Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lord, Send Out Your Spirit

When “Alleluia! Give the Glory” and Mass of Glory were released in 1992, Bob Hurd and I had no idea how these works would be received. Bob made his name composing heartfelt liturgical ballads that really caught on in the 1980s with their deeply scriptural lyrics and compelling blend of choral and folk sensibilities. I had a collection of folk-rock songs that was released by FEL Publications in 1978 during that company’s decline, so my music was never really promoted or exposed.

The Alleluia! Give the Glory album featured gospel-style music by Bob Hurd and Ken Canedo, a white dude and a Filipino. Say what??

That collection was released right at the beginning of my “prodigal” years, so I never really knew (or cared) how it was doing nationally. It was only after I had my conversion experience and returned to the Church (see Fly Like a Bird) that I began to realize how Mass of Glory was catching on.

In the mid-1990s, I started going to the conventions of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM). My first convention was in 1996 (I think) in Cincinnati. Bob prepared me by letting me know that our Mass setting had become very popular. But I was totally surprised by the following comment when people at the convention saw my nametag and shook my hand:

“I always thought you were Black!”

I consider it the highest compliment as a liturgical composer that people think I am African-American. I have always loved gospel music and am grateful that I seem to be able to compose in that genre. But I am Filipino-American. Where does this facility come from?

I have a couple of ideas. First, I grew up in a housing project in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Most of my friends and classmates were African-American. Motown music was blaring out of every apartment, and I couldn’t help but to absorb the stylings of Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and the Temptations as their awesome songs filtered through the thin walls. I remember one children’s Christmas party in the projects where a gospel choir sang in the community center. They left a deep impression on me.

The 1960s was also the heyday of the Folk Mass and one of the biggest liturgical composers of the decade was Father Clarence Rivers, the pioneering Black priest-musician from Cincinnati who made a breakthrough by composing Catholic songs in the style of African-American spirituals. I loved his songs: “God Is Love;” “Glory to God, Glory;” Mass for the Brotherhood of Man. I listened to his records and learned from them. And then I had the privilege of meeting him in 1971 at a concert at Mount St. Mary’s Doheny campus in Los Angeles!

Father Rivers was so gracious to me when I went up to him backstage after the concert. I told him I was an aspiring liturgical musician, and he gave me advice that changed my life: “Ken, love the Mass with all your heart! And study music with all your heart!”

Father Rivers had an awesome gospel choir and jazz ensemble at his concert. I was thrilled to hear Father Clarence sing his songs in his beautiful and uplifting voice. But his piano player also caught my ear. I was a college freshman and this was my very first exposure to live jazz. I sat near the front and could see the pianist’s every move: His blues notes! His chord comping! His improvisation! My life would never be the same.

As I grew up as a composer, I would experiment with various styles and genres, mostly folk and rock. I would sometimes try writing a song in gospel style but would always dismiss my early attempts. I wasn't ready yet.

Then came Alleluia! Give the Glory and Mass of Glory. Since then I have composed more songs in gospel style, most notably Love Never Fails, “God’s Love Is Everlasting,” and “Lord, Send Out Your Spirit.”

“Lord, Send Out” was born out of a need in my parish for a compelling setting of the prescribed Responsorial Psalm for Pentecost. I composed the song in 2005 when I first arrived at Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, Oregon.

Psalm 104 is a powerful psalm. It has to follow the dynamic First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as Jesus promised and empowered them to overcome their fears and preach the Good News. They eventually changed the world!

This exciting reading needs an equally exciting Responsorial Psalm. I studied and prayed the text as I noodled on my piano. I suddenly hit the classic I-IV-V chord pattern in the Key of F and realized that I could set this text to a Baptist hymn motif. The song practically wrote itself after that.

There were three components to making this song successful. First, the verse needed to be interpreted by a singer who would be able to come out of himself/herself with the best possible vocal interpretation. Secondly, a choir would need to support that singer with “oohs” and “aahs,” and harmonies that would make the song soar. Lastly, the piano part needed to be simple, pronounced, and utterly gospel. I am happy to say that at Holy Trinity Parish, we fulfilled all three components!

I just played this song again for Pentecost liturgy and found myself totally absorbed in the performance/prayer. The simple chords make it easy to comp and improvise, and our cantors and choirs truly rose to the occasion. Happy birthday, Church!

We recorded the song for my 2009 Doxology album and were blessed to have as our soloist Dorcas Smith, a terrific Portland gospel singer. Her soulful performance far exceeded my expectations! Thank you, Dorcas!

They say a composer brings to his music all the elements that shaped him. I am grateful for the myriad paths that brought me to this song: growing up poor in the projects; Motown; Father Clarence Rivers; jazz and gospel; the sacred liturgy; the Holy Spirit.

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!

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