Before I expound further on this topic I thought it would be appropriate to set the scene with a brief background of what my experience has been with church music. If you, like me, were born in the late 60s, you will probably relate to this. If any pre-Vatican II folks are reading, I wish you would chime in with your experiences and observations.
My earliest memories of Mass, as I mentioned in my last post on this topic, are of John XXIII, the university parish, even though I was baptized by Bishop (not then he wasn’t, but it sounds nice to say!) Shea at Immaculate Conception and have been a member there my whole life. John XXIII (now St. John XXII) was brand new in 1970 which is about when my memory begins, and it was very modern, with hard yellow plastic chairs and banners hanging from the dropped ceiling panels. And the music was new and modern too. At some point I “borrowed” a songbook–mimeographed sheets of paper in a green plastic three-ring binder—which I still have [edit:or did, until my house burned down], although I’m not going to dig through the boxes in the garage looking for it right now! But I do remember the following songs were included: Sons of God (my favorite), Of My Hands, Men of Faith, All That We Have, They Will Know We Are Christians, and (I swear to God I am not making this up) Blowin’ in the Wind. Judging from the difficulty I had finding lyrics to share here, most of these went by the wayside years ago. The only ones I still hear are All That We Have and They Will Know We Are Christians, and those rarely.
Around the time I started first grade, we started going to I.C. regularly once more. I was exposed to two distinct sources of liturgical music: what I heard on Sundays and what I heard at daily Mass (yes, we went every day back then!) at St. Joseph. My earliest memories at I.C. are pretty grim. Valiantly, our organist attempted to adapt to the New Order by pounding out Gonna Sing My Lord and Kumbaya. We continued to sing a lot of the old hymns like Now Thank We All Our God, God’s Blessing Sends Us Forth, Holy God We Praise Thy Name, The Church’s One Foundation (that was my favorite), Oh God Our Help in Ages Past (I could go on, but you get the picture). There were other songs in the hymnal that were the popular songs of the day, and I’m sure I could sing them if I saw them, but absolutely the only one that comes to mind right now is Prayer for Peace. I have not heard that in years, although it stuck around long enough to be subjected to the curse of inclusive language (more on that soon, I promise!).
In the meantime, I was exposed to another kind of music at St. Joseph. Early on, I remember the “Hi, God!” albums, with the Rev. Carey Landry’s compositions predominating: Great Things Happen, The Spirit is A-movin’, What Makes Love Grow, Only a Shadow. I’ll bet you remember them and that you haven’t heard them at Mass in twenty years or more. Later we used soft-backed hymnals with a bird on the cover that were, I believe, a precursor or perhaps a first installment of the Glory and Praise series. From these, I remember especially Blessed Be God Forever, I Believe in the Sun, Welcome In, For You Are My God. At some point another series was introduced–there were tapes from which we learned the song, but the only words were mimeographed in folders and included such gems as Come Along with Me to Jesus (sung in a round), Thank You Lord for Giving Us Life, and If I Were a Butterfly. (Would you believe that song has its own Facebook page?)
Besides the songs geared especially for children, we also sang from a regular missalette, so thankfully we were still being exposed to some traditional hymns like Immaculate Mary and Hail Holy Queen and To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King and O Come O Come Emmanuel. Sister Georgeanna and Sister Janice were so dedicated in their attempts to make sure we sang at Mass, often keeping us in the cafeteria afterwards to practice.
And as I look back and can see that the songs from the 70s weren’t particularly good songs, while it may be fun to be snarky, it’s important to remember that people were doing the best they could without much guidance to come up with new songs for the new liturgy. And as for me, even if the songs were “bad” I loved singing them and remember them fondly. If something like I’ve Got That Joy Joy Joy Joy Down in My Heart or His Banner Over Me Is Love (complete with hand gestures) keeps kids engaged in worship to the point that they are still interested enough in the topic to make fun of the songs when they grow up, that’s something, isn’t it?
P.S. Well over ten years ago I wrote an X-Files fanfiction story which I entitled But Then Comes the Morning, after a song I have not heard sung in Mass since the 70s. I have seen it excoriated in lists similar to the one I wrote about in my last post. Yet TO THIS DAY I get emails from people who only found that story because they were googling that song, which they remember fondly from their own childhoods. They are always hoping that since I quote briefly from the chorus at the end of the story that I might know all the lyrics (I remember only snippets).
To be continued . . .