Tag Archives: music

Rediscover: the song

August 12, 2013

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If you haven’t had an opportunity to hear this yet you really should.

From the Rediscover website:

Singer-songwriter Eliot Morris has been recording since 2002 and toured nationally with acts including James Taylor, Nickel Creek, John Mayer and Counting Crows. After years of witnessing the ups and downs of the music industry, as well as a brief but frightening health crisis, Eliot reassessed both his music and his life with a deeper sense of urgency.

The song may be heard here.

An interview with Eliot on The Rediscover: Hour radio show may be heard here at about 27 minutes into the show.

If you would like to learn more about Eliot, his story and the story behind his song please watch for an interview in the upcoming August 15 issue of The Catholic Spirit and TheCatholicSpirit.com.

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In defense of Christian music

March 5, 2013

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Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Is Christian music really Christian? Is it even any good?  Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I had a discussion with a music student once about whether there was such a thing as an “African sound” — popular music with an identifiable sound produced in a number of African countries. This person had studied different forms of indigenous African music and argued that it would be impossible to pick out one “sound” for the continent.

A visit to the iTunes Store reveals how many “sounds” or musical genres are out there—African pop music falls under “World.” Christian music also has its own category along with hip-hop, classical and heavy metal.

Do we need a Christian category?

Does Christian music have its own “sound”? Isn’t all music somehow inspired? Don’t we serve God by writing about life without having to say Jesus’s name all the time? Do we risk ghetto-izing Christian music by creating this category? Isn’t the Christian category just a place for musicians who aren’t good enough for the real musical world?

The blogger at Bad Catholic Read or Die raised these questions in their recent post, Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music. While I think they’re right to say that some Christian music isn’t that great, I’d like to argue in favor of keeping the Christian category.

First of all, I assume the criticism was directed at contemporary Christian music and not the work of masters such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Palestrina or King David of the Old Testament, all of whom wrote overtly God-centered music.

The biggest defense I would give for any self-identified Christian music is that it points us toward God and helps us become better Christians.

What we listen to matters

St. Paul gives us an idea of what music is best for our souls: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

This doesn’t mean we should only listen to songs eligible for a Dove award but it does seem to exclude music that focuses on hook ups, break ups or anything else that draws us away from God. Of course there are quality artists writing morally meaningful songs on secular radio but often you have to sit through a lot of junk before you find something beneficial.

Music is a reflection of what’s in the heart of the musician. It can be beautiful but sometimes it’s not so good morally. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, Bl. John Paul II draws a distinction between an artist’s moral and artistic self:

“It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art’s specific dictates. This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character.”

Can’t  get regular air time?

Why is there a separate category for Christian music? Not because all the Christian musicians decided to go off into a corner to sing only to the “saved.” It’s because the secular world doesn’t have much tolerance for messages about God unless they’re critical or derogatory.

If you love someone, you want to talk about them. That’s why people write songs about God. Expressing their faith is real life for Christian artists. If we did away with the Christian category, musicians would have to write codes into their songs to express their faith. Maybe some are already doing that. Living under persecution, the early Christians communicated with codes; I hope it doesn’t come to that again.

It seems to me, the biggest reason the blogger thinks Christian music should be scrapped is that they think it’s bad. They apparently believe Christian musicians copy their “successful” secular counterparts to create insipid, formulaic songs about angelic praise, clouds and how “Jesus saves.” Some of it is like that but I would challenge anyone who thinks this to listen to Christian radio for more than five minutes and check out artists such as Matt Maher and For King and Country.

According to Bl. John Paul II, the Church does need music that explicitly expresses the faith:

“How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God.”

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How DID those Chant recordings come about?

September 1, 2011

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There’s an interesting story behind the Gregorian Chant recordings that became popular around the world.

It’s a 5-minute video, but it’s worth staying with.

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God knows you should pray!

July 6, 2011

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How Dion — yeah, THAT Dion — “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Abraham, Martin & John,” “A Teenager in Love” —  confesses that although he was baptized Catholic, he wasn’t a church-goer and he only came back to the faith after witnessing the happiness he saw in his father-in-law, who he spied on his knees in prayer.

In a new book (Servant Books) –” Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth: (Stories, Humor & Music)” — the prolific singer/songwriter quotes a great line from his father-in-law. When Dion asked him about prayer, his father-in-law suggested he try it himself, adding, “God loves to hear from strangers!”

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Tommy James tells a rockin’ story about his life in rock ‘n’ roll

January 15, 2011

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As you’ve bounced up and down on the dance floor at your cousin’s wedding, admit it, you’ve always wondered who was “Mony,” the inspiration behind the monster rock ‘n’ roll classic that gets even Uncle Clem to loosen his inhibitions and boogie down.

Tommy James  lets us all in on the secret in “Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells.”

This may be the best semi-autobiography I’ve ever read. It’s a page-turner right from the start, close to drama, overbrimming with nostalgia for boomers.  Writer Martin Fitzpatrick has crafted taped interviews with the hit-making guitar player into a 225-page Scribner hardback that reads as if Tommy James is sitting in your living room telling you about his life.

How so many of the Shondells’ hits came to be and how they came to climb the charts pulled me back to those heady days of the sixties and seventies when I first heard “Hanky Panky” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” pouring out of the radio. If you were a teenager then, I’ll bet you still know all the lyrics.

Backstage in the music industry

But as interesting as the making of the songs are, it’s the back story of the music business that adds a fullness to the story of this kid from Niles, Mich., whose songs got played every 20 minutes on Top 40 radio.

New York mob connected Roulette Records and its president Morris Levy share the Tommy James story right from the start, and it maybe because the principals are dead — some violently — that James can publish this tell-all.

James himself is probably lucky to be alive, lucky the mob didn’t turn on him but even more fortunate the pills and alcohol life of a rocker didn’t kill him as it did his contemporaries like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

In those No. 1-record years, James admits to doing everything but what is expected of the Christian he eventually becomes. The drugs, the booze and jumping into bed with whomever was convenient play no small part in two divorces.

James credits the Betty Ford Clinic with sobering him up, and says it was there that he turned back to Christianity.

It makes for a feel-good ending, but then feel-good songs by Tommy James and the Shondells have pumped life into dance floors everywhere for more than 40 years now. — bz

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St. Cecilia becomes a music teacher

April 15, 2010

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Cecilia's cover

“St. Cecilia’s Orchestra,”

by Michael O’Neill McGrath and Alan J. Hommerding

“Read this book aloud!” the authors suggest, and, “Listen for the music in the words.”

I took that advice, and it really made the reading fun.

That’s the best part of “St. Cecilia’s Orchestra.” McGrath’s inventive artwork  and Hommerding’s imaginative poetry both create an atmosphere conducive to enjoying and appreciating learning about music and instruments and how they add to the praise of God.

Hommerding’s lyrical texts could almost be set to music. As a parish liturgical music director he brings a variety of music-like rhythms and a variety of music genres to the words. The book ends up being quite a teaching tool about instruments from around the world and how they praise God and his creation. My favorite example of this is the balalaika — a Russian string instrument like a guitar but with a triangular body — that sounds “plinka-plaika.”

The duo does a great job describing musical genres in both words and pictures. The jazzy “street music, feel-the-beat music” text is dropped into a colorful cityscape that includes a bus, a firetruck, a church, a toddler playing a child’s piano, a subway exit, a church, a skateboarder, a street band and, of course, pigeons.

Meet some new musical friends

Instruments we’re familiar with all have their place in the book — organ, piano, guitar and bells, for example. But the music makers and beat keepers from around the world and across the continents that the authors bring to our attention — and show us how they look — ought to help  everyone realize the many, many ways to celebrate the gifts and the goodness of God

There’s the marimba from the Americas and the djembe from Africa, the pipes of wood, stone, clay and metal made by countless cultures and the ram’s horn of our Jewish brothers.

Whether it’s the horns, the reeds, the strings or the percussion, all the pieces in the choir gathered by the patron saint of musicians are examples of how people all over the planet have used their God-given gifts to create sounds that add so much to life and reflect the wonder of the heavenly creator.  – bz

“St. Cecilia’s Orchestra” is produced by World Library Publications — http://www.wlpmusic.com.

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