Friday’s vespers in the Mater Christi Chapel at the Cousins Center commemorating Cardinal James M. Harvey on his elevation to the College of Cardinals featured the work of four local composers.
According to Office for Worship director Dean Daniels, who arranged and directed the vespers service, Cardinal Harvey’s first opportunity to return to Milwaukee since his November elevation to cardinal, it was essential to include local talent in welcoming home the Milwaukee native.
“Since we were welcoming Jim Harvey who is one of our own back to Milwaukee, we wanted to recognize the talent in our diocesan presbyterate, diaconate and lay-ecclesial ministries, and to recognize four talented composers in the Milwaukee area,” said Daniels. “And one of the composers is a priest. We thought it was important to use the music of Milwaukee to honor his return.”
More than 350 guests attended vespers, praying and singing to the music of Brian McLinden, Jeffrey Honoré, David Sanders and Fr. Charles Conley.
“Our first psalm of the evening was written specifically for this event,” said Daniels. “Brian wrote Psalm 141, which is traditionally used for evening prayer, and is about letting our prayers rise like incense to heaven. I asked him about six weeks ago if he could write something for us on this psalm and he had it to my computer within a week and a half. It was amazing. We wanted Brian to do this because he has set many of the Psalms to music for his parish, and he did a wonderful job. It is an exquisite setting.”
When McLinden, formerly director of liturgy and music at St. Mary Parish, Elm Grove, received the phone call from Daniels, he admitted the call caught him off-guard.
“I was flattered, floored and honored to be asked to do this,” he said. I know Dave, Jeff and Fr. Charlie and respect them all, so I had to pinch myself when I hung up the phone that Dean actually asked me. I don’t have a lot published yet, but I have some through the major liturgical publications, and plan to send this piece as well.”
McLinden describes the vocal on Psalm 141, “Let my prayer rise like incense,” as a rising meandering line that represents the rising of the incense and its settling down.
“Incense appears three times in this psalm and it is reminiscent to me of the Trinity and thurible being swung three times with the incense rising up,” he explained. “The verses change modally where the text takes us with some in minor key and some in major. It concludes with the Gloria Doxology.”
McLinden said composing music is Holy Spirit inspired.
“I opened the psalm text and kept it by my desk, prayed and meditated over it and waited for something to wake me up,” he said. “One night I woke at 2 a.m. and it was all laid out for me. This composition, like the others is never the way I want a piece to go, it is always where he wants it to go. Once I had it down, it took me about a week to finish the psalm.”
The second piece, written by Jeffrey Honoré, director of the Archdiocesan Choir and director of pastoral music at Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin, was Psalm 139, “I am wonderfully made.”
“The setting of Psalm 139 I originally did for the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist when it fell on a Sunday,” said Honoré, “It was dedicated to the cantors of St. Matthias Parish when Fr. Carl Last was pastor. I wanted a work that dug a little deeper musically into this profound and seldom used text, at least seldom for the Sunday assembly, for this solemnity is celebrated on weekdays every year in the proper of saints, but by the larger community only when it falls on a Sunday, about once every seven years.”
According to Honoré, the effect created, is one of individual, interior reflection on God’s great gift of “us.”
“Our innermost being, before we were even in our mother’s womb, a gift so wonderfully made by God, is us – so, we praise God for each and every one, individually made, created, unique and loved,” he said, and paraphrased Bishop Richard J. Sklba’s comments at confirmations, “there is only one of each of us in the entire past, present and future.”
Honoré’s Psalm 139 setting was used for the solemnity as he traveled with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan to Rome during his Pallium pilgrimage. It was also used for the Vatican II Award Vespers.
“So we have a history of using it for special occasions,” he said, adding, “I am extremely proud that we used it to pray for the vespers in honor of Cardinal Harvey.”
For the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII, on June 3 of this year, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee commissioned David Sanders, director of liturgy and music at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, to set a text from Ephesians to music. This Ephesians Canticle, “God Chose us” was performed at the vesper service.
“I was very excited and very surprised when Dean called me about using this piece,” said Sanders. “I think it is wonderful to have the chance to write something, to have it performed, and in our case as part of prayer. So, that for me personally, this is the same kind of excitement I get in having a piece published, and in this case something I wrote for an occasion and performed again and having people sing it.”
Sanders, who has published a variety of handbell music, ritual music and psalms, said there is great talent and much happening in the Milwaukee Archdiocese that is often off the public radar.
“We have so much activity and so many talented individuals who work and do their ministry here. The archdiocese provides support and encouragement to what people are doing and the Office of Prayer and Worship is so appreciative of music and liturgical gatherings,” he said. “This is just one expression of the way in which the archdiocese allows a lot of people to experience the gifts we have right here.”
Evening prayer always concludes with the praying of the “Canticle of Mary.” For this service, Daniels chose a melodic setting composed by Fr. Charles Conley, pastor of St. Jude Parish in Wauwatosa.
“This work, the Magnificat that they used on Friday is from a collection I did of “God of Light Be Praised,” and came after I was involved with a project of evening prayer composition for students and faculty of Notre Dame, where I attended school,” he explained. “There are two settings of the Magnificat in this collection.”
As a busy pastor, Fr. Conley, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Music from Alverno College, has little time to compose music, but uses some of his psalm settings for the Mass. He has also written newer adaptations of the Eucharistic Acclamations, and a new Doxology for the Presider for the “Great Amen” in his parish.
Fr. Conley, too, was surprised to receive the call from Daniels asking to use his compositions in the service.
“I was also delighted that they were using local composers for Cardinal Harvey, what a nice honor,” he said. “I knew him from the seminary, he was a year younger than me, so I remember him well from his early days in the seminary and I feel very honored in this small way to contribute to his celebration of his elevation to the rank of cardinal.”