Monday Music: Psalms & Olives

Happy Monday, Friends!   I started writing about music on Mondays, to get me blogging regularly again.  Music is such an important part of our lives.  And I always have something to say about music. Don’t you? 

This past weekend I had the opportunity to cantor, that is- songlead, at church. The Psalm setting of the day was one I had learnt last minute at my sister’s wedding, eighteen years ago.  Her friend and cantor had come down with the flu suddenly, and although I was also the Maid of Honor, I was called upon to sing for the entire wedding Mass.  I had heard the song one time only, during the wedding rehearsal.  But as it was also my profession as a church musician, I knew I could step up and sing.  It was like my entire life had prepared me for that moment.

I hadn’t heard it since.

As I sang the refrain from the ambo, I remembered singing at my sister’s wedding.  I had liked the psalm so much, I chose it for my own wedding which was only twelve weeks after.  As I sang the second verse, I looked out at the congregation and saw my two beautiful children sitting in the third pew.  And I realized, as I sang the blessing “Your children flourish like olive plants” that indeed, here are my children and how we’ve all flourished!  I saw my mother, and realized that as her child, we are all part of her olive branch.

I was so overwhelmed by this sensation that indeed, we have all been blessed.  I may have inadvertently changed the words at this point, I mean, who says “Olive plants” ?  Olives come from trees, with branches.  Right?  And then, I raised my arms to invite the congregation to sing along with me, and I sang “Happy those…” instead of “Blessed are those…” I guess I was happy.

That’s one thing I like about music ministry. The lyrics are prayers. The congregation is so forgiving. How can I keep from singing?

Happy Anniversary to my sister and brother-in-law! Olive you!


olive you

olive you


Five Fun Facts about Me

1. I have zip-lined through jungle and along the beach on the island of Guam.
2. When the hired singer for my sister’s wedding came down with the flu at the last minute, I sang the entire mass including Schubert’s Ave Maria without any rehearsal.
3. I can sing Joy to the World to the tune of Amazing Grace and vice versa– this is way harder than you think: try it now. Probably the most fun thing I learned getting my MA in Liturgical Music (yes, there is such a thing.)
4. When I am mad at someone, I imagine them karaoke singing a sappy disco ballad, poorly. It makes me smile again.
5. Sometimes I roller skate backwards in my head, to relax. I can feel the tension disappear from my shoulders and I feel like am fifteen again.

Have you been zip-lining?

Did you try to sing #3? 

Leave a comment to let us know!

Wednesday Wellness

This month is already flying by!  Are you feeling it?

I have to make extra effort to SLOW DOWN.  Otherwise this crazy month will run me over like a train.  The consumer chaos is such the antithesis of Advent, which is a quiet season of waiting. Nowadays I make a commitment to practice mindfulness and self care, especially during the month of December.

One of the ways I practice my Advent is by listening to music.

I have been listening to my favorite Bach piece: the Magnificat.  This is a classical piece using the text of the Canticle of Mary, which is found in the Gospel of Luke (LK 1: 46-55).  Mary has always been very special to me.  Growing up post-modern Catholic, I often felt a disconnect with the church leadership, but always felt that Mary understood me.  Thus summer I had the opportunity to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary room in the Vatican Museum, and was moved to tears.

I adore this setting because it is so delightfully classical:  many soloists and a chamber orchestra featuring lovely instruments as the flute, oboe, and clarinet alongside the lovely soprano and alto arias, lilting melodies with beauteous descending phrases and waves which seem to never end (I’ve performed two of these arias, it’s hard to find the right place to catch a breath in some of these songs!)  And yet there are still the bigger chorus numbers with excitement and syncopation and tympani.

Here, my friends, is a lovely scrolling score, if you wish to enjoy the magic that is Bach’s Magnificat. Bach’s Magnificat score on youtube




Angels in Stereo

I am often struck by the miraculous timing of music in my car. Radio, cd, shuffle, they all seem to play exactly the right song when I need to hear it. I call this musical synchronicity.

Earlier this week I heard an old favorite of mine on the radio: “Babylon” by David Gray. I enjoy this mellow subtleness of this song, the acoustic guitar against a tick tock. The lyrics have always struck me as being about a change of perspective. Friday night the lights are changing green to red, Saturday the lights are turning red to green. Where you are is where you are going. Are you with me? “Let go your heart,/ Let go your head…” So I took this as a sign from the universe that I needed a change in perspective.

My family has been enjoying Sheppard’s song “Geronimo” since the inspiring Noah Galloway danced to it on Dancing with the Stars. I downloaded it and added it to my daughter’s birthday playlist. This is a fabulous upbeat song: the rhythm of the strumming guitar and the pulse of the taiko drums are infectious. I love the positivity of the lyrics. I became obsessed with this song. The “curtain of the waterfall” is perhaps the most poetic line I’ve heard in modern lyrics, and so effectively used here, as we sing about breaking through the threshold of perspective. The rhythm of the chorus is very catchy and singable, with just a bit of syncopation to keep you on your toes. The “Can you feel…” line is subtle and smooth, then the “Bombs Away!” is just at the top of my alto range but impossible to sing subtly, you simply must channel your inner Kelly Clarkson and belt it out. To sing the lyric otherwise would just be silly. And the choir of voices sings the brief but punctual “Make this Leap!” Why wouldn’t you, after listening to this song?

The parts mentioned above are layered and remixed in counterpoint near the end in a mosaic symphony. Reminds me of the polyphony we have heard in Sugar Ray, and in Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” (yes it was brilliant- listen for Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary in the background at the end). This music mama loves all things polyphony and counterpoint. And, of course, breakthroughs.

What song has just reached out to you? What did it mean for you?