THE SLIVER OF A MEMORY…. The first time I ever sat in on a songwriting session was probably 1994. As a seminarian assigned to St. Mary of the Lake parish in Hamburg, New York, I was invited to a musician’s home for dinner. A married couple from the “folk group” were soon to celebrate their 25th of Silver Anniversary.
I write this blog entry on the precipice of my own 25th Jubilee or ordination as a priest. Looking back, that first songwriting gathering took a poem from a greeting card that Roy had sent Kathy for an earlier anniversary. She saved the card because the words really spoke to her heart whenever they marked the years since their wedding day.
The gist of the poem’s message was a repeated refrain… “And you stayed.” With all of those good times and bad, sickness and health that marriage vows describe, and countless other stories that test a person’s resolve, the lived commitment to remaining in the relationship was the fruit of their love and years together building a family.
My contribution to that song was quite minimal as I recall. I’d say is was just a sliver of their song for silver anniversary. But when we played and sang it for them at the part celebrating their life as husband and wife, father and mother and everything else that 25 years brought, the song was very well-received.
Eventually I would write a song or two with other singers and songwriters, but the vast majority of my tunes I write alone, lyrics and melodies. Looking back over my completed songs, the memories of how and where a number of them were born is less than a sliver in the brain/memory under my silver hair.
Over the last few decades in which I have kept a spiritual/prayer journal, ideas for songs are scattered. Some are just a jot of an idea that never got developed. Others are fairly developed lyrics with no melody.
One very clear memory of a song’s birth happened on a Sunday morning. You may know that I work Sundays… That particular weekend (I was still in my assistant to pastor years) I had celebrated a morning Mass and was invited in the early afternoon to preside at Mass for St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy on Buffalo’s East Side. (St. Luke’s is staffed by lay missionaries, and a number of priests offer their time to provide sacraments.)
It was a spring day, and I decided to leave very early so that I could stop and pray a while at the beautiful monastery of Dominican nuns that is located only about half a mile from the Mission. Sitting in the delicious silence of the chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary, I opened by journal. For quite some time, the blank pages joined me in stillness.
Then, suddenly I began to ponder how my homily at the upcoming Mass might help to illuminate the readings of that day. And it happened to be Trinity Sunday. So, I smiled to myself at the thought of giving a coherent teaching on the mystery of God’s three persons in one. Again…blank pages.
Soon, an idea for a new hymn to the Trinity came to mind. A simple refrain, with verses that extol what God has revealed. The refrain: “Most Holy Trinity, be adored!” (a way to praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit instead of trying to “figure it all out.”) My thoughts started to flow in a litany of phrases that led to the refrain. In about ten minutes, the whole thing took on a shape and format and words came that I had not even thought to use in a song lyric. The title of the song: “Be Adored.” (Recorded on my CD Lives of Praise, 2008)
While songwriters can be “blocked” as much as fiction and other genres of pen, ink and laptop typists, this particular hymn just got born with very little labor pain. I am awed when that happens. Of course, it is not the norm for every song I’ve written, but some just arrive. Others need to be induced. But that’s for another blog entry.