Sunday, February 14, 2021

Interruptions and Distractions




 

 

As a writer, I try to discipline myself to do what I call “flow writing” every morning, at least fifteen minutes worth, just to get going and stifle the guilt of that darn blank page staring back at me. Think of it as daily calisthenics, the stretching and repetitive exercises that are so conducive to staying in shape and in good health. If I just write whatever for fifteen minutes, then I have some preliminary content that I can build on later in the day or week, when I devote myself to more serious writing. 

 

This is reportedly how Ray Bradbury did it, and his output as a science-fiction writer was certainly prolific. Think about it. Mr. Bradbury wrote something, anything, for fifteen minutes every single day. After one week, he had seven morsels of inspiration that he could develop later into his stories and novels. After one month, that would be at least thirty morsels. Quite a tasty smorgasbord! 

 

The key to truly creative flow writing is to unplug. Completely! Our world today is unfortunately bombarded by constant interruptions and distractions, which are the greatest sources of creative defeat. I’m having trouble getting my writing started and -- DING! -- my friend in the Bay Area sends me a text message. Or I’m finally underway with a really great idea and -- RING! -- there’s my friend in Chicago calling to see what I’m up to. Or I’m searching for a way to bring a story to a satisfying conclusion and -- BLING! -- there’s my sister on Messenger, making a provocative and insightful statement about the latest hogwash in Washington. It’s all fine and well to stay in touch with friends and relatives, but I need time for me. So now I turn off my phone when I’m trying to be creative. 

 

In fact, turn EVERYTHING off! No television! Those constant ghostlike images of talking heads, sports action, or annoying commercials are like the bright and shiny objects that catch the attention of cunning magpies, who snatch at them and fly off to points of no return. 

 

TURN IT OFF! And that means, especially, social media. Who cares what my “followers” think about my latest posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? And with the phone off, that means I won’t be bombarded with news banners and distracting notifications of emails that often beckon me to respond immediately. Says who? 

 

Yes, we are miraculously interconnected in the 21st century in ways our ancestors never dreamed possible. But at what price? If it distracts and stifles creativity, I say turn it off! Your soul will thank you. 

 

Fifteen minutes of creative peace every day. Ahhhh...

 


 

 

 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

From Scratchy 78s to LP Albums to 8-Track, iPod, Streaming, and Beyond



 

Have you ever seen or heard a 78 rpm record? I’m guessing not because the record industry stopped producing them in 1959. I do have a childhood memory of having a little yellow 78 that was basically a recording of a train conductor (another anachronism) yelling “All aboard!” and calling out place names as the train stopped at various stations. I could hear the “chug-chug” of the lead locomotive engine and the overlapping chatter of the passengers as the conductor walked down the aisle and called out, “Tickets! Tickets! Please show your tickets so I can validate them.” And finally, “Chattanooga! Last stop! Everybody out!” It was a fascinating listening experience. The record was scratchy and there were a lot of ticks and pops, but it really arrested my young imagination. 

 

But that was in the early 1960s. My family just got a record player and our first records were that train 78, and some LP albums that reflected my parents’ taste in music: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, some classical albums, and an occasional album of Filipino favorites. My siblings and I were thrilled to have the ability to play music whenever we wanted, instead of waiting to see what the radio DJs would play. 

 

And then, a revolution: the Beatles! 

 

After their earthshaking debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, we ran out and bought every Beatles album we could get our hands on: Meet the Beatles; The Beatles Second Album; Introducing the Beatles (on Vee-Jay, not Capitol); Something New; Beatles ’65; Help! 

 

Even my mom liked the Beatles, at first, until I started growing my hair long. She didn’t like that at all. 

 

But the point is, because of LP records, we were able to enjoy the music we liked, when we wanted. Eventually, I got into other bands, most notably the Doors, Cream, Creedence Clearwater, and all the great bands on the Woodstock album. And then I started my first foray as a church musician and I bought records by Ray Repp, Joe Wise, John Fischer, and Clarence Rivers; even Jan Vermulst and E. Power Biggs. And Switch-On Bach! 

 

Fast forward to the 1970s. LP records were slowly being replaced by tape: 8-track at first (ugh!) and cassette. We could play cassettes in our cars! And then, in the 1980s, the Walkman caused another revolution. We could literally take our favorite music with us when we walked or exercised or when we just wanted to shut ourselves off from the world. 

 

The compact disc revolution broke through in the mid-1980s. I already bought the cassette versions of all my favorite Beatles albums, and now I had to buy them all over again on CD! Those first CDs sounded amazing. I listened to Rubber Soul and marveled at the intimacy and clarity that came through on “Michelle.” But then, in Rolling Stone, I read George Harrison’s assessment of the Beatles on CD. “There’s this annoying tambourine on the right speaker on so many of our tracks! Who played that??” 

 

Time marched on and introduced more innovative music formats. Apple introduced the iPod in the 2000s and I gladly jumped onboard, buying all the Beatles albums yet again on iTunes. And today, in 2021, I can listen to all my favorite music in my iPhone via Apple Music and Spotify. What’s next? An implanted music microchip into our brains? One slight tip of my head and I can access “Helter Skelter” in all its proto-metal fury? 

 

I give this brief history on music formats because it is affecting the Catholic music industry, which is famously behind when it comes to adapting to new technology. As a Catholic composer, I had an LP record and cassette in 1978: Take Some Time, released by FEL Publications. After a long hiatus (life got in the way), I collaborated with my old friend Bob Hurd with Mass of Glory on the Alleluia! Give the Glory album, released by OCP in 1992 on cassette and CD. 

 

In 2003, my buddy Jesse Manibusan and I released Love Never Fails, a CD collection of our youth ministry music via OCP. And we recently did a sequel in 2016: Fish With Me, which was released on CD and also digitally, via Apple Music and Spotify.

 

And now, Bob Hurd and I got back together and produced a whole new collection of music for Holy Week and Easter season: We Should Glory, Volume 1, released by OCP in January 2021 only in – get this – digital format via OCP digital playlist, plus streaming via Apple Music and Spotify. This is OCP’s first album of liturgical music that is NOT on hard copy CD! 

 

We’re taking a leap of faith here. Most people don’t have a CD player anymore: not in their cars, not at home, and not on their computers. Will the Catholic market, which is notoriously slow in adapting to new formats, accept a new collection of liturgical music that is not available on hard copy CD? I don’t know. I certainly hope so. 

 

Meanwhile, if you’ve read this far, I invite you to check out my new album in the various digital and streaming formats. I will write more about this new music in future blogs. For now, I will say that it was a thrill to get back together with my old college buddy Bob Hurd and create new music for liturgy. 

 

 

OCP website




Apple Music 



 

Spotify 






 

 

 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

LOST MY MOJO

 

So it’s been a while since I last blogged. It goes without saying that 2020 has been a difficult year. I could write more colorful words than “difficult,” but I don’t like to swear in a public forum. 

 

I honestly don’t know what to say anymore, at least in blogs and on social media. Because of COVID and all the awful things that have unfolded this year, the world is meaner and leaner. If you follow me on Facebook you have probably noticed that I have stopped posting, at least on my personal page. In 2020, I have endured several mean-spirited comments to my deliberately innocuous postings. I don’t have to take this abuse. So I’m no longer on Facebook. 

 

I’ve taken a serious look at the whole social media schtick: Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, blogging, and even more private forums like text messages and emails. And I include phone calls in this group. The problem with social media lies in two areas: 

 

1. People seem to expect that you will not only respond but respond immediately. 

 

2. People feel they can say whatever they want in comments, no matter how mean or opinionated or vulgar. 

 

Think about those two points for a minute. First, what rule or law says that we must respond IMMEDIATELY to every “ping” on social media? I have a life, you know? I’m not going to stop whatever I’m doing at the moment just because someone I don’t even know personally is throwing shade at something I posted on Facebook. And yet, I have seen people who respond to social media in their cars while they are driving! Hey, keep your eyes on the road! 

 

Secondly, from whence comes this impulse to say whatever the hell you want to say in the comments section, consequences be damned? What happened to civility? What happened to “thinking before you speak?” What happened to respect for the opinions of others? When did we become a society where MY, and only MY opinion, is valid? And when did we become so closed-minded that we can no longer have fair and open discussion on the issues of the day, with ears that are truly open to listening to new ideas, instead of blurting out our already made-up minds instantly while the other person is speaking? 

 

It’s the instant accessibility in social media that has totally soured me away from it. Back in the day when people wrote hand-written letters (yes, I’m old), it was an art to formulate your ideas, express them in a cohesive and even poetic way, fold the letter, put it in an envelope, stamp it and mail it, then wait a few days for a response – if one even came. And if the other person did not respond, we just shrugged and went on with our lives. 

 

On top of all that, why should anyone even care what I have to say? Yes, I do have a couple of close friends with whom I might share my ideas and opinions. They are important sounding boards for me, and I value their input and the way we listen and guide each other’s thinking. But I don’t need to do that with 1,500 Facebook “friends,” most of whom I do not even know personally. 

 

I’m just a small insignificant cog in this vast universe. Yes, I write songs, and I write books and magazine articles. Is that not enough? Do people really need to hear EVERYTHING I am thinking at any given moment? 

 

Sorry. I’m venting as I try to explain my continuing absence on social media. I just don’t see any value in it anymore. If you find fulfillment or fun in social media, more power to you. But it is no longer for me. 

 

Maybe someday I’ll come back, after the pandemic is over. But I truly feel that nothing I say or write matters in a world that has become so divided and opinionated. 

 

So, until next time, take care and God bless! Wash your hands, wear a mask, and get the vaccine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

It’s Time to Ask Yourself What You Believe








Last Saturday morning was extraordinarily beautiful – the second day of Spring, in fact. I was asleep in bed and the sun was shining on my face as my cat Neo hopped on my chest to telepathically say, “Feed me!” I shook myself awake and realized it was Saturday of the second weekend of coronavirus quarantine. Normally, I spend part of my Saturday preparing for Sunday liturgy, getting music books ready for our parish instrumentalists and for myself. But there would be no public Sunday liturgy to prepare for because of our governor’s decree of no large gatherings for fear of the spread of COVID-19. 

I have pretty much spent the past week home alone with my brother Orlando and my cat who, by the way, was impatient with me as I slowly trudged downstairs to put food into his bowl. I was getting the coffee started when my iPhone went, “Ding!” It was a text message from my sister Teresa in Los Angeles. 

Let me explain that most of my family doesn’t hear very well so we don’t speak to each other on the phone. Texting is our preferred method of communication, and this morning my sister sent out a group text to our clan who is scattered across the West Coast from Los Angeles, through Portland, and on up to Seattle – plus one niece in North Carolina. 

“Hi, Family. Delfin is in the hospital again . . .” 

Delfin is my younger brother, fourth in a family of nine siblings. An artistic soul who paints, makes pottery, plays flute and writes poetry, Delfin has books of original poems published and available on Amazon. Several weeks ago, he was hospitalized for some kidney problems but he seemed to recover well from that. So Teresa’s text surprised me and the details were alarming. Delfin was suffering internal bleeding from an unknown source and had to be rushed to the hospital. While there, he suffered cardiac arrest and now he is intubated and in serious condition. 

My sibs and I asked questions and discussed our concerns. The only thing we could do now was wait for the next report as doctors worked to find out the source of the bleeding. 

Waiting is probably the most difficult thing to do when a loved one is hospitalized. Everyone has experienced what it’s like in a hospital waiting room, but it becomes even more challenging when the family is scattered around the country as we are. I learned long ago that the best thing to do while waiting is to pray. Thanks to social media, I’m able to ask friends from around the world to join me in prayer. 

I put the word out on my Facebook pages and Twitter, and friends there shared my prayer request with their circles. Delfin’s name was enrolled in my parish prayer list, and my choir is also praying. I also mentioned my brother in a worldwide Rosary circle that I pray with. As the morning unfolded, I estimated 800-plus people around the world were praying for my brother. I texted that info to my family. They were amazed and grateful. 

Numbers might be impressive but I know it begs a question for some people: What good does prayer do at times like this? Will prayer really influence God and result in a desired outcome? The short answer is simply No. God is not Santa Claus, and we are not na├»ve but hopeful children sitting on his lap at Macy’s department store. What happens if we don’t get what we pray for? Do we stop believing in God? 

It was theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who gave the world this memorable quote: “Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us.” His thinking is right on, for if we think that our prayer produces a desired outcome then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Prayer inspires us to accept God’s will, whatever that is and no matter that it might not match our will. Is that defeatist philosophy? If we don’t get what we’re asking for, why pray at all? 

I believe the power of prayer lies not in getting what we want but, rather, in assuring us that we are not alone in our ordeal. Whatever the outcome, God’s will be done. And although we might not realize or understand it at the moment, God’s will is infinitely wiser than our ability to see only what is before us. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially in time of crisis, but I find solace and hope in knowing that I am not alone. 

My family’s concerns for our brother lie within the larger world’s coronavirus crisis. What is God’s will in all this? We don’t know. We pray in solidarity that God’s wisdom will eventually be revealed to us. Or, as the villain in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said to our hero: “It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.” 







What do I believe? I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. I believe that God sent Jesus to us with the promise of eternal life. God so loved the world, and it is my faith in that divine love that sustains me and gives me hope – no matter what calamities or crises come my way. God’s will be done. 










Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fear Is Useless






The new normal. One hears those three words a lot in this strange time of coronavirus crisis. Everything has stopped. The Archbishop of Portland has sadly decreed no weekend liturgies until at least mid-April and possibly even later than that, although the ministry of my parish continues. I am working from home and connecting with my office colleagues through the usual electronic outlets, including virtual meetings via video conferencing. I haven’t used my car in several days. Like most other Americans, I am literally quarantined in my humble home with no physical contact with anyone except my brother and my cat. I miss social interaction at the office during the week but what I really yearn for is Sunday Eucharist with my parish community. 

To be honest, I am not sure where I am going with this blog. I’m just typing this up as I go along, rambling on as someone who has spent too much time alone. Haven’t we all? I seemed to touch a nerve with my last blog in which I was honest about my fears about COVID-19. Almost 200 views in one day! I received a couple of snipey comments from people who deny the seriousness of the crisis, but I realize that skepticism is their response to the unknown. 

That’s basically what it’s all about, isn’t it? Fear of the unknown. We moderns delude ourselves into thinking we are in control of our destiny, and advances in science, medicine and technology support that illusion. But when it comes right down to it, we’re all marching at various speeds toward death, the great mystery for which there has been no satisfactory explanation. 

At this writing, the coronavirus has already taken the lives of more than a hundred people in the United States and 8,911 deaths worldwide. It will potentially get worse because anyone can be an unwitting carrier. Hence, the need for extreme quarantine. The fear is palpable, but what did Jesus say? 

Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.
-Mark 5:36 

Jesus said that in response to news of the death of the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official. In desperation, Jairus sought out the great Miracle Worker among the crowds while he was teaching and healing. By the time Jesus arrived at the official’s house, people there said, “Do not trouble the Teacher further. Your daughter is dead.” Jesus ignored them and proceeded to bring this 12-year-old girl back to life. 

There is much wisdom in this Gospel passage. People in Jairus’ household had basically given up and even mocked Jesus when he said the girl was only asleep. Perhaps at great personal risk to his standing as a synagogue official, Jairus elbowed his way through the crowds of people to humbly ask Jesus’ assistance. Jairus didn’t care what anybody else thought. In the face of the unknown, with death literally knocking on his door, he could only trust Jesus. 

Fear is useless. What is needed is trust. 

As we wade through the unprecedented unknown of the coronavirus crisis, perhaps we could learn to trust God more. Many of us are getting bored at home alone. If we could transform that boredom into a deep prayer of trust, fear will go a long way in becoming useless. 


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Of Closed Churches and Generational Differences on COVID-19






It is very strange to sleep in on the Lord’s Day and not have to rush out to my parish where, on any normal Sunday, I accompany on piano for three liturgies. But this is not any normal Sunday. At this writing, the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, and other countries are in lockdown because of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, a pandemic that has gripped the world. Other sources have expounded on the details so there’s no need for me to repeat them here. But, with a 14-day incubation period, anybody could be an unwitting carrier of the virus that, among other things, causes extreme flu-like symptoms and, within the over-60 generation, possibly even death. 

Death. Right. I am in that demographic and COVID-19 was never on my plate as a possible way to die. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to die. Not yet, anyway. I have so much more that I want to do in life, so many more songs to compose, so many more books to write, so many more places to visit on this beautiful Earth. So please excuse me if I seem a little paranoid as I quarantine myself from the outside world. 

The controversy within my pastoral musician peer group, of course, is the closure of churches. Many bishops of many dioceses have closed down parish churches in order to curtail the spread of coronavirus. The bishops are wisely erring on the side of caution. Just Google “Catholic dioceses Mass cancellations” to see how widespread the closure is. 

My parish, Holy Trinity in Beaverton, Oregon, is closed for at least the next two weeks. We will not have Sunday liturgy on the weekends of March 14-15 and 21-22. My pastor is over 60. Half my choir is over 60. One third or more of my parishioners are over 60. My choir director is over 60. I’m over 60. Pardon me if we hedge our bets by practicing radical social distancing.

So I have no sympathy for my younger peers who are moaning about how the media and government officials and church hierarchy are overreacting to this pandemic. I cringe at how my younger peers are boasting on social media that their churches are “open for business.” I disagree with their argument that in recent years, the common flu caused more illnesses and deaths that COVID-19 – at least thus far. The coronavirus is totally new territory for which there is no vaccine or “flu shot” to combat it. Do my pastoral musician peers really want to face the prospect of several weeks of non-stop funerals? 

I choose life! I want to live! What’s wrong with that? 

I missed being with my people on Sunday. I missed doing dynamic music ministry with my choir and fellow parish musicians. I missed the Eucharist and intimate Communion with Jesus. I look forward to the day when we will all regather and celebrate the Risen Christ in our midst. Until then, here is a prayer from Saint Francis de Sales that my pastor, Father Dave Gutmann, posted on our parish website: 


Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
-Saint Francis de Sales







Sunday, February 9, 2020

We Should Glory in the Cross








As a composer, Bob Hurd has always grounded his creative work on liturgical need for the worshipping community. He never writes for just for the sake of having a “hit song,” although many of his songs have indeed become the most popular songs in the Catholic repertoire. So when I proposed the idea of us collaborating again, Bob immediately asked, “What are the current needs in liturgical music today?” 

I pondered that for a couple of days. This was shortly after the Christmas season for 2018 had concluded, and my parish was already planning for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. My music director and I sometimes joke that Holy Week is easy to plan for because we always do the same songs year after year. But that got me thinking. Why are we doing the same songs all the time for the great liturgical seasons? Yes, certainly there are classics in the Catholic repertoire that are essential to Holy Week and Easter: “Hosanna Filio David” on Palm Sunday; “Pange Lingua” on Holy Thursday; “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday. I would never dream of replacing those beloved songs at my parish. But when you consider all the ritual texts that occur during these holiest of days, there is wealth of source material that could use some fresh musical settings. 

OCP has not published a collection of new music for Holy Week and Easter since the year 2000. Music composed at that time was beautiful and have since become classics that are still in use today. But a lot has happened liturgically since the dawn of the new century. The official Mass text was revised in 2010, as mandated by the new Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition. And there is now an emphasis and preference for singing the actual Propers of the Mass: the Entrance and Communion Antiphons, and the official texts of the Responsorial Psalm. As some liturgists say, “We must sing the Mass, not sing at  Mass.” 

The Mass Propers are meaningful and underutilized in American Catholic parishes. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal has always given four options for singing at the Entrance rite:

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: 

(1)   the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum as set to music there or in another setting; 

(2)   the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; 

(3)   a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 

(4)   another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.  

-General Instruction on the Roman Missal, #48


For various reasons, in America we latched onto that third or fourth option – the singing of an appropriate approved hymn, much to the detriment of singing the Antiphons. Pastorally, I can understand that. Singing a hymn or song is easier for the people, who are accustomed to hymn form, or the Refrain-Verse (responsorial) structure of modern song, which allows them to sing easily. The challenge of the Antiphons is that the official text varies in length and form every Sunday. To effectively sing them, the assembly must learn a new song each week, or fall back on a system of non-metered chant that has been the usual vehicle for the singing of the official liturgical text for centuries. Either option may be difficult for the average parish community. 

A number of composers are addressing this challenge either by setting the Antiphons to chant, or by creating a new system that allows for the text to be sung in a contemporary song form. I eagerly look forward to singing the fruits of their labor! For the new Hurd-Canedo collection, as Bob and I studied and prayed the various antiphons, psalms and ritual texts, we realized what a rich song writing opportunity we had. For example, here is the official Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday, now known in the Roman Missal as Thursday of the Lord’s Supper. 

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
in whom is our salvation, 
life and resurrection, 
through whom we are saved and delivered. 

Such an amazing and meaningful text! On Holy Thursday, many communities sing a Eucharistic hymn for their Entrance Song, but the official antiphon sets the table, so to speak, and reminds the community of the fact that the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the beginning of the sacred Paschal Triduum. Notice how this Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday doesn’t even mention the Eucharist but is focused on the Cross (Good Friday) and the Resurrection (Easter). In other words, there is no compartmentalization of the three days of the Triduum. We don’t just sing of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. We don’t just sing of the Cross and Jesus’ death on Good Friday. We don’t just sing of the Resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Right from the start, we are reminded by this Entrance Antiphon that the Triduum is one continuous celebration of our salvation through the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As I prayed that Entrance Antiphon, I considered how an assembly might be empowered to sing that text in an accessible way. I also thought about the style of music that Bob and I are known for. Would it be possible to sing “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” as a gospel-style hymn? I typed up the text and placed it in front of me at my piano, along with pencil and blank manuscript paper. 

I gave myself a strict mandate: Use the official text only! No paraphrasing, and try not to repeat words, if at all possible. I recited the text aloud, over and over. Discovering a rhythm to those words, I began to put together some chords on the piano. From there, a melody emerged. After a couple of hours of playing through my rough draft, I had a song! I recorded it on my iPhone, scored it out on Finale notation software, emailed it to Bob, and gave him a call. It was a good beginning and we were on our way. 

“We Should Glory in the Cross” is the title song of the new Hurd-Canedo collection. At this writing, Bob and I are still in the studio, recording and mixing, so I am not yet able to share a sample track, but we are anticipating a release later in 2020. We also looked at the official texts for the Responsorial Psalms and antiphons for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. In future blogs, I will write about these new songs. 


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