Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Where the Joys and Hopes of Living

I was delighted to spend Tuesday at the National Association of Pastoral Musicians annual convention in Grand Rapids. It was a wonderful day of connecting with a number of my collaborators, several of whom I met for the first time. (One of the odd things about hymn writing is that sometimes producing a piece together can happen without any direct interaction!) One of these previously un-met composers is Norah Duncan IV:

Norah is best-known in Mennonite circles for the "Duncan Alleluia," which was popularized by John Bell and the Iona community, and is included in our Sing the Journey hymnal supplement. Several years ago Norah provided my text "Christ the Victorious" with an energetic choral setting in an African-American gospel style. (The "listen preview" here provides a rather buttoned-down rendition.) He tells me that the premier performance went on for 26 minutes! When I conducted it at Hyattsville Mennonite it only took four. It has also been translated into Swedish. No word on how long it takes Swedes to sing it.

My second collaboration with Norah came just this Spring. The local planners for the NPM convention had asked me to create a text that could be sung at the opening plenary session. The theme of the convention is "Called to Joy and Hope: Let the Servant Church Arise." It celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Gaudium et Spes, which begins "[T]he joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well" (Gaudium et Spes, 1). After digging thorough that document for a while, I wrote "Where the joys and hopes of living." The planning committee had requested something that could be sung to a familiar tune, so I wrote in meter, which could be used with the uber-familar NETTLETON ("Come, thou fount of every blessing"). Several months after completing the commission, I learned that Norah Duncan had created a brand new setting for it. He wrote in a style deliberately imitative of early American hymnody (like NETTLETON), providing a perfect match for my text. So here's what it sounds like when sung by two thousand Catholic musicians:

NPM Convention Opening Celebration

And here's the hot-off-the-presses choral octavo: Where the Joys and Hopes of Living

I got to hear several of my other texts sung in various settings and will post about some of those in the coming days.

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