Monday, November 1, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don't Stop Believing

In a perfect world, I would still be a Dodger fan. I was born in Los Angeles and grew up bleeding Dodger Blue. I remember the 1965 World Series when the LA team defeated the Minnesota Twins via Sandy Koufax’s legendary pitching. In grade school, the principal actually cancelled classes and let us watch the televised games (yes, World Series DAY GAMES!) in the school auditorium. That was special.

I died with the Dodgers when they lost the World Series to the Oakland A’s in 1974, and to the Yankees in ’77 and ’78. I reveled in Fernandomania in 1981 and entered Nirvana with the team when they finally beat the hated Yankees in a World Series rematch that year.

And then, something totally unexpected: I moved to San Francisco in 1986. I immediately fell in love with my new City, with its compact coolness, breathtaking vistas and edgy vibe. But I still rooted for the Dodgers, albeit quietly. After all, the Dodgers and the Giants are legendary archrivals. No need to alienate my new San Francisco friends.

In 1987, the Giants won the National League Western Division. This was the scrappy team of Will Clark, Robby Thomson, Mike Krukow, Kevin Mitchell, Jose Uribe and Jeffrey Leonard, with Roger “Humm-Baby” Craig as their manager. All my friends were into this team and I was treated to many games and good times. It was then that I fell in love with the Giants, who would continue their success into the landmark 1989 season, when they won the National League Pennant and went on the World Series. The team’s theme song that year was James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” And so we did!

I was actually in attendance at Candlestick Park when the Giants clinched the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. It was the most exciting baseball game of my life because of the spirit and energy of the fans and the excellence of the team. After reliever Steve Bedrosian got the final out we all went crazy and didn’t want to leave the stadium.

The euphoria in San Francisco was magnified when we realized that the Oakland A’s would be our opponents in the World Series. A Bay Area Fall Classic! But a terrifying 6.9 earthquake took the air out of the Series balloon. The Giants lost to their East Bay rivals in four games. I’ve hated the A’s ever since and have never been to a game there even though, for a few years, I lived just one BART station away from their Coliseum.

The Giants are my team. I’ve lived and died with them for too many years to think otherwise. They represent my coming of age in San Francisco. Even after I moved to Portland, Oregon in the year 2000, I continued to follow the Giants and identify myself as a San Franciscan. When my team finally made it back to the World Series in 2002, I was totally San Franciscan again, much to the annoyance of my Portland friends. Alas, they lost to the Angels. It was enough to give a diehard fan a Cubs complex. But I still believe.

All this is just a way to explain to my Los Angeles friends why I “switched religions” and became a Giants fan. My LA friends have been mystified by my turncoat ways, but they need to understand how much I love the city of San Francisco and how the Giants represent that important time in my life when I lived there. Nothing against the Dodgers, mind you. I still appreciate them and watch their games on TV when they are on. But I am a San Franciscan. ‘Nuff said.

This blog will also hopefully explain why I am beside myself in joy this week at how my Giants are once again in the World Series, this time against the Texas Rangers. Both are underdog teams who played inspiringly against all odds to make it to the top of their respective leagues.

My San Francisco Giants are in the World Series! With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Buster Posey and Brian Wilson, they are the most colorful and offbeat team in major league baseball. And this year, they will prevail!

The team song this year is “Don’t Stop Believing.” Amen!

I was there at AT&T Park for Game 3 of the Division Series! A good friend was getting married in San Francisco the next day, so I waited in line on game night for the Giants' generous Free Section in right field. I got in for three innings!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Turning Pages

To celebrate the Assumption of Mary at Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, Oregon, our pastor, Father Dave Gutmann, requested Schubert's "Ave Maria" at the Preparation of the Gifts, sung by Mark Nieves, our cantor and Director of Music Ministry. I enjoy playing the classics but the only arrangement I could find was an old choral octavo with eight pages. Yes, this meant I had to turn the pages several times while playing a piece that requires much concentration. Mark sang beautifully, as always. Hopefully, my page turning wasn't a distraction.

After each liturgy, several people came up to me and asked how I turn my own pages so effortlessly. I wrote a blog about this very topic on in 2008, but it somehow got lost. So here is an encore posting.


It’s a skill that every liturgical pianist must eventually master: turning sheet music pages while playing. And I don’t mean by using a friend or assistant to turn the pages for you. I also don’t mean xeroxing all the pages of a song and spreading them across the piano music stand. That’s cheating and, besides, we’re not supposed to be xeroxing copyrighted music without proper permission from the songwriter or publisher.

Just the other week, we sang the song "Jesus Christ, You Are My Life" at my parish liturgy. Everyone who has played this song knows that there are two nasty page turns to this Communion Song classic. Check it out at Spirit & Song-2, #349. You have to turn the page in the middle of the verse, then turn it straight back to play the refrain, over and over again. Flip! Flip! Flip! Arrgh!

I’m not usually one to brag, but turning pages is a musical skill of which I am most proud. Believe me, it took years, and I mean years, to master the technique. My choirs often remark how effortlessly I seem to do this, and I am the envy of the younger musicians that I mentor. “What’s your secret?” they often ask me.

Here, at long last, is the Ken Canedo Page Turning Method (patent pending) . . .

1. If using loose-leaf sheet music or octavos, utilize a hole-puncher and insert them into a standard three-ring binder. This will ensure that the flipped pages won’t go flying off into the baptismal font. If using the Spirit & Song Guitar/Assembly edition, be sure to use the spirial-bound version, not the perfect-bound.

2. Don’t be afraid to dog-ear the corners of the pages. This is essential to effective page turning. “But the sheet music will get worn out,” some musicians might protest. So? It’s your music, and sheet music is supposed to serve you in your performance, not the other way around.

3. At the last measure before the page-turn, I sometimes pencil in the next chord that I will play on the following page. This is a technique that I borrowed from Gregorian chant notation, which utilizes this handy preview feature before every page-turn.

4. Practice the song! Yes, even after decades of playing music in church, I still practice, even the old favorites. The more you know the song, the less distracting it will be to turn the page. Practice also the act of playing and turning, without skipping a beat. How is this done? You have two hands, right? Continue playing the song with your right hand and turn the page with your left — or vice versa. Simple as that.

“But won’t the music suffer from the lack of one hand?” you might ask. Not really. Think about it. You’re usually playing with an ensemble, or with a choir or cantor, or with the assembly singing, right? They will carry the song while you let go of one hand to turn the page. Then you just continue as if nothing happened.

That’s it! After a while you will get good at this and start turning pages with your own little flourish. I have actually refined the technique so the page is turned in time to the music. No lie! This sometimes makes my musician friends laugh. Hey, we’re one of the few groups of people who get to “play” for a living!

Successful page turning will help you win friends, influence people and get you a stint on “Stupid Human Tricks” on The Late Show with David Letterman. Only kidding! But it will help you become a better pastoral musician as you give the glory and the honor to the Lord.


And now, here is a funny video on piano page turning, featuring the late, great comedian-pianist, Victor Borge.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Hey Jude" and Me

Today, August 11, is a red-letter date in my musicianship and, indeed, in my life. On this day in 1968, the Beatles released what would soon be their most iconic hit single ever, “Hey Jude.”

I remember hearing the song on the tinny table radio my brother Keith and I kept in our bedroom. Living in Los Angeles, we were always tuned to either KHJ or KRLA so we could stay in touch with the Top 40, the soundtrack of our youth. The summer of 1968 gave us a few good songs to groove to: “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel; “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris; “Jumping Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones; “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors. Great songs all, but these hits didn’t soothe the troubled spirit of America, which was still reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, the civil unrest that followed, and the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

I think I first heard “Hey Jude” on KHJ on The Real Don Steele Show, and the DJ introduced “the latest hit by the greatest band in the world” with his usual enthusiastic coolness. I was immediately mesmerized. A new Beatles song was always cause for celebration but this was something altogether different, coming on the heels of the band’s experimental psychedelic era. “Hey Jude” was essentially a simple ballad, stripped of the sitars, mellotrons, and Stravinski-esque orchestras of their trippy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I loved the song’s optimism and warmth that reconfirmed for us fans that the Beatles were still making the coolest music ever. It was just the song that America needed to hear in that troubled summer. But more than anything, what really caught my ear was Paul McCartney’s piano playing. The Beatles used piano on their songs before, on “Slow Down,” “Not a Second Time,” and “Good Day Sunshine.” But “Hey Jude” was their first song where the piano, not the guitar, was the featured main instrument. The song was played endlessly by AM radio, and each hearing only goaded me on to one inevitable conclusion:

I must learn how to play the piano!

My family had a nice upright piano in the living room and I dallied on it, like most kids did, by playing “Chopsticks” or “Heart and Soul.” But now I wanted to really learn how to play. So I went to a music store and found the sheet music for “Hey Jude.” I already knew how to read notes because I had been playing the flute since third grade. How hard could it be?

Plenty hard! Now I had to figure out the bass clef and fit both right-hand and left-hand parts together. I struggled mightily, and my halting rendition eventually annoyed my siblings who had to endure my playing over and over again. In frustration from my lack of progress, I slammed the piano cover shut, stormed to my room, and turned on the radio. Once again, “Hey Jude” was playing, well on its way to Number One, a position it would hold for nine weeks. So I listened again, this time with great concentration, and noticed that Paul was not playing what was arranged on the printed sheet music. He was playing simple chords that I identified as F, C, Bb . . .

Ah ha! This was one of the greatest “ah ha!” moments of my young life. I ran back to the piano and simply played the chords that Paul was playing, with the same rhythm and beat he applied. I eventually figured out a way to fit the melody with the chords in the right hand, and play a simple bass in the left hand. Who needed to read the sheet music exactly? All I needed was a knowledge of the chords, a grasp of the melody, and a sense of the beat. More than anything else, I needed to “own” the song in my heart. The ubiquitous presence of “Hey Jude” on the airwaves that late summer ensured that the song would be burned into my subconscious.

And then I did a totally reckless thing: I decided to perform “Hey Jude” at my school’s talent show that fall.

I must have been crazy. I went to Queen of Angels High School Seminary in San Fernando, California. That June, I went home for the summer not knowing how to play the piano. Now, I returned in the fall to my sophomore year, claiming to not only be a pianist but a performer of the year’s biggest song? It was suicide. If I failed, I would be ostracized by a seminary community that pulled no punches in caustic humor and sarcasm.

So I practiced. And I practiced. And I practiced. Some of my classmates who doubted my ability poked their heads into the music room and began to believe I might be able to do it.

The talent show (we called it that oh-so-seminary name, “gaudeamus”) was in October. As I recall, there were the usual duos who sang and played guitar, and maybe one or two pianists who performed some classical pieces. I was the lone sophomore on the bill and when I was introduced a cheer went up from my classmates. I took my seat at the piano, the crowd grew quiet, and I started playing “Hey Jude.”

It was a simply chorded rendition that probably came across as grade schoolish, but I moved the song forward with a good beat. No one sang the vocals; it was a pure piano realization. I really don’t remember if I was nervous. I do recall feeding off the good vibes of performing, of having the appreciation of a listening audience. And then I did something that I probably shouldn’t have done: I played the “Na-na-na-na” ending chorus for the full seven minutes that the Beatles played on the record.

Na, na, na, na-na-na-na.
Hey, Jude!

Some of the guys were starting to grumble but I was determined to finish the song. Finally, at the last chord, I slowed to a ritardando and stopped. The audience erupted into cheers, perhaps more from relief that the song was over than from anything else. As one last flourish, I pulled a page out of Arte Johnson’s “old man” character on the then-hot Laugh-In TV show and fell off the bench in a dead feint. Now the audience was on its feet.

Not only had I learned to play the piano in a couple of months, not only had I performed a popular hit Beatle song before a discriminating audience, but I also flashed a hint of the showmanship that would serve me well in my later years. It was the greatest feeling in the world!

To this day I still get teased about my piano debut by some of my high school classmates. But my friends know that I went on from that landmark moment to build a career for myself as a musician and composer. And it all began with “Hey Jude.”

Friday, August 6, 2010


Eulogy for Terence Patrick “Tops” Canedo
Given by his brother Orlando
Church of the Visitation, Los Angeles
August 4, 2010

Tops was born on a Tuesday, September 20, 1960. He was the sixth of the nine children of Betty and Del Canedo. 5 boys and 4 girls: Kenny, Keith, Desi, Delfin, Teresa, Tops, Celeste, Orlando and Vicky.
Being the only left-handed boy, he was already something special to our mom, not that she didn’t love us all equally. (wink)

Tops was an incredible musician, he could play any instrument he picked up. I’m not talking plucking out “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but really play the instrument like he’d been playing it for years. I’d been taking drum lessons and I was getting pretty good. I could keep a pretty steady beat. One day I heard someone playing my drum set in my room and I was thinking, “Geez, whoever’s playing my drums is really good.” I opened the door and there was Tops playing like a pro. I had never heard him play my drums before and that was the first time I realized my brother was a musical genius. The same thing happened a few years ago on Thanksgiving. We were celebrating at my sister Celeste’s house and I heard someone playing the piano, incredibly, in the other room. I looked in and there was Tops playing effortlessly, as if he were Elton John himself.

Tops was also a very skilled visual artist. He would always amaze us with his pencil sketches, capturing perfectly the likeness of his many subjects. In high school, he received high praise for a comic strip he created: “Bennie, the Filipino Houseboy Who Didn’t Know He Was a Monkey.”

Tops had a wicked sense of humor. Everything and everybody was fair game. You didn’t want to be the butt of his jokes because his attacks could be relentless. But this is where his songwriting talents began. He started making up hilarious ditties about our neighborhood or something he saw that made him laugh that day. These songs are witty, priceless time capsules of our childhood. Growing up, me and Tops shared a room for many years and we’d stay up late making each other laugh till we fell asleep.

As he grew older Tops refined his artistic skills, adding web design and other computer graphics to his already vast repertoire of skills and talents. He continued to write marvelous songs and record them in his home studio.

His home was the garage at mom’s house that he converted into a nice apartment. Yes, the man had even more talents. He was a great carpenter and handyman, as well. He did all of the upkeep on the house for mom after dad passed away, including taking care of the lawn and garden. He’d do anything for mom. Actually, he’d do anything for anyone in the family. Behind that sharp sense of humor was a very caring and giving person. If one of us needed help, he would be happy to do anything he could.

But the biggest joy in his life is Katya, his daughter who is now 16 years old. Tops has done an incredible job as a parent. There is a lot of Tops in Katya. She has grown to be a strong, caring and giving person just like her dad. And also, just like her dad, Katya has taken to the guitar like she’s been playing for years -- and she has the voice of an angel. I know her dad was very proud of her and she will continue to be a source of pride for her family because of the values and talents that Tops has instilled in her.

When Tops was in the hospital, Katya would visit him every day after school. When he changed hospitals, Katya would take the bus clear across town to visit him after school. I could see the joy in his eyes when Katya entered the room. And although her father was very sick, Katya would sit by his side for hours if she could because she knew it made him happy.

Happiness is something that Tops could give his family, even in his last weeks. Every day I went to see him in the hospital he would find some way to make me laugh, even if he was in extreme pain. Also, during this time, Tops was writing notes to mom in a journal, about his day and how he was feeling. Even when he was in constant pain, he was thinking about the happiness of others. He was thinking about mom and the comfort that these notes would give her. These notes would be his final communication with mom and his last cherished gift to her.

And now, here are some memories of Tops by some of his siblings:

When Tops was in 6th grade he became an altar boy at St. Gerard Parish. We used to have Sunday afternoon rosary and benediction and five altar boys were required, but only Tops and I showed up. So I gave Tops a crash course on how to be thurifer, or the server in charge of incense.

So there’s Father Doherty on the altar with the Eucharist. I’m ringing the bell, and poor Tops is behind me, struggling with the chain-link incense burner.

Later, in the sacristy, Tops said, “That holy smoke was going up my nose!” Even Father Doherty laughed.

I bought Tops his first electric guitar when he was 14. It was right-handed and a dark hunter green. Tops took that guitar apart, hand-sanded off the green to its natural wood, stained and varnished it, switched over the pick guard, and re-strung it to “left-handed.” The next time I saw it, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.

Tops touched our lives in the same way. He improved all of us. He could alays be counted on to “take a sad song and make it better.”

Jessica and I were driving home last Sunday night from mom’s house. Keith followed in his car because he was staying with us. On the I-405, a van swerved into our lane, hitting us on the passenger side by Jessica. All three cars pulled over to the shoulder.

Keith checked to make sure we were okay, then approached the driver of the van and said, “What the hell are you doing?” He was protecting Jessica and me.

It reminded me of the time my car was hit in front of mom’s house. The two young men immediately started blaming me for hitting their truck and were very angry. Tops ran out of mom’s house yelling, “What the hell are you doing?” The two guys quickly backed down and admitted they were at fault.

That horrible Sunday when Tops passed away, and with help from Keith, I felt Tops was still protecting me.


Katya thought that it would be nice to read some of her father’s lyrics today. She found a wonderful song, the very last entry in his song notebook:

We draw the lines through space and time
Ultimately in our minds they can disappear
There is a richness in diversity
No prejudice
Showing the world
Creating with each other
A sister or a brother
We become strong in ourselves
What to do with the freedom
Embrace the higher good feeling
Envision thought more
Take action less
You were always valued
Always known
Nothing to fix
Well being is abundant
Don’t follow the old ways if they don’t serve you
Find new ways to live
Find new ways to survive
When the old ways don’t apply

©2010 Terence P. Canedo


At the Door
A poem by Delfin M. Canedo


A Mother’s Love
A reflection from Terence’s mother Betty
Read by his brother Keith


(Closing remarks by Ken)

Thank you, dear brothers. Thank you, Monsignor Gonzales. It is so awesome to have an old family friend celebrate this Memorial Mass. Thank you also to Visitation Choir. My sister Desi sings with them on Sundays and I am so thrilled she is part of the music ministry here. Thank you to Vallimar and Frank Jansen for sharing their talents and representing my OCP family. Lastly, my family thanks all of you for sharing this liturgy of remembrance with us. As I look out on across this church I see many friends of Tops from his workplace and other connection, plus friends of my siblings. I invite you all to the parish center after Mass so we can get to know each other better and continue to share the love we have for Tops.

I wrote a tribute to my brother on the day that he died. It’s rather lengthy and I invite you to read the whole thing on my website. But I would like to close with the final paragraph:

My brother died today, and I will miss him forever. I can never begin to understand why something as terrible as cancer had to take Tops away from us so soon. I can only cling to my faith in God, and to the hope that we will all be reunited with our brother in the life to come. In my spiritual imagination, our brother was warmly greeted at the gates of heaven by our dad. I also like think that God let Tops go straight to work, adding some rock pizzaz to the angelic choirs, tending the divine gardens, and fixing the leaky roof over the Father’s house that has many dwelling-places (John 14:1-6).

My brother died today, but he will live forever in our hearts.


Amazing Grace sung by ValLimar Jansen, accompanied on the piano by her husband Frank.

Obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Mother's Love

Reflection on Terence Canedo by his mother Betty
Read at the Memorial Mass by his brother Keith
August 4, 2010

My son, Terence Patrick “Tops,” was not just a son to me. He was also my right-hand man and my caretaker. He was a jack-of-all-trades. He did all the repairs around the house and even put up a new roof. He took care of all the chores and tended the yard and planted beautiful flowers for me – sweet-smelling roses and gardenias, the two flowers that he loved, and several other lovely plants.

Terence was a loving, thoughtful and generous son. He took me to several entertainment places such as Disneyland, the zoo and the Pomona County Fair, pushing me in my wheel chair. He treated me to Medieval Times on many occasions. We celebrated Mother’s Day there last May and arranged for their special package that allowed us to sit two rows from the arena where we could almost touch the knights. He took me to see Cirque du Soleil, to Santa Monica Pier, and even to several movies, knowing that I would not even hear what the actors were saying on the screen.

Terence never forgot to bring me long-stemmed roses for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and my birthday. He even brought me roses when all my teeth had to come out, just to cheer me up from my pain. Out of the blue, he would often come home with a bunch of flowers for no special reason but to cheer me up.

My son and I had a very special bond and he could often read what was on my mind. This was proven several times, and here are two examples. Sometimes I crave certain foods and wish that Terence would get me some on his way home from work. Sure enough, he would come home with just the food I was thinking of. One day, I ran out of lemons, but it was late in the evening so I wished that Terence would pick me some lemons from our tree before he went to work. When I woke up in the morning to fix breakfast there in the sink were the fresh-picked lemons. I was amazed. When he would do these things I would thank him and tell him he read my mind again. And Terence would just give me a big smile.

While sitting at his bedside at his hospice room on that final night together, it occurred to me that this would be my last opportunity to thank my son for everything he did for me. Running my hands gently over his arm, I said softly, “Terence, I want to thank you for being my son. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for taking me to Disneyland, the zoo, and the fair while pushing me all the way on my wheelchair. Thank you for taking me to Medieval Times and to Cirque du Soleil. Thank you for the beautiful garden and the new roof. Thank you for taking me to the movies. Thank you for all that and so much more!

“But there is one other blessing for which I am grateful. Thank you for a lovely and loving granddaughter. Katya is my lasting connection with you now. You will always live in my heart through her. I pray that Katya will continue to grow in the love and wisdom that you imparted to her.”

As I sat there beside Terence on that final night, it pained me to watch his agony as he gasped for every breath. I gave up my selfish desire to want him to live. So around 10:00 that night I softly spoke to him. “Terence, I release you, my son. We all release you. Do not fight it anymore. Let it go, my son. Go with God. Jesus is waiting for you. Let it go.”

Still, he clung to life with every labored breath. As I watched him I kept telling him in my mind to let go and finally, around 7:10 on Sunday morning, he stopped breathing. I was filled with two emotions: joy for his being finally released from his pain; and sorrow for losing my beloved son. But the joy exceeded my sorrow. I went to him and kissed his forehead and cheek as I stroked his forehead and said, “You are free, my son. You are finally free! Go with God! Jesus is waiting for you.” My tears rolled freely to his pillow.

So from now on, whenever I smell roses or gardenias around the house, I will think of you and ask, “Is that you, Terence, my son?”

Rest in peace, my son, my dearest son. I love you.


My mother is very hearing-impaired and has lived with the challenging effects of Diabetes Type 2 for many years. Please pray for her. Thank you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Brother

My brother died today, after a valiant two-month battle with cancer. Always in good health, Tops’ sudden illness blindsided us, his family. We tried to be brave for him and for each other and found in his uncomplaining spirit a strength that inspired us and gave us hope.

My brother died today and I found out in an airplane, that loneliest of venues if one is traveling alone. I was heading home to Portland after a fulfilling week of serving on the leadership team for the We Remember, We Believe youth liturgy conference in Sacramento. The plane was picking up speed and ready to take off when, suddenly, the pilot stepped on the brakes and aborted the flight because of mechanical failure. It was terrifying. As we sat idly on the runway, a text message came in on my cell phone from my youngest brother Orlando.

My loving family. Tops left us at 7:10 this morning. He is no longer suffering. He is free of pain and on his next adventure. Love to you all. –Orlando

I looked at my watch. The pilot hit the brakes at 7:10. Because cell phones are turned off in-flight, I would not have received news of my brother’s death for another hour and a half if we had taken off as planned. The realization of that coincidence (grace?) had me shaking like a leaf. And then, it hit me. Tops was gone.

I cried. Alone. On a plane. I wanted so desperately for someone, anyone to hug me. The only thing I could turn to was prayer. I prayed three Hail Marys for the repose of my brother’s soul.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. . .

My brother died today. We buried our father in 1986 after a long struggle of convalescence from a massive heart attack. We held out hope back then for dad’s recovery, but he was in his 80s and his tired body could take no more. An adult child expects to someday bury a parent. To bury a sibling, a brother with whom one has played with, fought with, cried with, and had adventures with -- it just seems so wrong.

My brother died today. Little things cause me to tear up without warning. I see a little kid on a bicycle on the street and that reminds me of the way Tops used to tag along with me on our many bicycle romps to the beach during those carefree summer days of long ago. The tears come. I turn on the radio while driving and hear the Beatles on the oldies station. Then I remember that I treated Tops to his very first rock concert when he was 15. We saw Paul McCartney & Wings during their 1976 tour. I remember looking back at my little brother as we sat together in the sports arena, his face beaming with joy as we heard our favorite Wings and Beatles songs performed live. I have to pull over and stop the car because I am sobbing uncontrollably.

My brother died today. His Christian name was Terence but we called him Tops, a quirky, unique and oh-so-wonderful nickname. In childhood, we called him Topsy, and I like to think it was because he was the “Top C,” meaning the Top Canedo. He shortened it to the cooler “Tops” when he became a teenager. But mom has another explanation: We called our brother Tops because he excelled in everything.

Tops was a cartoonist, an artist, a gifted musician, a recording engineer, a website designer, a creative gardener, and general fix-it man. His portfolio of hand-drawn and graphic art is beautiful to peruse. If I ever needed a lead guitarist for one of my many pick-up bands, Tops was there, wailing away on riffs that would make Carlos Santana sit up and take notice. If I needed to make a demo recording, Tops was there for me in his garage studio that was set up like a mad scientist’s lab, with makeshift recording equipment that proved just as effective as the professional stuff. Was the roof leaking from the rain? No problem! Tops was up there on the roof, fixing it himself.

But of all his skills and talents, Tops’ greatest gift was to be a caring son, a supportive brother, and a loving parent. His daughter Katya is a sweet high school girl who has inherited her father’s good looks and musical talent. When I was in Los Angeles in June to visit Tops in the hospital, Katya played her guitar for me and sang her favorite pop song. I was overcome by the realization that my little niece had blossomed into a beautiful, talented young woman who is as loving and gifted as her father.

My brother died today, and I will miss him forever. I can never begin to understand why something as terrible as cancer had to take Tops away from us so soon. I can only cling to my faith in God, and to the hope that we will all be reunited with our brother in the life to come. In my spiritual imagination, our brother was warmly greeted at the gates of heaven by our dad. I also like think that God let Tops go straight to work, adding some rock pizzaz to the angelic choirs, tending the divine gardens, and fixing the leaky roof over the Father’s house that has many dwelling-places (John 14:1-6).

My brother died today, but he will live forever in our hearts.

Tops as a young father, holding his new-born baby Katya.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Fly Like a Bird" Videos

It's been a while since I have blogged. I had a chance to visit my brother Tops in a Los Angeles hospital at the end of June as he awaits treatment for his lung cancer. It was a good visit, and very emotional for me. I will write more about that in a future blog.

What I want to share today are some videos that friends have brought to my attention. Each video is a performance of my song, "Fly Like a Bird." I have come to realize that this is probably my most popular song, but I had no idea how much it has taken flight, so to speak, around the world. God is good!

Each video has a different backstory. Some are by young people who are discovering and developing their musical talent. Others are by choirs who want to share their gifts. One notable video was filmed at a funeral. There is even a performance by a 3 year old boy! As you view each video, be sure to read the comments and background for a deeper understanding of where these artists are coming from.

Watching each video for the first time, I was humbled and amazed that a song I composed could touch so many people. I'm still not quite sure how this song fell into my lap except by the grace of God. I am grateful to all these talented musicians for their heartfelt interpretations. (Note: Some computers might need a minute for the YouTube windows to build.)

Many blessings!


Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (somewhere in California)
Funeral Mass of Oscar Torres

Solo interpretation: Robi

Lines and Spaces Music Ministry
Prince of Peace Catholic Church (Hawaii?)

Solo interpretation: Jonathan McNelis

Ukelele! Notre Dame High School, Guam

Queen of Angels Parish Choir

Gandusan (Philippines): home organ

Korean Choir
(Click "Play" on the video player when you go to this page.)

Nolan Siguenza: 3 years old
(You have to be on Facebook to see this video)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One-Word Wednesday

This blog is specifically for my Twitter followers to explain a trending topic I created called #1wordwednesday. The concept is simple: On Wednesday, just use ONE WORD to express yourself.

Why clutter up the Twitterverse with so much white noise? Why say it in 140 characters when you can just as easily express yourself with one word?

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about #1wordwednesday

Do the single words mean anything when they are strung together?
Maybe. Usually not. It’s random, dude.

So you’re saying #1wordwednesday doesn’t make any sense?
Duh. What rule says everything has to make sense?

Then why do this? I don’t get it!
Hey, what generation are you? Did your father serve in the Civil War?

Will one person’s word trigger off a round of “word association?”
Sometimes that happens. If it happens, it happens.

But I love talking! I can’t just express myself in one single word!
Discipline, grasshopper! #1wordwednesday is the ultimate stripped-down haiku. Think of it as poetry and you will fly.

Do I have to do #1wordwednesday ALL DAY? (gasp, pant)
Of course not. Feel free to tweet one word all day, just a few times, only once, or not at all. Your choice.

Will #1wordwednesday ever become a Top Ten Trending Topic?
Probably not, unless Justin Bieber @justinbieber or Ashton Kutcher @aplusk join us.

Are there any prizes for best single word?
Why not? All prize donations graciously accepted.

#1wordwednesday sounds silly and stupid.
Thank you very much.

So come along and join a new emerging trend!







To keep track of this trend, be sure to use the hashtag #1wordwednesday when you post your one-word tweet.

New to Twitter? click here to see my profile page.

Already on Twitter? Follow me @kencanedo


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Brother Tops

Those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter know of my request for prayers for my brother Terence, whom my family has called “Tops” since childhood. A few weeks ago, Tops was rushed to ER for difficulty in breathing. He had a collapsed lung, and blood clots were found near his heart and in his leg. Immediate surgery followed, to drain the excess fluid. It was determined that the cause is cancer, and now Tops must heal from his surgery before he can begin chemo and radiation therapy.

Tops and most of my family, including my mother, live in Los Angeles. I live in Portland, Oregon, and the distance from my family during this time has been difficult for me. Hearing-impairment prevents most of us from using the phone, but we have stayed in touch via text messages and emails.

Without anyone near me whom I can really talk to about this, I turn to writing, the solace and comfort of the solitary writer. Tops is in his late 40s and I’m in my 50s, but in my heart’s memory I always think of the days of our youth. I did not learn to drive until after I was 21, so I got around West Los Angeles on my Schwinn bicycle, and Tops was never far behind, tagging along on his Sting-Ray. And we biked everywhere: to the mall, to the beach and, our favorite spot, the just-developed Marina del Rey.

At the Marina we discovered the Undersea Gardens at Fisherman’s Village and, with our younger siblings Celeste, Orlando and Vicky, explored the wonder of marine life in that mini-Sea World attraction, marveling at the different colorful species of saltwater fish that the aquarium kept on display. Afterward, we always went to Orange Julius to enjoy their delightful frosty treat.

I taught Tops how to be an altar boy, and I still laugh about the first time we served Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament together. The other altar boys didn’t show up, so it was just me as Master of Ceremonies and Tops as thurifer, serving in that role for the very first time. Talk about learning by doing! As the congregation sang “O Salutaris” and “Tantum Ergo,” poor Tops was kneeling behind the priest and me, struggling with the chained incense burner. “That holy smoke just kept coming up my nose,” he told me later.

My brother is one of the most creative persons I know. He is a gifted artist whose penciled drawings always amazed me. He even created his own comic strip about “The Filipino Monkey Who Thought He Was a Boy,” a kind of Curious George set in the Philippines. But it was in music where Tops truly shined. I remember us sitting across from each other with our guitars as I taught him the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” At the time, Tops was just a beginner. Two weeks later he showed me how he figured out “Mother Nature’s Son” all by himself, just by listening to the White Album. I was stunned.

The Canedo family in 1973. Tops is in front of the lamp and behind our mom.

Tops is a loving father to his teenage daughter, Katya, and has been a caretaker for our mother and her house. If mom ever needs a repair done, she just asks Tops, who also has skills in plumbing, gardening, and roofing. He was doing the Home Improvement thing long before and after that television show was popular. All these wonderful memories fill my mind now as I reflect on Tops’ current medical challenges. I need to get down to L.A. soon, and I will find a way. But at this time, perhaps the best and only thing I can do is pray, and be with Tops in spirit.

I am blessed to have a large group of friends on Facebook and Twitter, and from the various parishes and communities where I have served over the years. When friends ask for prayers for their loved ones or their special intentions, I try to pray for them immediately. Now I am the one asking for prayers and the response has been overwhelming from around the world.

Sometimes people ask, “What good does prayer do? Isn’t it just wishful thinking?” Prayer is a difficult concept to explain to those who do not pray. Soren Kierkegaard, the theologian-philosopher, once said, “Prayer does not change God, but changes us who pray.” In prayer we are not trying to influence God. Rather, we become one with God and one with each other, and in this oneness we find the peace and the strength to move forward and accept God’s will.

For me, prayer is like a safety net that lifts me up at those times when I need it most. Through these prayers, I know I am not alone. I pray for my brother Tops, for healing and for inner peace, that God’s will be done. My family and I are most appreciative of your prayers and the prayers of all our friends far and near. Please be assured of our prayers for you.

Tops drew this picture of the Beatles for me when he was in high school.
What a talent!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Doxology: All Hail, Adored Trinity

There are a lot of paradoxes involved with the “Doxology” track on my recent album of the same name. The word itself derives from the Greek “doxa” (glory) and “logos” (word) and has come to mean a “short hymn of praise.” In Christian worship, doxology can refer to at least three things:

  • Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit . . .”
    In addition to being one of the three most common Catholic prayers (along with the Our Father and the Hail Mary), the Gloria Patri is prayed as the conclusion of each psalm and canticle during the Liturgy of the Hours.

  • Eucharistic Doxology: “Through him, with him, and in him . . .”
    This is the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, right before the Lord’s Prayer.

  • “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow”
    This short hymn of praise is sung as the concluding prayer in many Protestant services and may very well be the most popular English Christian hymn of all time:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him, all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

When I was gathering ideas for my latest album I was inspired to focus on the Most Holy Trinity. Strangely, even though the Trinity is the central tenet of Christian belief, we just aren’t singing in praise of Father, Son and Holy Spirit at Mass as often as we should. The Trinity is invoked in spoken prayer at least nine times during the liturgy. So why aren’t we reinforcing that in our sung prayer?

Part of the problem is the current trend in liturgy planning for theme compartmentalization: We sing Trinity hymns only on Trinity Sunday, Marian hymns only on feast days of Mary, etc. On the Doxology collection, I wanted to offer more Trinity hymns that could be sung throughout the year.

As the years have gone by, I have grown to realize how important it is to balance contemporary songs with traditional hymnody at liturgy. Doxology offers both, sometimes with a creative breaking down of the barriers. In this spirit, I needed to offer a new arrangement for the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” from which I derived my album’s title. While doing research on this grand traditional hymn, I uncovered some interesting facts.

The hymn now known as “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” was composed in 1674 by Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest. His words were eventually joined to the hymn tune known as “Old Hundredth,” which was originally a song of praise based on Psalm 100. This powerful and irresistible combination of words and melody quickly became the cornerstone of Protestant worship.

But there is a Catholic hymn known as “All Hail, Adored Trinity” that was first sung in the 11th century in Latin under the title “Ave! Colenda Trinitas.” It had an entirely different melody than “Old Hundredth,” and yet the English translation by John Chandler fits perfectly with the Protestant melody. It is unclear whether Chandler intended this in his 1857 translation. In the 1960s, Catholic hymn publishers, buoyed by the ecumenical spirit of the Second Vatican Council, started publishing “All Hail, Adored Trinity” with the Protestant melody and even included “Praise God” as the final verse.

I love the inspired paradox in this song. Protestants call the hymn “Doxology,” a word that has different meanings for different Christian denominations. Catholics now sing their own version of the song with the Protestant melody. And on my album I arranged the song in a way that merges contemporary with traditional: It starts out in a light gospel feel with piano, guitar, bass and drums, and climaxes with brass, full SATB choir, and cathedral pipe organ!

In a way, this hymn is an embodiment of what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacrament of Baptism:
The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of St. Peter. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church #838

In other words, the Catholic Church recognizes as valid the baptism of those baptized in non-Catholic Christian communities who use the Trinitarian formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This becomes powerfully evident at the Easter Vigil, when many RCIA candidates profess their faith and are not “re-baptized” since their baptism in a Protestant community is indeed a valid sacrament. Such is the unifying power of the Most Holy Trinity!

May the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit inspire us to reflect their divine love in our families, our relationships, and in our continuing efforts for Christian unity.
O Trinity! O Unity!
Be present as we worship thee;
And with the songs that angels sing,
Unite the hymns of praise we sing.

Listen to Doxology on

Downloadable Octavo

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Of Jazz and the Sacred, Part 2

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond

As mentioned in my previous blog, the performance of jazz requires much discipline and perseverance from the aspiring jazz musician. Although it sounds like they’re making it up as they go along, improvisation is built on exhaustive confidence in the ability to play jazz scales, patterns and chords in all twelve keys.

This is the reason I love jazz and admire jazz musicians. Their mastery of jazz theory is such a joy to experience, both in live performance and on a recording. I think this also helps to explain why jazz didn’t catch on as a musical style in mainstream Catholic liturgy.

Folk music was assimilated into sacred music because it is so accessible. True to its name, folk music is the music of the people, played on a popular and ubiquitous instrument (guitar) whose music theory is basic and easily learned.

Jazz is similar to classical music in the way its effective performance requires the musician to have advanced knowledge of the respective discipline’s theory. This limits the pool of musicians who are skilled enough to perform jazz at liturgy. (Sidebar: Sadly enough, this also means that there are fewer qualified organists today.)

Another consideration is that the structure of jazz doesn’t fit tidily into the structure of Roman Catholic liturgy, where the primary musical instrument is the voice of the gathered assembly, praising God in song. For example, the music for the liturgical processions has a specific ministerial function to fulfill at the Entrance, the Gospel, the Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. At a typical parish liturgy, priest, ministers and assembly cannot stand around idly at these processions, waiting for musicians to finish a variation on a hymn tune. Having said that, the Prelude before liturgy and the post-Communion Song of Praise certainly lend themselves well to prayerful improvisation.

But jazz is not limited to improv. Jazz theory can be expressed beautifully in chords and harmonization, in the bending blues notes of a hymn melody, in the rhythm and dynamics. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council’s reformed liturgy, there are a handful of songs that have effectively utilized elements of jazz theory:

  • The music of the late Father Clarence Rivers and the late Leon C. Roberts, inspired by the motifs of the African-American spiritual and gospel music;

  • Ernest Sands’ “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness,” with its 5/4 rhythm that invokes Dave Brubeck;

  • James E. Moore, Jr.'s “Taste and See”;

  • Mass of Glory, with its blues-influenced melodies;

  • and several other compositions.

There have been examples of jazz liturgies that hearken more to the “high art” approach of the Mass settings composed by Bach, Mozart and Palestrina. These fall under the umbrella of performance art rather than liturgy, but they certainly lift the listeners’ minds and hearts to God:

As a working Catholic composer and musician, I welcome and incorporate elements of jazz theory at liturgy whenever appropriate. For example, in the aforementioned “Taste and See,” composer James Moore left a lot of space between the lines in the verses and the refrain for tasteful improvisation on the piano. Whenever we sing this contemporary classic at my parish I enter into it in a prayerful manner that allows me to improvise without being distracting. That is the key element to successfully utilizing jazz in mainstream liturgy. The music must serve the Eucharist and not the other way around. Let jazz be a humble servant at worship and it will shine all the more brightly.

There is a “mystery” to jazz that can help us to enter into the mystery of the divine. To the non-musician, jazz is an adventurous music that leads the listener to anticipate where it is going. Jazz can lead us to God. That makes jazz both cool and holy.

(With thanks to Peter Ostlund for his thoughts and insights.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“O Triune God” - Of Jazz and the Sacred

I love jazz because it is so cool, in the purest sense of that word. Uniquely American, jazz is our indigenous music, the progeny of an African-American musical experience that eschewed traditional, classical and popular forms. With jazz, notes are syncopated and bent in a bluesy way, harmonization is freed from the confines of Top 40 pop, the rhythm swings, and melodies take off via creative improvisation that renders the original idea almost unrecognizable. What emerges is an art form that literally liberates the musician and the listener to embrace a much larger musical universe.

To the untrained ear, jazz might seem like a cacophony. What have they done to that melody? This surely can’t be the song they started playing. I think about what Miles Davis did with “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” that innocuous and iconic song from Snow White, the Walt Disney cartoon. The original melody is there in the beginning, played in the oh-so-mellow way that only Miles can do. But then he and his band launch into variations that seem to take the fairy tale song into directions that neither Disney nor the Brothers Grimm ever dreamed possible.

Jazz. You either love it or you don’t get it. That has always been the appeal of jazz for me. I grew up a rock musician with some classical training, which is not as contradictory as it sounds. As a child of the 1960s, I was formed by the music of the Beatles, the Doors, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and other rock groups that seemed to revel in the rebellious abandon of the Boomer generation. This in-your-face brashness was tempered for me by my involvement in sacred music, particularly the traditional music of the Catholic Church: Gregorian chant, polyphony and hymnody.

As a teenager I was especially taken with the groundbreaking 1968 album Switched-On Bach, in which Wendy Carlos performed the great classics of Johann Sebastian Bach on the then-new Moog Synthesizer, giving “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and the Brandenburg Concertos a radical realization that seemed so right for the late 20th century. Because of this album I started listening to traditional performances of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and so many other classical masters, learning something from each composer along the way.

Rock, classical and folk music fed me in my teen years, but another style of music definitely caught my ear because of the Charlie Brown television specials. There was something so mesmerizing about watching Snoopy dance with abandon to the jazz riffs of Vince Guaraldi. I bought the Charlie Brown Christmas album and listened to it repeatedly, even in July. Jazz was definitely in a world unto itself, so different and so cool. I was just starting to get good on the piano, playing in the styles of Paul McCartney and Elton John. But I wanted to also play like Vince Guaraldi and couldn’t figure out how.

Classical musicians have difficulty understanding how a jazz musician can improvise so freely and easily. The performance of a jazz song is different every time. Although jazz musicians do read music — “lead sheets” that feature only melody and chords — this is a far cry from the precisely notated octavos and scores used by classical musicians. Jazz musicians don’t read classical scores but they do know music theory, in their head and in their heart. A jazz musician-in-training has to spend endless hours playing scales and chords IN ALL TWELVE KEYS, memorizing patterns and harmonic approaches that will eventually equip them to improvise and comp (play the basic support for improvisers) with other jazz musicians. It’s a code, a secret code that most people have no patience to learn. Did I mention that all this theory has to be memorized?

I have been trying to crack the jazz code for most of my adult life, with little success until quite recently. It has taken years of listening to records and CDs, attending jazz concerts, studying jazz theory, and even taking a jazz piano course at a community college, and I still don’t have it all down. I admit, I don’t have the time or patience to memorize scales, patterns and chords IN ALL TWLEVE KEYS, but I know enough now to incorporate jazz theory in my sacred music. And that has been my goal all along.

In the 1970s I discovered a marvelous album called Vince Guaraldi: The Grace Cathedral Concert. In 1965, as part of the experimentation in liturgy that was sweeping the country, Bishop James A. Pike and the Rev. C. Julian Bartlett, rector of the cathedral of the Episcopal Church in San Francisco, invited the Vince Guaraldi Trio to perform a jazz Mass at the landmark church. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here was the sacred text of the Anglican liturgy, almost a word-for-word match of the Roman Catholic liturgy, sung by a cathedral choir that was accompanied by the hottest jazz pianist of the decade. This jazzy merging of traditional and contemporary assaulted my soul like nothing before or since. I must have played Guaraldi’s rendition of “Adoro Te Devote” (“Humbly We Adore Thee”) over and over until the record grooves wore down. I was smitten and promised myself that someday, I would make sacred music like this.

Alas, I never became the accomplished jazz musician of my dreams (I’m still working on it) but I did become a liturgical composer. And although I have had success over the years with both liturgical and youth ministry music, I still had a yearning to bring jazz to the liturgy. That opportunity came in 2008 as I was planning tracks for my upcoming Doxology CD.

Doxology was something of a risk for me. People generally know me from the gospel-inspired Mass of Glory and from such upbeat youth ministry songs like “Bless the Lord” and “Holy Spirit.” Doxology would be a way to showcase my love for both contemporary and traditional sacred music, with modern renditions of “O Sanctissima” and “All Hail Adored Trinity.” It was now or never. I realized here was my opportunity to do something with jazz.

For many years, I had been playing a jazz arrangement for the Easter hymn, “Ye Sons and Daughters,” which is based on a haunting medieval chant melody. Notated in modern hymnals in 3/4 time, the tune can be expressed as a jazz waltz and, with the right jazz chords, can really soar. I just needed new words to reflect the Trinity theme of Doxology. Like manna from heaven, I received in the mail new Trinity lyrics by the dear Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB, a noted hymn writer. She used “Ye Sons and Daughters” as a template for her new hymn, “O Triune God.” I thanked Father, Son and Holy Spirit for this gift and submitted my jazz arrangement to the OCP editors, who gave me an enthusiastic green light.

What a jazz combo we assembled at Dead Aunt Thelma’s Studio! I was blessed to work with stellar Portland session musicians: Tim Ellis on guitar, Phil Baker on bass, Mike Snyder on drums, Clark Bondy on saxophone, and the incomparable jazz pianist, Rick Modlin. That summer afternoon session is forever burned in my memory. I gave them the charts and told the guys I wanted something that was both cool and sacred. They delivered in just a couple of takes, staying true to the original hymn tune while improvising creatively. All that was left was the vocals.

I almost fell on the floor when our producer Kevin Walsh informed me that he had successfully recruited Rebecca Kilgore to sing the lead. Are you kidding me? Rebecca Kilgore, the famed jazz singer? I had not realized that she lived in Portland and was rubbing my eyes as she walked into the studio. She nailed it in just a few takes, of course. “Ye Sons and Daughters” is basically a repetitive chant, and Rebecca respected its simplicity while infusing it with her own jazz sensibility.

Does jazz have a place in the sacred liturgy? Do we dare blend the sacred with the secular? I wrote a whole book on this topic: Keep the Fire Burning. Although the book is about the revolution of folk music in liturgy, I believe the same principles apply to jazz. In my next blog I will write more about that. In the meantime, please click here and give “O Triune God” a listen. I hope it helps people expand their horizons on sacred music. Yes, God is very cool indeed.

Rebecca Kilgore and me

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The death of Mr. Jaime Escalante, teacher extraordinaire, got me thinking about the teachers in my life, and the way they inspired me to come out of my shell and explore new worlds and and experiences.

Teachers are the real heroes of our culture. They are grossly underpaid and seem to derive their fulfillment from their dedication to their students. How many of us owe our lives and our livelihoods to their selflessness?

In the immaturity of my youth, I probably didn’t say "thank you" to my teachers as I should have. There are a handful of educators who really inspired me and shaped me, and this is probably just as good a time as any to express my gratitude. I have no idea where most of these fine women and men are, or even of they are alive. But somehow, through our cosmic interconnectedness, I hope they can know of my gratitude and appreciation.

Miss Anderson was my second grade teacher at Stoner Avenue School in Los Angeles. She was young, pretty and so affirming. She encouraged me to be my best in everything.

Mrs. Holzer was my fourth grade teacher, also at Stoner Avenue. I had her for two semesters at a time when I was bullied by mean classmates, and she encouraged me to always strive for excellence, no matter what anybody else thought.

Sister Maria Goretti, SNJM: I was a latecomer to catechism classes and I made my First Communion in third grade CCD at St. Gerard Majella Parish in Los Angeles. As a public school boy, the Church was a whole new world that intimidated me. Sister Maria Goretti regaled us “unchurched” kids with marvelous stories about Jesus and Mary and the saints and helped me look forward to my First Communion with a fervor that totally transformed my childhood.

Mrs. Pat Presti was my fourth grade catechism teacher at St. Gerard’s. Her faith, her devotion, and her personal interest in me moved me closer to God.

Mr. Thomason was my music teacher at Marina del Rey Junior High School in Los Angeles. I played flute in his orchestra, back when public schools still had the funds for such programs. His dedication to music and to young people, and his good humor, inspired me to pursue music as a career.

Father Peter Diliberto, CM: I felt called to enter Queen of Angels High School Seminary in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a whole new world from my public school experience. Father Diliberto was an excellent teacher of math, a subject I hated in junior high. Somehow, Fr. Diliberto pulled me through the haze of algebra and had me mastering the quadratic equation through two fun semesters. I can still do fractions and proportions to this day.

Monsignor Carl Gerken was music director at Queen of Angels when I was just learning how to play the organ and piano. His enthusiasm for life inspired me to take up liturgical music as my vocation.

Father Peter Nugent also taught music at Queen of Angels and at St. John’s College where I attended after high school graduation. Fr. Nugent was dedicated and no-nonsense, but also friendly. I learned to love Bach and Beethoven and Mozart from his music history classes.

Father Ron Wilkinson, CM: Going off to college in the 1970s was like setting foot on another planet. Fr. Wilkinson taught Freshman writing at St. John’s and he helped me to find my voice as a writer. I never would have even thought of myself as a writer if not for Father’s constant encouragement for all the little short stories and humorous essays I was submitting every week. He also helped me discover the wonderful works of John Steinbeck. My life was never the same after a whole year of Father Wilkinson.

Father George Niederauer (now the archbishop of San Francisco): Before he cultivated his reputation as a statesman for the Catholic Church, Father Niederaurer was a professor of English literature at St. John’s who taught his classes with dry humor and disarming wit. From him I learned of Tolstoy and Faulkner and Hemingway. We read Waiting for Godot and The Great Gatsby and saw the movie The Pumpkin Eater, and my life was all the richer. Later, in post-graduate school, he taught Pastoral Theology and I learned to love the Church even more.

There were several more teachers who inspired me, and the years have played havoc on my memory. I was diagnosed with hearing impairment in first grade and Stoner Avenue School had a special program for “special needs” kids. I honestly cannot remember her name, but I had a once a week hearing-specialist teacher through my six years of grade school who taught me lip reading and conversational skills in such a fun way that I never thought of myself as “handicapped.” I am deeply indebted to this wonderful woman who prepared me to cope with a world that wasn’t always receptive to a near-deaf person.

To all these teachers and to all who guided me though my childhood, my teen years, and my college years: Thank you! I wish I could tell each of you how grateful I am for putting up with me and inspiring me. I owe my success to my dedicated teachers! God bless you all!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palm Sunday: So Too Must I Die With Him

How quickly the crowd turned against him! On Sunday they were shouting at the top of their lungs, "Blessed are you! Hosanna in the highest!" Now, just five days later, there were cries of "Crucify him!" Yet, this man had done nothing wrong.

The first day of Holy Week perfectly captures this dichotomy. Originally called "Palm Sunday," various liturgical publications now refer to it as "Palm-Passion Sunday," "Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday)," or "Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion." So, what exactly do we celebrate on this day?

By whatever designation, Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. Although not a part of the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday's Easter Vigil, Palm Sunday certainly points to those three days of commemoration of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection. Indeed, for the many people who will not participate in the Triduum, Palm Sunday is their only liturgical celebration of Christ's suffering and death. It affords them an opportunity to complete their Lenten preparation by placing the following Sunday's Easter event within the proper context of Jesus' ultimate sacrifice.

I strongly encourage you to participate in one or all of the Triduum liturgies. These are the most important liturgical celebrations of the year, and I will write more about them in a few days. But if you do attend the Good Friday liturgy, please do not think of it as a rehash of Palm Sunday. The suffering and death of Jesus is too rich and too profound to limit to one day of remembrance. Each has its own emphasis, its own spiritual message for our prayerful consideration. . .

Click here to continue reading on

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

For the Sake of Christ

“For the Sake of Christ” has become my most requested song this year. Many people have asked me how I composed it. Here is the story that first appeared on


Arleen Dunne was an energetic person, full of life and ideas and enthusiasm. She was the Director of Religious Education at St. Monica Church in Moraga, California when I became middle school minister there in 1995, and I had the pleasure of working with her on the parish staff. Her daughter Shannon was one of our cantors, and I always looked forward to doing music ministry with her at our Sunday liturgies.

The mid-1990s was something of a golden age at this parish. Our youth ministry was beginning to take off, reflecting the changing demographics of this region in the Diocese of Oakland. Once thought of as a quiet "retirement" community, Moraga was suddenly bursting at the seams with children, necessitating a building boom in local schools. In the midst of this growth, Arleen coordinated a thriving religious ed program for the elementary children, recruiting and training teachers, scheduling overlapping class sessions in our small parish plant, and supporting the parents in their role as the primary religious educators of their children. All this was done cheerfully, and Arleen's smile and laughter were contagious.

Arleen also made time to be a good wife and mother, and the parish watched Shannon blossom as an outstanding singer, growing up from high school musicals and liturgy to a burgeoning career in show business. Arleen and her husband Frank were proud of Shannon and all their children.

One day, the unthinkable happened. Arleen was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The affects in Arleen were gradual but noticeable. As her body moved toward muscular paralysis, Arleen lost her ability to speak. But she did not let this disease prevent her from carrying out her responsibilities as our DRE. Arleen communicated through a wonderful portable voice synthesizer that "spoke" the words as she typed into it. Her teachers continued to be supported, First Communion was celebrated with great joy, and the children grew in their faith. Over the next year and a half, Arleen charged into her ministry with a zest and cheerfulness that struck many of her friends as saintly. ALS was not going to stop her from bringing children to Christ.

I was personally inspired by Arleen's spirit, and moved by how her loving family dealt with these new challenges. I wanted to give Arleen something to show her my appreciation and love. While praying the Liturgy of the Hours, I came across this reading for Friday Morning Prayer, Week III:

I willingly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.

— 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I looked up the passage in the Bible to see it in context. Preceding this passage, St. Paul gives this memorable piece of wisdom:

He [the Lord] said to me, "My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection."

Tears streamed down my face as I realized that this passage was personified in dear Arleen. I went straight to my piano and this song came out almost immediately. I started with a chant mode on the words "For the sake of Christ," and the song basically wrote itself after that.

By the time I finished the song, Arleen was in the final stages of ALS. She had to step down from her daily DRE duties, and the parish staff covered for her. I went over to her house and played my new song for her. Afterward, we embraced through our tears. God's word spoke powerfully to us at that moment. It would be the last time I would ever see Arleen in this life.

"For the Sake of Christ" became a Lenten favorite at St. Monica, and a fitting remembrance to a dedicated parishioner and dear friend. I am now long gone from that marvelous parish, but whenever I play or hear this song I think of Arleen and how God worked so powerfully through her to bring children to Christ.

For when I am powerless, then I am strong.


Here is a link to the song on That's Bob Halligan, Jr., of Ceili Rain, singing lead vocal. This version appeared on the Spirit & Song, 2nd Edition CD-library. I later recorded the song myself for my 2009 Doxology album.

The video above features a guitar/vocal interpretation. I have no idea who created this beautiful video but I am grateful.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Growing Up with the Dameans

Note: This reflection first appeared a few years ago in my old artist blog page on

The exhibit area in the convention center was the usual mix of color, sights and sounds, with music and videos blaring out of hundreds of booths, costumed street teams passing out flyers, and countless people bumping into each other. This was the scene at Atlanta in October 2005 at the National Catholic Youth Conference. I had just finished playing bass for the concert of my friend, Angus McDonell, and was looking around for members of my youth group. Suddenly, directly in front of me, there stood a vaguely familiar person.

“Ken!” said the smiling man as he extended his hand to me. “Gary Ault.”

Did I hear that name right? I had to look at his nametag to be sure. Gary Ault! A little older and greyer, perhaps, but still tall, with the same trim collegiate-styled hair and winning smile I remembered from his record album covers. It’s been, what? Over twenty-five years since I last saw him at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress? Of course, we embraced.

Gary Ault! A founding member of the Dameans, one of the pioneer singing groups of the Catholic Church’s first generation of contemporary composers. In the late 1960s, the Dameans stood out among the increasingly crowded field of Folk Mass artists. Whereas most of those artists were individuals, the Dameans were a group: five seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. How well I remember their names, prominent on the credits of the songs that were beloved by so many of us young Catholics of the time: Gary Ault, Darryl Ducote, Buddy Ceasar, Mike Balhoff, and Dave Baker.

I can still remember when I got my first Dameans record, Tell the World. There they were on the back cover, five handsome young men dressed in the same uniform that I was wearing at Queen of Angels High School Seminary in Los Angeles: white shirt, thin black tie, and black pants. Their photo could have been taken from our yearbook in the way they held their Folk Mass instruments of three guitars, upright bass, and tambourine. I showed the album to my classmates and we had a good laugh. It seemed that all seminarians looked alike back then, right down to the regulation close-cropped hair. But what we heard on the record and saw on the sheet music wasn’t something to laugh at. In fact, it was the answer to our prayers.

By 1969, the Folk Mass was no longer a novelty in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Although we were one of the last dioceses to finally use guitars and folk music at liturgy, once we got official approval the Folk Mass spread like wildfire, especially in the seminaries. Our early repertoire consisted of the fun catchy songs of Ray Repp, Joe Wise, Paul Quinlan, Sebastian Temple, Peter Scholtes, and a few others. We loved these songs, with their immediately singable melodies, but we wore them out very quickly, too. The Folk Mass repertoire was limited. After all, it had only been three years since Ray Repp was first published. Thus, we experienced an unprecedented phenomenon in Catholic liturgy: the constant need for new music. In our youthful minds, the Dameans’ music was heaven-sent.

“Tell the World” was an upbeat song that seemed to capture the enthusiasm for the Spirit that framed those times. We had fun singing in rounds with “Shout Out Your Joy.” “All That We Have” was the perfect Offertory Song. “Look Beyond,” the song that introduced me to the concept of the major seventh chord, was a seeming rarity: a folk Communion Song that actually spoke of bread and wine as it reflected on the Eucharist passage of John 6:

Look beyond the bread you eat. See your Savior and your Lord.
Look beyond the cup you drink. See his love poured out as blood.

In addition to their prolific songwriting, the Dameans had a great vocal blend. Their intricate five-part harmonies were reminiscent of the Lettermen or the Beach Boys. What a cool sound for liturgy! It was folk music with choral harmonies. We seminarians ate this stuff up.

As a budding liturgist it was great to grow up with the Dameans. When I moved on to St. John’s College in Camarillo, Bob Hurd taught me Gary Ault’s song, “The New Creation.” It was an outright rock song, with that stunning C-G-D power chord riff. But more exciting were the lyrics, which spoke of social justice:

Hear the cry of the needy, your brothers each one.
Too many people talking and nothing gets done.
And you better hurry!
Come along to the new creation . . .

Social justice in a liturgical song! That was groundbreaking in 1971. I wished more liturgical songs would address that theme. As my seminary classmates got closer to our priestly goals, the Dameans had one more song for us that we sang at ordinations and first Masses everywhere: the memorable “In My Name”

I call you from your brothers;
I send you in my name.
I’ll light you with my Spirit’s fire,
to burn as my love’s flame.
I call you for your brothers
and send you in my name.

Seems like there was always a Dameans song that spoke to me at various stages of my teen and young adult life. From them I learned more about music, chords, and songwriting in general. You can imagine my thrill when I finally saw them at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California in 1972. They were giving a music workshop on Youth Day, and the large auditorium was packed with over 1000 hyper teenagers. Gary and company managed to keep the young crowd entertained, singing their terrific songs while telling stories that helped us to enter into deep and meaningful prayer. I met Gary a few times after that. One fond memory I have is from the 1978 Congress, when Gary introduced me to the “new” Gary of the group, a young and eager Gary Daigle, who was apparently fresh out of high school. I thought to myself, “Dang! How’d this kid get so lucky to join the Dameans?” Gary Daigle replaced Dave Baker, who had to move on to other commitments in his ministry.

As time went on liturgical songwriting matured to embrace more scriptural lyrics and ritual awareness, and the Dameans’ music also matured. Remember Your Love was their most successful collection for liturgy and ritual. But their early folk music certainly paved the way. Before Tom Booth and Matt Maher, before Bob Hurd and even before the St. Louis Jesuits, there were the Dameans. We must never forget the enthusiasm and dedication they brought to what would later become known as contemporary Catholic music.

All these memories flooded my mind as I shook hands once again with Gary Ault at the Atlanta NCYC. He was there to chaperone a group of teens from his parish in New Orleans, and I invited them to check out a concert that Jesse Manibusan and I were giving later that day. I saw them in the crowd and was excited to perform in front of someone whom I considered as my composer role model. After our set, Gary was gracious in his compliments. He also had an idea.

Gary was teaching religion at a special Catholic high school in hurricane-damaged New Orleans. This school was special because it was more than just a school; it was SEVERAL high schools combined together out of necessity because of Hurricane Katrina. Gary invited Jesse and me to come to New Orleans to perform for his students, who needed encouragement and support as they dealt with the many issues of hurricane recovery. How could we refuse such an invitation? That gig in New Orleans turned out to be the most memorable performance of my life.

TO BE CONTINUED . . . not here, but in SPIRIT SPOT on in the blog, Rummel T: Hurricane Survival Story.

Hear the Dameans’ music on my latest Keep the Fire Burning podcast, either on iTunes or via RSS subscription.

Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution available at