as "offering accordionists an opportunity to change the stodgy image of their instrument". You can take the F train directly to Bryant Park, and if you see me there, give me a squeeze!
Thanks to a parish and pastoral staff that recognizes the importance of music ministry and supports it, we now have Finale® Music Notation Software downloaded on our computer!
For hundreds of years, printed music had been prepared by hand, punching notes into a metal plate backwards, so that when the paper picked up the ink from the depressions, it would appear correctly. Then came music typewriters with notes and dynamic markings rather than letters and numbers, but the finished product didn’t look as good. But the computer has revolutionized music publishing. Now, anywhere printed music appears, (like in our Breaking Bread) Finale® likely created those pages. And now I, like so many other musicians, can create, edit, print and maybe even publish a variety of musical scores.
By purchasing music typesetting software, the parish has made my job easier to make music more accessible. It takes time and effort to arrange music for all our needs, and that comes at the cost of not doing other work, like practicing. But now I don’t have to write out music by hand anymore, or use a laborious slow online computer program! I can make better arrangements for our bell choir, cuori BELLissimi! as well as educational worksheets for them and others. I can make rehearsal recordings for our choir members. I can have parts ready more easily for guest instrumentalists. I can share music files much easier with other members of the Diocesan Music Commission. And because I’m a private music instructor working at a religious institution, we were eligible for a significant discount, saving us about 40% off the retail price! So thank you!
Each summer, the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington presents The Liturgical Music Institute; a five day comprehensive program offering musical, liturgical and pastoral formation for liturgical musicians. Sr. Mary Ann and I had the privilege of attending Vespers and a workshop led by Rory Cooney and Steven Warner. Rory Cooney is a composer and director of liturgy and music at St. Anne Catholic Community in Barrington, Illinois. Steven Warner is the founder of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, and composed the Mass of Charity and Love we sing during Lent. They both introduced new music they had composed, but ironically, the piece we liked the best was by neither one of them but by a Notre Dame graduate student of Steven Warners, Karen Schneider Kirner. Called “Path of Mercy”, it’s a simple reminder of the call of the faithful to be examples of mercy in our world. The text is based on the “Morning Offering” by Catherine McAuley, the Irish nun who founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831…
God of morning, God of sunlight, look on me with tenderness.
Help me see with eyes of mercy and respond with heart aflame.
May my hands embrace your likeness, So your love transforms my life,
As I walk the path of mercy, May your mercy be my own... Isn’t that a great text for this Jubilee Year of Mercy?
As our World Youth Day pilgrims continue exploring religious and historical sites of Poland, they’re also in places where great music has been composed.
They flew into Warsaw, where Frédéric Chopin grew up. This virtuoso pianist of the romantic era wrote primarily for piano, including waltzes, nocturnes and polonaises, a dance of Polish origin. (Polonaise is French for “Polish”.) Do you remember Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic”? It’s based on Chopin’s “Prelude in C minor”!
Ignacy Paderewski was also a pianist and composer who graduated from the Warsaw Conservatorium. A favorite of concert audiences around the globe, he met with President Woodrow Wilson in 1918 to obtain the explicit inclusion of independent Poland as point 13 in Wilson's peace terms called the Fourteen Points.
After visiting Czestochowa, they traveled to Kraków, where Krzysztof Penderecki graduated from the Academy of Music. Famous for his choral work St. Luke Passion, many films feature his music, such as The Exorcist and The Shining. From there they visited Auschwitz, the German concentration camp where millions lost their lives, including Saints Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein. In many of these camps, prisoners who were musicians were forced to play during the work day; occasionally at the gas chambers; and for the entertainment of German personnel. At one point, Auschwitz had six orchestras and a brass band of over 120 musicians!
For the last two weeks, we presented our 10th Annual Vacation Bible School — Cave Quest: Following Jesus, the Light of the World. And while VBS is advertised as “Totally Catholic”, be aware that musically, here it's also TOTALLY LIVE! Our “spelunkers” had a ball and didn't miss a beat as they sang and danced accompanied by a live band of keyboards, guitar, flute and percussion!
Additionally, we featured Adam Bueno on flute on "I’m All In", a song affirming that God gives us direction. Hannah Dono had a cello solo in "Majestic", accompanied by the “blue” spelunkers on hand chimes as we expressed what we could give back to God—our praise! "Majestic" is a song by Lincoln Brewster, an American contemporary Christian musician and worship pastor.
Did you know a spelunker is a cave explorer? It’s a Latin word: from spelunk, meaning "cave." If you hope to be a spelunker someday, you probably have a love of dark, damp spaces and headlamps!
We had fun playing our own version of Dancing with the Spelunkers! We challenged each other to see who performed these songs with the most appropriate enthusiasm, and our six semi-finalists were Holden and Xavier Beelders; Marcus Bueno; Thomas Dono; Waylon Gomori and Lucas Kablan. But the enthusiasm we share at VBS needs to be continued into our Sunday liturgies, so YOUR challenge is to set an example for our young friends each Sunday at Mass with the passion of your praise.
In the Liturgy of the Word, the Church feeds the people of God from the table of his Word (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 51). It begins with readings from Scripture. Every family has its story; how our parents met, or how a cousin earned a particular nickname. When we gather for Mass, we hear God’s story of His love for us through Scripture.
The Responsorial Psalm is sung between the readings. Do you know why it’s called that? Not because there is a response or antiphon for the people to sing. The “response” referred to is our reflection and absorption of the reading which just took place, and the Gospel which is to come. So we “respond” to the Word of God by our repetitious singing of the theme of the readings.
The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the reading of the Gospel. Because it tell of the life and preaching of Christ, it receives several special signs of honor and reverence. We stand to hear it; and it’s introduced by an acclamation of praise; Alleluia, derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning "Praise the Lord!" (Except during the solemn season of Lent.) Did you know that our participation in singing the Gospel Acclamation is so important that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that if it isn’t sung, it should be omitted?!?
After the Scripture readings, the celebrant preaches the homily, drawing from the texts lessons that may help us to live better lives. In many Masses, the Profession of Faith then follows, and the Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Universal Prayer, also called the Prayer of the Faithful.
Connor Whelan sings with the choir; cantors; plays piano or organ, assists with Vacation Bible School and has subbed for me many times. He earned Eagle Scout honors after successfully organizing a benefit concert last year to raise money for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood. He’s majoring in music at Brooklyn College, in addition to how he has been cultivating his pastoral musician formation here at Immaculate Heart of Mary. While he continues to develop his knowledge and skills to teach and play, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops calls for his development “to respond to people’s needs as well as take initiative that leadership requires.”
So starting next week, Connor will be in charge of music at the 5:00 PM Mass on the second Saturday of each month. This is to afford him the opportunity to become a collaborative leader by working in a reoccurring schedule shared with Liz, Maureen and myself; assist him in establishing a rhythm for himself that provides an appropriate balance of work, study, practice and leisure; and help him develop a heightened awareness of the congregation to whom he ministers.
As a parish, we can assist him as he prepares for a career in music ministry. Make suggestions to him as you would to me. Tell him when you like or dislike something. Let him know if you want percussion or Latin hymns, Bilingual hymns, etc. And of course, pray for him. But if you really want to support his development, sing for him at Mass, so he can learn the subtle nuance of leading a congregation better...