Wednesday, May 19, 2010

O Spirit of the Living Lord

As a composer, I love to create lyrics that will hopefully lead the listener or singer to a deeper connection with God. I prefer to work with the inspired word of scripture, the official text of the liturgy or, sometimes, from the experience of my own spiritual journey. Occasionally, I will look to other poets or lyricists for inspiration.

Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen is a fine example of inspiration, a liturgical poet of the highest quality. Her dedication to God, to her community and to the liturgy is exemplary, and this love shines through in her graceful and grace-filled hymn texts that are published in several award-winning books.

As I was preparing for my Doxology album, I was trying to come up with song texts that would honor the Most Holy Trinity, as a whole and as the individual Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was a somewhat daunting task. What could I contribute that hasn’t already been said before? There are already several hymns about the gifts of the Spirit, or about the power of the Spirit, or about the Pentecost event. What I was looking for was a way to sing about the Spirit’s gift of peace.

My piano has a long angled “desk” that allows me to write on manuscript paper as I compose or arrange. In the pre-Doxology days, this desk was piled on high with scribbled and crumpled notepaper, old hymnals, and several different translations of the Bible. One book caught my attention: Sister Genevieve’s hymn-text book, Take With You Words. I flipped through it and was immediately taken by one of Sister’s sacred poems.

O Spirit of the living Lord,
You blow across the waiting world;
You cleanse and heal earth’s wounded face
with balm poured from the cross of grace. . .

Such simple yet powerful imagery! I took that text and tried several different approaches, realizing that I needed to compose a melody that would convey the gentle spirit of both the text and the lyricist. I opted to forego a contemporary style and composed something more traditional and choral. Above all, the melody had to be as simple and as moving as the text.

My reputation as a contemporary composer sometimes masks my love for the traditional sacred music of the Church. After all, I grew up with Gregorian chant and sang choral hymnody in the choirs of my youth. This hymn has a traditional feel, but the piano chording lends a contemporary air. On the recording you will hear the flute playing a bit of “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” during the instrumental break, another nod to my love for ancient chant.

In the studio we were blessed to have as our lead singer Jenny Pixler, who is herself a gentle soul gifted with the voice of an angel. Everything just came together beautifully for this hymn. We sang “O Spirit of the Living Lord” at my parish for Ascension Sunday and for Pentecost and the biggest thrill of all, for me, was to hear my parish friends sing these inspired words at liturgy. Thank you, Sister Genevieve. And thank you, Holy Spirit.

Listen to O Spirit of the Living Lord on

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