Video Clips

Religious Themes in Music - Blog Entries

I’m uneasy about repurposed churches – sad that worship no longer goes on there, what is left being like an empty shell. If its new purpose is something artistic it takes away some of the sting. The Sea Church, with Jesus prominent in its stained-glass window, is the venue for the Ballycotton Sessions (RTE 2, Thursday) and last week’s episode featured performance and interviews with Mom + The Rebels, an unusual band that is all about contrast and comparison, with balance between Irish and American, banjo and bass, red hair and dreadlocks - a funky fusion of trad and gospel music. It was hard to tell if the whole thing was underpinned by a strong faith, an open curiosity drawn to faith or another empty shell, with only the musical trappings or flavour of gospel remaining. Part of the problem was not being able to hear all the lyrics clearly (maybe it’s my hearing!) – I’d certainly recommend foregrounding the lyrics more. Whatever the case I loved the vibrant delivery – it’s so good to see performers enjoying their work on stage, and all enhanced by the fluid camera work. Capturing the essence and energy of a musical performance on film is an art in itself.
The lead singers and writers are Lisa Canny from Co Mayo and DeJay Edmund from Maryland USA, via the UK and France and their rendition of the gospel flavoured song ‘Follow’ was a highlight – catchy and sung with confidence. ‘Down by the River’ was inspired by the Baptism scene in Oh Brother Where Art Thou. Their material is available on Spotify and of course you can listen back to the show on the RTE Player – see what you think!


Last Sunday Songs of Praise (BBC One) came from the Lincoln area, with presenter Sean Fletcher, who described Lent as a time when people challenge themselves, ‘dig deeper into their faith’, a ‘season for reflection and compassion’, with a ‘focus on prayer and care’. We saw children from a Catholic primary school in the area visiting the local cathedral to learn more about the striking Stations of the Cross – known as ‘The Forest Stations’, made from a variety of woods by artist William Fairbank,. The group was introduced by their teacher Pippa Tapfield as the ‘Shining Star’ liturgy team – what a great idea! Later we visited them in their classroom involved in another Lenten project – painting ‘positive pebbles’ to distribute in their local area. Canon Nick Brown explained how the Stations devotion grew from pilgrims’ desire to re-live their pilgrimages to the Holy Land to re-trace the Way of the Cross. The youngsters were inspiringly articulate in their expressions of faith.  The music tied in with Lenten themes, but Sean Fletcher said they’d get in one more celebratory hymn before the solemn season started – ‘Raise a Hallelujah!’ from a mainly youthful congregation in Derby was the highlight for me – upbeat and very contemporary in style. I liked the sentiments too – ‘up from the ashes hope will arise’.  

Temperance themes fit well with Lent, so it was particularly appropriate for Temperance Sunday to takes place just before Ash Wednesday. The televised Mass (RTE One, Sunday) explored such themes in such a positive way. The celebrant was Fr Robert McCabe, Central Spiritual Director of the Pioneer Association, which, we learned, was almost 125 years old. He was in the company of friends of Cuan Mhuire and Tabor House. Beautiful music was provided by the Schola choir from St Joseph’s Mercy school in Navan, under the direction of liturgical composer Ephrem Feeley, with accompanist David Burke. As with the previous programme it gives so much hope to see young people so involved in the life of their church.  In his homily Fr McCabe made generous reference to his ‘teachers’ in the area of addiction support – Sr Consilio and Sr Catherine. He still had ‘lots to learn’ and spoke of the support available to those ‘unwilling or unable to admit addiction’.  He called on us to ‘learn the vocabulary’ of addiction so that we would be in a better position to help those in that grip – this year the Pioneer calendar linked the 12 months with the 12 Steps of the AA programme. Also recommended was a Lenten Pledge as a sign of solidarity. Check it all out at  


These days you’d need some infusion of hope and joy. Lent at Ephesus (EWTN, last Sunday) was just what the spiritual doctor ordered. We followed the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles from the USA as they recorded a Lenten CD of their tranquil chants and hymns. One observer reckoned they sang more than they talked! There was a regularity to their daily routine of prayer, chant, work and modest meals, but the music was central. Mother Cecilia spoke of her music education and how she played in an orchestra for a few years after graduating. She had a house and a car but all along felt God’s call to religious life, and eventually found peace in following that vocation.  
Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbon of De Montfort Music heard their singing and worked with them to produce the Lent at Ephesus CD (available on Spotify). The tracks played in the background during the programme, though I would have liked better synchronisation with footage of the sisters singing. This wouldn’t be my own favourite kind of music, but I was particularly drawn to ‘God of Mercy and Compassion’ and ‘O Sacred Head Surrounded’ with Bach’s familiar melody (also borrowed by Paul Simon for ‘American Tune’).  
I was struck by the age profile of the sisters – most were young and it seemed quite a large community. I’d love to have heard vocation stories from more of the sisters.  Mother Cecilia was glad to be able to ‘share the beauty of sacred music’ and prayed it will help many to love God all the more. 
Listen to the album on Spotify


Last Sunday we had the feast day of the Baptism of Jesus, and Songs of Praise (BBC One, Sunday) had a special on Baptism for the occasion. Sean Fletcher reported from Liverpool cathedral where the main baptismal font was quite impressive. It was near the entrance to the cathedral and featured several tableaux in stone as well as a symbolic water feature on the surrounding floor area. There was also a colourful icon of Jesus’ Baptism, among the several artistic depictions of the event. It was great to see young couples enthusiastic about having their babies baptised, with young Godparents conscious of their responsibilities. We saw several total immersion baptisms, from a Pentecostal Church and an Orthodox Ethiopian community whose celebrations were dramatic and colourful. Most of the songs were from packed congregations pre-coronavirus, though my favourite was a recent outdoor performance by vocal group Stellina, who sang, appropriately, Wade in the Water.


Niall Carroll’s Classical Daytime 
(RTE Lyric fm) also caught my attention leading up to Christmas Day – it featured The Universal Mass, a new setting of the sung parts of the mass by J.J. O’Shea which was given two outings. On the Thursday the Irish based African Gospel Choir, led by Tomilola Allen-Taylor, got to perform these new pieces in the Yoruba language. The singing was beautiful as they gave their interpretation of the medieval chants, though in marrying the styles we didn’t get the usual infectious rhythms you’d expect from a gospel choir. (Listen here, at around the 1:02:20 mark). On the Thursday it was the turn of Cork singer-songwriter Emma Langford and her interpretation was very different, featuring an arrangement by guitarist Paul de Grae, with a string quartet.  Langford’s vocals soared as she committed wholeheartedly to the pieces. Listen here, around the 1:00:55 mark. For the composer’s vision for this imaginative venture see this article on the RTE website.

One of my regular Christmas time favourites was A Christmas Leap of Faith (RTE Radio 1, Christmas Day) with Michael Comyn. While the regular Friday night Leap of Faith can deal with thorny topics this was a relaxed exploration of some seasonal themes, but also touching on deep and challenging human issues. There was a diverse group of guests – clerics, poets, musicians and writers. There were Christmas memories, an awareness of giftedness, an appreciation that Christmas can be difficult for some people, a consciousness of the empty places around the Christmas table, whether from bereavement or varying degrees of isolation. Musically we had Blanaid Murphy and the Palestrina Choir, along with Angela O’Floinn’s songs from a new album of carols in Irish, Glór na nAingeal – what we heard was beautiful  (check it out at and the Bandcamp website, where you can hear samples).  Covid did cast a shadow for the second year running, but the concluding song, Joy to the World, was the perfect song to finish the programme. Listen back here.

The first time I heard of the town of Arundel in England it was in connection with the intriguing poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ by Philip Larkin.  Unfortunately the tomb, in nearby Chichester , with its romantic husband and wife statues did not figure in last Sunday’s Songs of Praise (BBC One).  We did learn about the Dukes of Norfolk that stayed true to their Catholic faith despite persecution. One of these, Philip Howard was canonised under Pope Paul VI. He had tried to adapt to the new Protestant ways under Queen Elizabeth I, but reverted to Catholicism and then wrote her a letter explaining why he felt he had to flee the country. Unfortunately he was intercepted in the Channel and jailed in the Tower of London for 10 years until he died. Henry, the 15th Duke had the local church built for his 21st birthday, and this later became a cathedral, as explained by the Right Rev Richard Moth, Bishop of Brighton and Arundel.
Also in Arundel are the Poor Clare Sisters, who established their community there in 1886. Last year they became famous when their album ‘Light for the World’ topped the classical charts. The sisters hoped it captured the essence of their way of life and would bring God to people.  It came at a particularly suitable time, the start of the pandemic.  The music in the show was uplifting as always, though it was tinged with sadness as we watched older recordings with the massed congregational singing that is no more for now. I particularly liked Newman’s hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the Highest’ and the more contemporary ‘Everlasting Arms’ from an outdoor summery worship gathering in Eastbourne.  I was also much taken with the more pared back ‘Standing on the Promises of God’, sung  by Monique McKen, winner last year’s Gospel Singer of the Year. And what better way to end the programme than with ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’. [added to, 23/7/21]


At Home With the Gettys
on BBC One last week was a profile of singer songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty at home in Northern Ireland. They are best known for their hymn 'In Christ Alone', but I have found that all their work is marked by well crafted lyrics set to beatutiful and memorable melodies. While their songs have been sung by millions all over the world their own renditions still make an impact – in this programme we got clips from big concerts in Nashville (they lived and toured in the USA for 15 years) but also intimate fireside songs with just the two of them (I want that stove and those logs!). In particular I loved ‘My Worth is not in what I Own’ (see video above) – a message eternally relevant.
Both were influenced by being brought up in Christian households with early exposure to music in church. Keith said  that despite the international dimension to his work, he owed so much to his Northern Ireland Presbyterian background. He said it was important to tell the full truth and while the music speaks so much of love and beauty he said he got into controversy over including references to God’s wrath and hell, and when requested he wouldn’t remove the ‘offending’ verse from ‘In Christ Alone’. He claimed that song started a revolution in 21st Century hymn writing, but I’d like to have heard more about the development of hymn singing and litutgical music across all the Christian traditions and across the whole of Ireland.

The Night Watchmen’s Nativity
(Sky Arts, last Sunday) was a contemporary and imaginative take on the seasonal story, with vibrant gospel music from the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir. The emphasis was on the night watchmen that were, according to this version, hired by the better off shepherds, at the original nativity. These were outsiders, marginalised people who were transformed by the light of the stable. There was a modern social justice slant, but the treatment was entirely earnest and respectful. Some songs were familiar, e.g. The City by Stevie Wonder, and the filming style was quite distinctive - very dark but ultimately joyful. It was unusual, but great to see people doing something different with the familiar story while respecting its essence. (repeated Sun 13 Dec 7.30 am)

Away from the fractious debates, last Sunday’s Songs of Praise (BBC One) was a tonic. The focus was on modern hymn writers, and while presenter Aled Jones’ pieces to camera and some of the interviews were new, they relied, as so many shows do these days, on archive material. Among these featuring was Catholic composer Bernadette Farrell and we got a fine rendition of her well known song ‘Christ Be Our Light’. She was humbled to hear how her songs connected with people – particularly so when she heard from a prison chaplain about how this song of hers was popular with inmates. She thought hymns should be challenging and we learned how her work sometimes dealt with modern issue like threat to the environment. For Graham Kendrick hymns were a blend of experience poetry and theology – he wanted to sing his faith and wrote so that people could ‘sing the truth’ – he performed one of his best known modern worship songs ‘Shine Jesus Shine’. 
Kendrick was one of those featured in the YouTube hit ‘UK Blessing’ which was replayed on the show – it’s one of those virtual choir split screen performances, and if you liked that try also the wonderful version of ‘Be Not Afraid’ on YouTube by Catholic Artists From Home. 

I’ve never been that much of a lover of Barbara Streisand’s music or acting but I have been a long-time fan of Leonard Cohen and have fond memories of seeing him live in the 3 Arena. What connects them apart from music is their Jewish heritage, which was explored with Michael Comyn by historian Yanky Fachler on The Leap of Faith (RTE Radio 1) last Friday. Both were proud of this heritage – Fachler pointed out whimsically that Streisand changed neither name nor nose to get ahead in the entertainment industry though she was advised to do both!
Leonard Cohen didn’t change his name either and right to the end his Jewish heritage was important to him. For his last album before his death he got the cantor and choir from the synagogue in Montreal where he had his own bar mitzvah to sing on the title track ‘You Want It Darker’  with its haunting refrain ‘I’m Ready Lord’.
Of course Cohen’s influences and related allusions ranged far and wide from Judaism to Buddhism to Christianity – for example he co-wrote the beautiful ‘Song of Bernadette’ with Jennifer Warnes and duetted with her on the intriguing ‘Joan of Arc’.

I've been listening to Liam Lawton's new CD collection High Is the Heaven and it's a wonderful treaure trove for those looking for spiritual choral music or just relaxing religious music for personal reflection. Lawton shares vocal duties with Hannah Evans, Ardhú and the Dublin Chamber Singers, providing a varied interplay of voices. The Psalms are prominent, so expect some of these arrangements to surafce in your local churches as choirs get acquainted with the material.
One of these, the opening track 'The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor', was written for the Papal Mass of Pope Francis on his visit to Ireland. 'There's a Star' is a beautifully atmospheric Christmas song - "There's a whisper on this cold, cold, night". Most of the songs are slow and reflective, but the title track 'High Is the Heaven' has a nice lilt to it, and a creation/ecological theme - "what of the world, that it may reflect/the presence of God, this beauty on earth". Likewise with one of the older songs 'In the presence of the Angels' - "Praise God, O sun and moon/and all you shining stars/and in the waters deep'. What is probably Lawton's greatest 'hit', 'The Cloud's Veil', is given a new outing here as a bonus track and it's a fine choral version.
There are subtle Celtic elements throughout - as Lawton says in his sleeve notes (why I still love physical CDs!) - 'The beauty of the spirituality of this ancient land is found in all these pieces'.

In the Studio – Singing for the Pope (New Year’s Eve, BBC World Service)). This fascinating documentary explored the work of the Sistine Chapel Choir as they prepared for the Christmas vigil Mass in the Vatican.  Presenter Glyn Tansley told us that this choir is one of the oldest choirs in the world dating from before the building of the Sistine Chapel itself – with its origins in a group of Vatican singers from the 4th Century. Tansley himself wasn’t particularly religious but found the chapel awe-inspiring and was hugely enthusiastic about the music. I liked his idea that the music breathed life into the amazing paintings in the chapel. We learned that one of the famous composers for the group, Palestrina, worked in the chapel at the same time as Michelangelo, and that the choir gallery even had some historical graffiti – from 16th Century composer Josquin Des Prez.   Pope Francis had described the choir as ‘a high place for artistic liturgical expression' and there was a funny story about how he inadvertently interrupted a choir recording by ringing the chapel doorbell to pay a visit. One chorister, a Polish man honoured to be the first Polish singer in the choir, spoke of how it helped him to feel ‘completely connected’ with his religion, making feel like a ‘true person’ – the music wasn’t just something nice and aesthetic. You can listen back here.


I was delighted to get to see Matt Maher in concert again last Thursday night in the beautiful venue that is St Paul's, Arran Quay, centre for so many initiatives to do with young people and religious faith. Encourage your senior students to connect! Or maybe bring them to an event in the next school year? It was as much a worship event as a concert and spirits were high. It helped to have the lyrics on screen, and even so I was surprised by how many people (mostly young) were so familiar with his music. Many of his songs are pretty much anthems by now - I especially like 'Lord I Need You', 'Because He Lives' and 'Your Love Defends Me'. And he didn't just stick to his own material - there was a powerful rendition of '10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)' by Matt Redman.  I also like the songs that were less overtly religious – e.g. the tender ‘As Good as it Gets’. He accompanied most songs on guitar but towards the end he showed how accomplished he was on piano as well - I'd love to see more of this! Also, his patter between songs was both light and deep, witty and insightful. 

Helena Connolly was a guest on last Friday night’s Leap of Faith on RTE Radio 1. Helena has just launched what sounds like an attractive book, ‘Prayerful Ireland’, a combination of her photographs of prayerful places around Ireland combined with extracts from Scripture.  She’s had a versatile career so far, working with the dioceses of Clogher and Kerry in youth and liturgy ministries.  Growing up in a Catholic family in the border area, she had a strong identity as a Catholic though she did admit to falling away somewhat from the faith when she was studying music in Queens University.  Now she was passionate for the Word of God to be heard.
Music is a major part of her life – from gigging with bands in the past to writing spiritual songs and being involved in liturgical music. She sang live, a touching song ‘Where You Lead’, inspired by her grandparents and drawn from her CD ‘The Reason Why’. She had important messages about religion and young people – she found them attracted to pilgrimage (e.g. to Taizé and Lourdes) and to the idea of faith linked to service. She found them drawn to social justice and to being with other young people in faith.  All in all it was a relaxing, easy-going and positive interview.
The second item on the show also featured an artistic woman, Ciara Ní Cheallacháin, the creative person behind the art installation currently in St Patrick’s Cathedral – a stunning display of 36,000 paper leaves, each one representing an Irish life lost in the First World War. I was glad the focus was on what the Very Reverend Dr. William Morton, Dean of the Cathedral, called 'the sheer magnitude of loss', and the ongoing need for reconciliation and healing.  He hoped the installation would inspire visitors to constantly pray for peace. Listen back here.

Last Friday night it was a relaxing  Leap of Faith  (RTE Radio 1), when presenter Michael Comyn covered ‘Aifreann’ a new Irish language Mass setting with music composed by Kevin O’Connell and premiered in the Pro-Cathedral last Sunday. This was a timely commission by seven families mostly connected to UCD.
From one of these families Linda O’Shea-Farren spoke of how excited, ‘almost giddy’, they were in anticipation of the first performance. Those commissioning thought it was time to advance from the familiar O’Riada Mass, but wanted something accessible, something that could be sung by school and parish choirs. For the premier they were thrilled to have the Palestrina Choir under the direction of Blanaid Murphy – a ‘magnificent choir’ of ‘high calibre’.
O’Connell explained that this was his second Mass composition, having previously done one in Latin. He regarded the commission as a privilege, but also a big responsibility – this wasn’t just a concert performance but had to fit right in with an actual liturgy. He thought music could be an ‘intensification of prayer’ rather than a distraction and this is what he had tried to achieve.  We could also sense the enthusiasm in choir director Blanaid Murphy and we heard from two very articulate and enthusiastic young singers from the choir.


Arena: Bob Dylan – Trouble No More graced BBC 4 on Good Friday night. This was a newly released film version of one of his Gospel concerts from the 1980’s, when he had found God in Christianity. Not all his fans were impressed and in the opening scenes we saw a few of them complaining that he wasn’t signing his usual songs. Instead there were gospel songs like 'Slow Train Coming' (from Dylan's first Christian album) 'Saved' and 'Gotta Serve Somebody'. It was quite a passionate performance from Dylan, joined by a gospel group singing backup and first rate musicians.  Most peculiarly, the songs were interspersed with recently filmed sermons, from a fictional evangelist who preached about everything from sin, through the ‘demon alcohol’, to how fast food damages our bodies, temples of God. It was a strange mixture of contemporary concerns in old style revivalist mode, reportedly approved by the unpredictable Dylan himself.


I realised recently that this September marks the 10th anniversary of Faitharts! Doesn't feel like it though. I had hoped to blog about the 'Resource of the Day' that I've been posting on the Facebook page but haven't been doing too well on that. Today's resource is the song 'Now Is the Time for Tears' by Charlie Peacock from the album Coram Deo. I have used the song many times in the school prayer room and it is particularly suitable for the month of November or on occasions where there is sadness in the school. Based on Job: 2:11-13 and Romans 12:15 it offers advice when we don't quite know how to console those who mourn - 'Cry with me don't try to fix me friend/That's how you'll comfort me'. It would be particularly suitable as well as a musical illustration of the Beatitude 'Blessed are those who mourn ...'.


Now that I've got the email newsletter back up and running for the school year, and have restarted the 'Resource of the Day' feature on the Facebook page I can turn my attention to the blog. Perhaps it would be a good idea to flag the 'Resource of the Day' here as well, for those who are not on Facebook. Today's resource was the song 'What About the Love' by Janis Ian and Kyle Fleming. In class I've used the version by Amy Grant (video clip above). I find the words rather striking - themes of love, compassion, power delusion and being judgmental. I particularly like the last verse punchline. The lyrics are here.

Last night there was another good session for Ecumenical Bible Week, this time in the local Methodist Church, with Ian Callanan speaking about The Bible and Music. Mr Callanan treated to the audience to lots of background information on how music features in the Bible and what instruments were used in Biblical times. He had the audience singing as well as he took us on a musical journey from Creation to the Revelation. Finally there was a helpful handout for people to reflect on what they had learned.

Lots of catching up to do here. I've been fortunate to attend several wonderful events in the last while. One of the best was the Michael Card concert in Liberty Hall last Friday night. I've been a fan of Card for years and it was great finally get to see him live, and I wasn't disappointed. The night was like a kind of musical sermon - apart from the great songs his chat between songs featured much thought-provoking reflection of scripture, and while it was challenging it was also easy on the ear, gentle, witty and wise! The familar songs were there - Joy in the Journey, Immanuel and a fine rendition of Why, songs I've used many times in school prayer services. It was great to get added insights into the songs from his introductions. El Shaddai was notable by its absence, but he did try some new material, all of it good.

A bonus on the night was the support act, husband and wife team John and Michelle Thompson from Nashvile. They sang some folk-gospel duets - hope they back for a full tour.


Had a great concert in Arklow last Thursday night with Beth Nielsen Chapman. I think I can safely say it's the first gig I ever ran when somebody sang in Latin! She did a lovely version of Mozart's 'Ave Verum Corpus', and also another spiritual song 'Pray' that she sang recently on BBC's Songs of Praise. And she sang her moving song about bereavement, 'Sand and Water'. What a treat, and what a lovely person! I was also inspired by her encouraging words about creativity and her songwriting advice given at a workshop with the music students in Arklow CBS. Chapman was accompanied by Ruth Trimble from Belfast who also impressed with her own thoughtful and well-crafted songs.


Listening to songs on her recent album 'Uncovered' I was struck by how useful many of them would be when studying marriage, especially with senior classes. 'Simple Things' suggests we concentrate on what's important in a relationship, 'Here We Are' reflects on a relationship that grows strong through challenging times, 'Sweet Love Shine' could be taken to address a loved one or God perhaps, 'Pray' reflects on the role of prayer when relationships run into difficulty, 'Maybe That's All It Takes' deals with forgiveness as a way to overcome relationship difficulties, 'Strong Enough to Bend' suggests compromise and flexibility as way to overcome. Songs can be previewed or purchased individually here.


Yikes, too long since I've written here. Note to self for Lent - update more often! Biggest update for now - I'm organising a concert with Nashville Singer-Songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman in the Arklow Bay Hotel on Thurs 1st May at 8.30 pm. She has at least two Emmy nominations, her songs have been recorded by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Bette Midler, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, The Indigo Girls, Michael McDonald, Amy Grant, Keb Mo’, Roberta Flack, Waylon Jennings, Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, and many more. Of interest to Faitharts readers is the fact that she has released some spiritual albums, the most striking being 'Hymns', beautiful versions of the Latin hymns of her childhood. See Faitharts reviews of some of her albums here. He most recent album Uncovered (pic on left) has her own versions of songs recorded by others and features a most beautiful song 'Pray', with Amy Grant and Muriel Anderson on backing vocals. Tickets are 25 Euro, but you can buy a pair for 40 Euro up to April 30th. I'm organising ticket outlets at the moment, but for now you can order by emailing me at

I thought Chapman provided the best performance on last Sunday night's Songs of Praise when she sang 'I Find Your Love' The choral work and congregational singing was fine as well, and there was a particularly seasonal song 'Forty Days and Forty Nights' that I hadn't heard before. There aren't too many songs specifically about Lent. Check out my 'Resources for Lent' page to hear that song.

Sad to hear of this week of the death of Pete Seeger, legend of American Folk music. His protest songs, like 'We Shall Overcome', often had their origins in gospel music, and so much more of his work was dedicated to the cause of justice. He had at least one album of Christmas carols - 'Traditional Christmas Carols' (pictured left). He was a huge influence on singers like Don McLean, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Arlo Guthrie and so many more. Check out his performance (Video clip below) of a recent song - 'God's Counting on Me, God's Counting on You'



I got even more into the Christmas spirit last weekend by attending an Anúna concert in St Bartholomew's Church, Ballsbridge, last weekend. In fact it was the Christmas material that I liked most about the concert - there was a particularly fine version of 'Away in a Manger', a sprightly 'Ding Dong Merrily on High', and some traditional songs like the 'Coventry Carol' and the 'Wexford Carol'. Of the less seasonal material I loved the round 'Jerusalem', especially when the singers moved around the Church with candles (as they did for several songs) to create an interesting soundscape and a striking visual effect. Michael McGlynn added some quirky humour, and also worth noting is his comment as to how he regrets the Catholic Church making enough of its musical heritage. Probably true, in some parishes at least, but then you can also have churches with hugely impressive choral work, but so good that it deters the congregation from participating, and could direct more attention to the choir than to God!

I really got into the Christmas mood last Wednesday when I got to Liam Lawton's 'Celtic Christmas' concert in the Civic Theatre Tallaght. I was won over straight away when he opened the concert with one of my Christmas favourites 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear'. The night was a mixture of Christmas standards and Lawton's original material, including some songs not directly related to Christmas, like his song 'The Coud's Veil'. Most of the Christmas songs were from his new album Bethlehem Sky, just released. The title track is particularly beautiful and was inspired, Lawton told us, by a visit to the Holy Land. One of the standout moments of the night was when Lawton took to the piano himself and sang a medley of familiar carols. A few years ago I was at a Lawton concert and thought there was too much use of electronics, and while there was a little of that, the backing band provided some fine live music - especially effective was Nigel Davey on button accordeon. Lawton's easy manner won the audience over and he had them singing along with gusto.

Time to recap on a few gigs I've been at recently, where I've heard a few songs that might be of use to RE teachers. A few weeks ago I got to see US singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes in the Seamus Ennis Centre in The Naul, Co. Dublin, a fine venue if a bit out of the way! Rhodes sometimes includes spiritual material in her recordings, and one the best at this gig was her song God's Acre, a simple and optimistic song about death and the afterlife - 'I'm going home to God's Acre/Where my loved ones wait for me'. Another one to add to the list of suitable songs for remembrance in November.
More recently I went to see upcoming singer Joanna Burke from Dublin singing in the 'Third Space' cafe in Smithfield, an excellent venue with an emphasis on hospitality and good food, with good music on a Friday night. Her rendition of Patty Griffin's song 'Forgiveness' was a standout - 'Don't need to tell me a thing, baby/ We've already confessed/ And I raised my voice to the air/And we were blessed/Everybody needs a little forgiveness'. Apart from lines like this the imagery is challenging at times and it's not entirely clear what the overall message is.
Best gig of all was last Friday in Waterford's Garter Lane Theatre. Krista Detor from Illinois USA gave an excellent concert with songs that were literate and entertaining. One of the best was 'Clock of the World' (video above), just about the only song I know that marries the beauty of faith and the beauty of science without any conflict between them. In her introduction Detor referred wryly to having a mixed Catholic and Lutheran background, which, she said, left her 'confused'! But she was critical of arbitrary conflicts between science and faith, as she urged people to allow them to work away on their own distinctive paths.
Finally, I was impressed by a gig with Leslie Dowdall and the String Factory in the Conary Arts Centre near Avoca last Saturday night. Dowdall was an engaging performer and was hugely complemented by John Nolan and John Hunt on guitar, bouzouki and vocals. They did a fine version of the old gospel song 'Wayfarin' Stanger' along with many originals and covers.

Last weekend I got to the City of Derry International Choral Festival, and what a musical feast! There was a sacred music competition on the Sunday which was an impressive mix of modern and traditional, from Avro Part's setting for 'The Deer's Cry', sung by the Clermont Chorale of Dundalk and Cór Mhaigh Eo, to the gospel sounding 'My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord' by Moses Hogan, performed by the winning choir Voci Nuove from Cork (pic on left). In the high profile international competition on the Saturday night it was also noteworthy how many of the choirs sang religious music as part of their programme. The Cois Claddaigh choir from Galway sang the beautiful 'Beannacht' by Eamon Murray, the charismatic Polifonica choir from Belarus sang an 'Easter Canon', the youthful Ad Solem chamber choir from England sang 'Behold, O God Our Defender', the New Dublin Voices included a version of Psalm 96, while the winning choir, Voci Nuove again, had the most striking 'Molaimis go léir an tAon-Mhac Críost' by Ben Hanlon from Waterford. That competition had a guest performance from the Gospel Singers Incognito, a choir that featured prominently on Britain's Got Talent. After the wonderful acoustic performances of the competing choirs it was a bit jarring when they got mic'd up, but they certainly got the crowd going - all the phone lights were on for 'This Little Light of Mine'. They were more spontaneous and delightfully informal later on at the Festival Club. The festival also featured a dedicated gospel music competition, school choirs and a 'Sacred Trail' of music in churches on the Sunday morning, when I managed to catch the fine music of the local St Eugene's Cathedral Choir and their guests the St Mary's Pro-Cathedral Choir from Dublin. It was the inaugural festival for Derry's City of Culture year and all in all a wondererful integration and celebration of faith and culture.

Last Wednesday I went to see Joe Henry playing a concert in Whelans. Henry is a US singer-songwriter who is widely known as a producer as well - recently he produced albums for Bonnie Raitt and Lisa Hannigan. His songs sometimes feature spiritual or religious themes or imagery, the best known example being 'God Only Knows' which featured on Bonnie Raitt's recent album. Unfortunately he didn't sing that one on the night, but the gig was really enjoyable. Henry's songs repay repeated listenings as their meanings are certainly not yielded up easily. He said onstage that his wife regards his songs as 'obtuse'! They are definitely genuine and thought-provoking, performed with passion! The icing on the cake was Lisa Hannigan doing backing vocals and playing mandolin (see pic).

Looking back through highlights of WYD in Rio I came across this striking performance by Matt Maher, of 'Lord I Need You'. I think it's the first time I've seen anyone performing from a kneeling position!


I was most impressed by the art work and music at the World Youth Day ceremonies that I saw on TV and online. However what stood out for me was Judy Bailey's performance of her own song 'Life Goes On' at the WYD vigil. I'm including the video here. It seems to be about saying goodbye to a loved one who has died so it may well bring a few tears, but what a beatiful and touching song! The full WYD vigil is available for viewing here.

Have been listening to some good new music recently (new to me at least) - Canadian Dave Gunning's song 'These Hands' (above) would be particularly good on the vocation/service theme. It's on his current album No More Pennies. The song has already inspired a children's book of the same name. The book features 17 vibrant, original illustrations by Meaghan Smith, as well as the lyrics and sheet music to the song. More info here.

Journey into Love (Songs for the Road) is a fine new album by Chris Taylor, which includes some well crafted meditations on St Paul's words about love, a contemporary version of 'Amazing Grace' and more. 'Broken (I Will Wait)' is one of the best tracks (see below)

On my Spirit Radio slot last Friday I flagged two particularly good CDs - Drowning in the Shallow is the latest release from Andy Flanagan, a singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland but based in London. This a fine album - the lyrics deal with issues of brokenness, relationships, superficiality, with a subtle spiritual theme and a social conscience in many of the songs. The title track gives a good indication of the style and content, while "The Reason" is a catchy commercial song. Throughout the singing is clear and confident, while the musical backing and harmony vocals perfectly complement the words.
The second album I reviewed was Redemption by American gospel singer Trish Standley. I'm not a great fan of the rap and dance tracks, but "Cheer Up" is an excellent scriptural song, while "Here I Am" is a beatiful ballad style hymn. What's im pressive about her album is the variety of styles, all performed with committment and professionalism.

On Saturday night last I went to a gig by Kimmie Rhodes a singer-songwriter from Texas. What a treat! Apart from the folk-country type songs she sang a few gospel numbers - in particular "Bells of Joy" and "God's Acre". Well worth checking out. She has regularly included gospel/spiritual songs on her albums. What I wasn't expecting however was her son Gabriel who accompanied her on guitar mainly - it was like the instrument was part of him - blistering lead ascoustic, and sensitive accompaniment as well as subtle backing vocals, not to mention percussion and melodica - first time I ever saw that instrument used in a Roots music setting. It was my first time in the Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre in the Naul in North County Dublin and I have to say it's an excellent venue - you can get a fine meal in the coffee shop and head into the gig when you're finished. I'll be back!

In the last week, I've been doing some end-of-term prayer services on the theme of thanksgiving/gratitude. I searched for some suitable songs to accompany the various thanksgiving prayers, and came up with the following (I'd love to hear more suggestions) - "In Gratitude I Sing", by Sarah McQuaid from her recent album The Plum Tree and the Rose (see entry for 27/4/12 below to listen to this song);"Give Thanks to the Lord (Psalm 107)" by John Michael Talbot, from Songs for Worship Vols 1 and II; "Thank You My Lord" by Beth Nielsen Chapman from her album Prism; "Thanksgiving Song" by Mary Chapin Carpenter from her album Twelve Songs of Christmas; and "Give Thanks All Ye People" by The Hutchisons from their album Songs.

Last night I got to experience the wonderful music of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, currently on tour in Ireland (see News page). The event was a concert in Gorey, Co. Wexford - I realised last night for the first time that the venue, St Michael's Church in Gorey, was designed by the famous architect Pugin. The acoustics were excellent as the choir worked its way through a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring set of songs covering the liturgical year and more. Many of the songs were written, and conducted on the night, by choir director Stever Warner, who also managed to play guitar accompaniment. He was aided by some very talented musicians on violin, flute, piccolo (superb playing) percussion and organ. And what a variety of styles - Latin American, just plain Latin, Celtic and traditional. Warner's The Lord's Prayer was one of the best I've heard; "Bless the Corners of this House" was a touching thank you to the families hosting the choir; there was a fine version of St Patrick's breastplate, an African American spiritual "Cross Cry", and a most beatiful setiing of Newman's Lead Kindly Light. I bought their CD "From Gethsemane to Galway - Live in Concert" and will post a review soon.

Last night I hosted a concert in Arklow with Sarah McQuaid. And what an impressive singer-songwriter! Some of her material has spiritual resonance - two I like in particular: a lovely song of thankfulness, "In Gratitude I Sing", and a touching reflection on those who have gone before us "In Derby Cathedral". Listen to them here below. Both songs are from her new album The Plum Tree and the Rose.

Last Sunday night Would You Believe (RTE 1) ended its current season with the appealing story of TeenspiriT, an initiative to bring young people closer to their Catholic faith through music. A major success in Kerry for the last few years, the organisers now seek to bring the spirit to Dublin. The programme followed their enthusiastic efforts to get ready for this Sunday night's live show in the Olympia. The Kerry team were finding it hard to impact with the faith message, but they were certainly generating an infectious enthusiasm for the music, an experience they hope will bear fruit in the future. The programme can be seen here on the RTE Player until Sunday 13th May. Read more about TeenspiriT here.

Went to see the Emmanuel 2012 concert last Wednesday night in the Helix and what a treat! 700 young people singing religious songs with gusto - and over 2000 when you add the three nights together. My own school was well represented, and two of our students got solos. And there certainly were some strong solos this year. The backing musicians were excellent as always - I was particularly impressed by the piano, guitar and sax playing. One of the highlights of the night was the group from St Mary's School for the Deaf who signed their way through all the material - their persentation was beautuiful, graceful and inspiring. (see clip above for a news item)
The material was introduced as "quality liturgical music" and it was certainly that and more. A lot of the songs had Eucharist as a theme, deliberately so I presume with the International Eucharistic Congress coming up in June. The Congress theme song, "Though We Are Many" by Bernard Sexton really felt like an anthem on the night. There were a few pieces from Liam Lawton's Glendalough Mass, along with "Take and Eat, This is My Body", by Ian Callanan, who was conductor for the night. I also liked his re-working of the old hymn "O Sacrament Most Holy". "Were Not Our Hearts", also by Callanan, is a fine song about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. There were some crowd pleasing foot stompers like "Trading My Sorrows" and "Over My Head", but the final "Amen" really lifted the roof.

I've been watching some music programmes, two in particular, that reflect different approaches to the world. The Voice of Ireland (RTE 1, Sunday nights) could become addictive if you get drawn into the lives of these real people. The best thing about it is the quality of the singers, and there's no denying that. But there's a lot I don't like about it - the gimmick of having the judges initially sitting with their backs to the performers was awkward I thought, and quite honestly I often find the approach of the judges irritating. There's the in-built disappointment-as-entertainment - such shows are not a success, it seems, unless there are public tears. It's not the Coliseum, but it feeds the same unpleasant desires some people have to see others brought down. And as for the last two weeks - having excellent singers singing duets where only one of them goes through is a terrible idea. The superb Scottish folk singer Eddi Reader turned up on the show as a voice coach, which surprised me, because she was much more at home on The Transatlantic Sessions, currently in its fifth season, Friday nights on RTE 1 and BBC 4. Now this is a music show you could really enthuse about - top-notch folk, blues, country and traditional musicians and singers sitting around a house in Scotland playing and singing their hearts out and obviously loving every minute of it. This a world full of creativity and genuine spirit, free of gimmickry and narrow competitiveness. They don't often include a gospel song, but last Friday night's episode on RTE 1 (you can catch it this Friday night on BBC 4) ended with a mighty gospel song, "Jesus" sung by Amos Lee with an all-star backing group including Declan O'Rourke, writer of "Galileo". I can see myself using this song in my TY Religion classes at a leter stage - the whole fifth series is now available on DVD.
Eddi Reader made a third appearance, busy woman, on the John Murray Show (RTE Radio 1) on Wednesday of last week. Apart from singing some fine songs in studio she spoke of her reluctance to be on that Voice of Ireland show. She was disgusted by the typical TV talent shows like the X-Factor and didn't like the idea of sitting in judgement on the talent of others. She was finally persuaded to try it by Brian Kennedy - the crucial factor for her was that all those involved were themselves musicians. Eventually she felt so bad about one contestant losing that she gave him a slo
t singing with her on stage. I think she should stick with the genuine and avoid the razzmatazz!

Got to experience a bit of Heaven last Tuesday night at the National Concert Hall - event was the Transatlantic Sessions, featuring some superb folk musicians and singers, a veritable folk orchestra playing great instrumentals and accompanying great singers like Eddi Reader, Raul Malo (of the Mavericks), Karen Matheson and Paul Brady who turned by surprise for the encore, a mighty version of "Hey Good Lookin'". The only religious interest was the spiritual imagery in the song "Galileo" sung on the night by singer-songwriter Declan O'Rourke who really impressed. The TV show of the same name started last night on RTE at 7.30 and wlill run for the next few weeks. If you missed it you catch it on BBC 4 where the new season starts next Friday Fri 17th February at 8.30 pm.

Last week I got to see the Secret Sisters live at the Sugar Club in Leeson St, Dublin - first time there and what a great venue! I've been playing their album frequently since Christmas and have been impressed by the sweet country harmony singing. They sound a little like the Everly Brothers, a suggestion they commented on at the gig. There's one gospel song on the album - House of Gold (see it here), an old Hank Williams song, and on the night they sang a beautiful version of In the Sweet Bye and Bye (see it here), and their own River Jordan - (see it here). Can't see myself using any of these in class as my students are not exactly country music fans, but I find it uplifting and refreshing for myself, great aesthetic and spiritual nourishment. So there!

In Second Year classes I've been looking at the Beatitudes as part of a study of Discipleship and the Kingdom of God. Has fitted in nicely with Catholic Schools Week as well. Have been collecting resources on the Beatitudes for years, and have used some prayers from David Konstant's prayer book on the Beatitudes and the Rosary as part of prayer services for the week that's in it. A contemporay album devoted to the Beatitudes would be a great idea, and I'm surprised that someone like Liam Lawton, John Michael Talbot or Michael Card hasn't tried it. For the moment I've used songs like The Beatitudes by the Monks of Glenstal Abbey (clip on left) from their album "Biscantoret", Behold Now the Kingdom by John Michael Talbot, The Cloud's Veil by Liam Lawton - good for "Blesed are those who mourn" I think - and for the same Beatitude Now is the Time for Tears, by Charlie Peacock from the "Coram Deo" album. I hope at some stage to develop a special page for Beatitudes resources.

I caught Carole King and Friends at Christmas on BBC 4 on Christmas night, which mainly featured the secular music of the season. King herself, 70 years old next month and still going strong, impressed with standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and new song "New Year's Day", but there was a mellow version of "Silent Night" from Richard Hawley (clip on left has him singing this version on another occasion). Her own songs were from her new album "A Christmas Carole", which was released in USA as "A Holiday Carole" - different strokes for different markets! There was no such hedging on the Johnny Cash Christmas Special from 1970, shown on BBC 4 a few times in the last week or two - he clearly spoke about the Christian message in Christmas, no political correctness from the great man! Some might have found his spoken interludes a bit preachy, but could you complain when the fireside music session featured Cash, the Everly Brothers , Roy Orbison, the Carter Family and more?

Canadian singer Neil Young was the star of a great music documentary/concert film Heart of Gold shown on TG 4 Tues 27 December, and the heart of that film was two concert segments - one that featured his old songs like "Four Strong Winds" (by Ian and Sylvia Tyson) and one that showcased more recent material, including "When God Made Me" a rather ambiguous reflection on God's relationship with people: "Did he give me the gift of voice/so some could silence me?/Did he give me the gift of vision/not knowing what I might see?/Did he give me the gift of compassion/to help my fellow man? When God made me." The sound of someone searching, with lots of questions, but sometimes it seems our age is afraid of answers.


Got to hear lots of Christmas music over the holidays. One new song that impressed was "St Christopher", by the Lost Brothers, performed on The John Murray Show on Wed 21 Dec. Fortunately the video cameras were rolling.

Got another new Christmas CD.
A Christmas Carole is a cleverly titled album from singer-songwriter Carole King ("You've Got a Friend" among others), just released. For the most part these are secular standards like "Carol of the Bells" "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride", and they're sung well. There's also the traditional Jewish "Chanukah Prayer", and the more Christian "Do You Hear What I Hear". "My Favourite Things" was an unusual addition, though there are some Christmas references ("Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles"!). All in all it's a pleasant work but I'd like it to have been more adventurous, with some more original songs - the nearest we get is "Christmas Paradise" and "New Year's Day", both co-written by King's daughter Louise Goffin. You can hear track samples and watch a related video at Amazon.

It's that time of year again, time to whip out the Advent and Christmas music. I love it! My article suggesting resources for the season is here and this year I've added a playlist of Advent songs that I think would go down well. I did Advent services with junior classes during the week and used mainly O Come O Come Emmanuel by Kim Hill from her "Real Christmas" album (the can be heard on the playlist) and John Angotti's Prepare Ye the Way from his Christmas album.

So far I've got no new Christmas albums this year (any ideas?), but I did come across the EP "Christmas Sky" by a Californian Singer J Peter Boles. I hadn't heard of him before, but I was impressed - he remonds me of Tom Paxton. There are fine roots/acoustic versions, with tasty guitar and mandolin, of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silent Night, Go Tell It on the Mountain and Dona Nobis Pacem, along with one new song Warm Winter's Eve in December which tells the nativity story from the innkeeper's perspective - see clip above left. On his website you can hear samples of the tracks and download one of them for free.

And finally for today, treat yourself and try this song Show Me the Place, a new song from Leonard Cohen with some familiar religious imagery. All choir voices on this track were composed and performed by Jennifer Warnes, my favourite singer!

I seem to have my TY class rather intermittently, what with special workshop days, matches and other distractions! As indicated below somewhere I'm doing religion and music with the students. Today I used some songs suggested by an enthusiastic student, even if the religious content was rather peripheral. Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi was popular with the students joining in on the chorus. Bon Jovi's Keep the Faith was more complex, relatively speaking, and I definitely had to provide lyric sheets as it was hard to make out the words. One I wasn't familiar with at all was Prayin' by Plan B (video top left), a rather unusual song about guilt and redemption. The lyrics of these are readily available online and there are any number of versions on YouTube - I used video versions as it holds the attention of students more than just a CD. Ah, the lost talent of just listening!

Last Sunday I was present for the live broadcast of Sunday Mass on RTE from the parish of Sts Mary and Peter in Arklow. The occasion was the 150th anniversary of the parish, and some of this history was outlined briefly in a video lead in. One of the encouraging facts outlined was there are over 700 lay people involved in parish ministries. I had to catch up on this video intro later as those of us in the church just got to hear the audio only. The church was mostly full for the occasion, and it was great to see many young people, not just in the congregation but taking a more active part in music and readings. Indeed the music was one of the more impressive features of the event, with a gospel choir on one side of the church, and a more traditional mixed choir on the other. The attractiveness of the music was enhanced by the poetic first reading - from the Book of Wisdom - and the sung responsorial Psalm was haunting - "Like a deer that y earns for running streams". Admittedly it was rather distracting to have all those cameras and lights in the church, and disconcerting to think that you might be on camera to the world at any stage and not know it. I've used the video of the Mass several times in class since then - to illustrate aspects of the Mass and of the local parish.

Next week I'm planning to take classes to the prayer room for a service relating to Mission Sunday (Oct 23rd). So far I think I'll use I Send You Out and By Name I have Called You by John Angotti, along with Here I Am Lord (I have a version on CD by John Michael Talbot from his album Table of Plenty). Any other suggestions? If I get time I'll make up a special web page for mission theme resources.

Last Sunday I went to the Brooke Fraser concert in the Academy in Middle Abbey St Dublin. Fraser is a singer-songwriter from New Zealand who has written and sung with the well known gospel group Hillsong. Now she is pursuing a solo career with songs that are not specifically gospel, though I believe she still writes for Hillsong. Her songs on the night were very melodic, her band was really good, but the main problem was that I found that the words were very hard to make out. Whether this was because of sound quality on the night or her lack of articulation or becuase her voice was being swamped by the band I'm not sure. The opposite was the case with the Angotti concert reviewed below. If the message is important I think it's important to be able to make out the words.

Last Wednesday night my PC played TV for an hour as I watched a live concert streamed on the web from California. The artist was US singer-songwriter John Angotti who toured here this time last year - we were lucky to have him do a concert in our school - it was one of the highlights of the year.
The label "Christian Rock" doesn't do him justice as his appeal is much broader, and his songs can often be found in liturgical settings - some of his work was featured in last year's Emmanuel event for school choirs.
With a voice like Elton John and a knack for appealing melodies he is one of the outstanding Catholic performers in this field. Last week's web concert was from St Monica's High School in Santa Monica and the young students provided not only an attentive audience, but a fine vocal backing choir, perfectly complementing Angotii's classy band. However the heart of the performance was the singer's own voice and piano. The set started and finished with the catchy refrain "I send you out on a mission of love", there was a new version of "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace", and I particularly liked the moving "By Name I Have Called You". For all songs the words were crystal clear, essential when singing about the Word.
Between songs Angotti encouraged the young students not to be influenced by what others regarded as "cool". The world might offer lots of distraction, but the only thing that didn't end was love, and love sometimes moved us beyond our comfort zones. I liked the catchphrase "we can be bitter or we can choose to be better", and his notion that the music in heaven will be Bach and Hendrix! He stressed the important role of mystery, suggesting that if we were given the whole mystery we would only try to control it.
The concert doesn't seem to be available for playback, but there is plenty of concert footage from Angotti on YouTube (e.g. clip on left, recorded at the RE Congress in Los Angeles 2010). And he said he hopes to back in Ireland next June. His albums are well worth getting and should be useful in many school contexts.

Continuing the module on Religion and Music with Transition Year, I used the song Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin as this had been suggested by a student the previous week. Not sure how religious this is - I'd never paid much attention to the lyrics before and they're rather obscure, but with a few possible religious references included. In the same class I also included God Bless the Artists by The Roches (could be the theme song for Faitharts!) and Shot Down by Larry Norman (an excellent version by Michael Anderson). The latter song tells of the stick Larry Norman got from some Christians when he first started mixing the gospel with rock music. Have yet to read over the students' comments on the songs - will report back here soon. The songs can be sourced on sites like iTunes and 7Digital, or streamed from We7, Grooveshark, Eircom Music Hub etc

Earlier tonight I got to attend one of Liam Lawton's workshops on his new Glandalough Mass, including settings that incorporate the new Mass texts. The event was across the road in my local parish of Templerainey, Arklow. I expected to observe but ended up singing in the men's section - I think I got the hang of the melody lines, but as for the men's harmonies, I was a slow learner! I thought the music was very appealing, from the soulful Kyrie to the uptempo Glory to God. One of my favourites was one of the proclamations of the mystery of faith, Save Us, Saviour of the World. It was a great insight into the creative to hear Liam outlining some of the reasons for various musical choices he had made. I like his encouragement to choirs to sing only the melody lines for a few weeks, so that congregations would get used to them, and not be put off joining in by harmonies being introduced too early. The evening ended, suitably, with a prayer, accompanied by piano player Mark who was effective but unobtrusive for the whole workshop.

Had my first class with Transition Year last week and first off I'm doing my module on religion and music. There's so much material out there, but each year I like to rely on a combination old favourites and new material. I lways find Amy Grant's version of What About the Love (by Janis Ian and Kyle Fleming) goes down well. It has a powerful message and a great final verse. I've added the song in video form on left above. When Will We Ever Learn to Live in God, a Van Morrison/Cliff Richard duet also went down, thank's I'd say to the catchy rhythm. A more challenging song I tried was Now is the Time for Tears by Charlie Peacock from the "Coram Deo" album (a brilliant music resource for RE). Most if not all these songs are available on download or streaming sites like iTunes, 7Digital, We7, Eircom Music Hub etc.

Today I came across a blog post "What's the Problem with Christian Rock". I sympathise with some of what the writer Marc Barnes is saying - - he thinks the average Christian Rock song , as played by Christian radio stations is weak and imitative, not worthy of its subject matter. But I still like Larry Norman, Mark Heard, Randy Stonehill and early John Michael Talbot. These were always a cut above the average anyway. Apart from the article, the follow up comments are well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the area.

On Sunday last RTE 1 broadcast Mass for the Ascension, live and outdoors from the Claddagh in Galway city. The music was provided by the Tribal Chamber Choir - their selections from Haydn and Handel were excellent but didn't facilitate congregational singing! However the small congregation did join in on Ár nAthair and the recessional "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven".

Religious music was also to the fore on Songs of Praise, BBC 1's long running show, which provides a comfortable kind of spirituality. Last Sunday Eamonn Holmes presented the show from Northern Ireland, where Daniel O'Donnell was one of the contributors - he sang a fine acoustic version of "Here I Am Lord", with just guitar accompaniment, while the choir at a Presbyterian church (Hamilton Road, Bangor I think) sang well throughout the programme. I really enjoyed Artist Ross Wilson's few words on C.S. Lewis, and his visually arresting wardrobe sculpture was a fitting tribute to the author - Lewis' letter to a young reader explaining the Christian allegory of his Narnia books was also inscribed on the work. You can look back on this programme on here and for a while on the RTE Player.

Last Saturday night in the National Concert Hall I got to see The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace, a striking work by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. I had seen it before in Cork, but this time Jenkins himself conducted and it was accompanied by film clips to illustrate its powerful message of peace amidst all the war and militarism, mostly of the 20th Century. The orchestra and choirs were great, but I found myself mostly absorbed by the film clips - quite a saddening panorama of our times, but after all the menace and violence the piece certainly ends on a calming, peaceful and hopeful note. This performance will be repeated in the University of Limerick on Sunday 8th May. One of the movements is the Benedictus, and the clip on left gives a flavour of the experience though it's not from Saturday's performance.

Just came across an intriguing article, where Jennifer Fulwiler, a blogger and Catholic convert, list her ten favourite Rap songs. The title of the article caught my eye - "Top 10 Rap Songs for Catholics "! Rap is not one of my favourite music genres but every class we teach has probably got a few rap fans (and probably a few who can't stand it!). I remember having one student who was constantly referencing Tupac, and I notice that one of his songs is on the list. This kind of music often gets a bad rap (!) for bad language and violent lyrics, but Fulwiler has navigated her way to what seems likes some interesting material. Click here to read the article.

On Tuesday night last I headed up to Tobar Mhuire, the Passionist Monastery in Crossgar Co. Down to hear a L'Angelus concert. Unfortunately the band didn't do any gigs down south during this mini-tour (back in July, and doing World Youth Day in August)), but it was certainly worth the trip up north. As usual the band gave a great show, and their new songs were well up to standard. The old standards were on the setlist too, and along with the good-time Cajun songs they performed some of their sacred repertoire - including Be Thou My Vision, Ave Maria, and those beautiful watlzes - The Waltz of St Cecila and The Waltz of the Sorrowful Mysteries. It was an appropriate venue for these songs as it was in the multi purpose room that mainly serves as the church for the Passionist Community in Crossgar. Thanks to Fr John and the other members of the community for the excellent hospitality and the sing song that followed the gig for those staying over.
The monastery also featured a striking Stations of the Cross - figures arranged in the recesses of girders sunk into the courtyard - very effective.
For St Patrick's Day I made up a slide show of images of the saint - now I've a new one to add - the rather modern sculpture of the saint on the way out of Downpatrick - pic above.

Last night I got to experience the opening night of Emmanuel 2011 in the Helix. It was brilliant - around 700 students singing their hearts out as they performed a wide range of liturgical music from plain chant to modern gospel. Our own school had a group included so I was glad to be able to support them. Students had been praticing the music for a few months in school and yesterday was the first time they came together. Christ Among Us by David Haas set the tone, Lord I Want to Be a Christian was an African spiritual and featured some good solos and tasty guitar work. Irish composers were well represented, including Ronan McDonagh, Liam Lawton, Bernard Sexton and Ian Callanan who directed the choirs and got to blow out a birthday cake at the end. Apart from his own compositions, including the touching Warm Embrace, he had arranged some of the material, e.g. A Mhuire Mháthair. The audience got a chance to join in especially on Come Bring Your Burdens to God where we had to learn three-part harmony on the spot. Things livened up big-time in the second half, starting with I Will Follow Him from Sister Act. We got a taste of the theme song for the upcoming Eucharistic Congress - Though We Are Many by Bernard Sexton. Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans had everybody joining in the hand gestures, while Thanks and Praise by John Angotti and Ed Boldne had all the students standing swaying and clapping. Go Out and Tell by Bobby Fisher and Greg Lee was the perfect song to finish, sending us all out on a high! Fr Pat O'Donohue, Dublin Diocese Director of Music called on anyone involved in parishes to let this music and these students uplift our liturgies. Amen to that!

Web TV served me well last weekend as I was able to watch the Religious Education Congress from Annaheim in the Diocese of Los Angeles from the comfort of home. I was particularly impressed by the music, in performances and liturgies. Our own Liam Lawton, along with Tony Alonso conducted one presentation, "Castle of the Soul", on the Saturday - it was beautiful. Earlier we got to hear the Jacob and Matthew Band, who provided the lively theme song from the Congress, "People Rise Up". There was also a reference to a Jazz Mass, but unfortunately that wasn't featured in the webcast. The music at the closing liturgy with new Archbishop José Gomez was particularly striking, as was the whole event. There was much liturgical dancing, which I found distracting, but it certainly was graceful and respectful. Clip on left shows Opening Ceremony.

If you like that last video here's another in a similar vein, a fine version of Angels We Have Heard on High, also by Sixpence None the Richer. This song and other Christmas classics are available on the band's album "The Dawn Of Grace" (2008). Sample and/or buy the album at 7Digital. "The Dawn Of Grace" features 8 Christmas classics and 2 original recordings! Also includes "Silent Night" (see below) featuring Dan Haseltine from Jars Of Clay


Admittedly it's rather early to be listening to Christmas music, but I came across this version of Silent Night by the group Sixpence None the Richer and thought it deserved an airing. Nice animated video to go with it as well - probably more suitable for primary than secondary school. Have got two new Christmas albums this year so far - more of those anon. For more Christmas music from past years click on the Christmas link in the "Previous Blogs" section on the left.

Have been sampling some seriously good spiritual (and other) music over the last week and will write it all up over the next few days. For starters I'd like to draw attention to a new radio programme - Religion Matters on Kildare FM (Kfm broadcasts on 97.6fm and 97.3fm ). It is presented by Brenda Drumm on Sunday mornings 8-9 am - worth getting up for! If you're not in the Kildare area you can listen online at . Last Sunday morning the music was well chosen - suggestions had been made to the busy Religion Matters Facebook page. My favourite was Sarah McLachlan's haunting version of the Prayer of St Francis - play clip on left. Brain Kennedy sang Liam Lawton's Allelu, as Gaeilge, The Prayer, sung by Katherine Jenkins covered the more classical side of things, while pieces from the Mission perfectly matched the occasion - Mission Sunday. You can listen back to the show at

Last Tuesday I ran a gig featuring Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters from USA - it was bluegrass and country all the way. Amy's music wasn't too unlike that of Emmylou Harris, and one of her best on the night was the gospel song Satan's Jewel Crown, though it was a more uptempo version than Emmylou's mournful version (from her classic album 'Elite Hotel'). Another fine gospel song on the night was Sailing On, written by Rick Lang. Amy drew attention to a new album of original bluegrass gospel songs by Lang - 'Look to the Light', featuring various artists performing his songs. Sounds like it's worth a look.

In the Pope's Mass in Glasgow last Thursday evening I was hugely impressed with the music - from the traditional Be Thou My Vision to the modern compositions of James Macmillan written specially for the occasion - his new Gloria was particularly striking, and I suspect it will re-surface in many Masses to come. Macmillan was interviewed that morning on BBC 2 and spoke enthusiastically of his liturgical compositions (his most famous is probably Veni Veni Emmanuel) and how Benedict's own interest in music had been helpful to the Church. He was glad that the people of Britain would get a chance to see the Holy Father for themselves, as so often news about him was filtered through an often negative media. On the Friday it was on to Westminster Abbey for a moving ecumenical service. More original music for the occasion, this time from Gabriel Jackson - his Glory Be to God was quite an inventive piece.

The John Angotti concert in Vicar St last night was superb - musically and even visually! To start with we got a support set from the Cabinteely Gospel Group - high energy stuff, and how they filled the stage! Great singing, fine musical backing. Definitely have to attend 12.30 Mass in Cabinteely some Sunday. Quite a wide variety of material, though Oh Happy Day might be a bit long in the tooth.
John Angotti and band were in top form, an could really cut loose in a way that mightn't suit a church venue. It was great to see Vicar St full on the night, great to see gospel music in the heart of a secular venue. The sound was excellent - in school and in Westland Row Church the acoustics weren't ideal. The patter between songs was entertaining, inspiring and funny, but the music was all heart and soul, from the beautiful ballads like By Name I Have Called You to the up-tempo and uplifting songs like Common Ground and I Send You Out.

What a treat it was to have John joined by the Cabinteely Gospel Group and the 2nd Chance Music Group for the last few songs. They lifted the roof, not to mention the hearts of the audience. Next question: when is Angotti and band coming back?
Nice also to meet some Faitharts friends!

Yesterday the John Angotti event in school was brilliant. In the morning we had all the Transition Year students in the town (about 110) in our sports hall for this faith and music event and it was received very positively by the students. The music was excellent as expected as was the participation by the students. And I got caught when it was teacher participation time! The Deputy Principal, myself and teachers from the girls' school rocked the joint! Apart from being great fun it was very spiritual as well - praise, worship, reflection.

Tonight I went to the 2nd Chance Mass in Westland Row, Dublin - John Angotti was providing the music along with the 2nd Chance Music Group. I found it a very moving experience. I particularly loved the unaccompanied Agnus Dei and the communion reflection song I Can Only Imagine (video on left). As in school John was backed by a cool band - thanks Matt, Dion and Grady! I'm looking forward to the Vicar St gig tomorrow night.

Was watching live coverage of the Pope's visit to the UK today - being on the web it meant I could watch it in class with the students, which worked really well. From the point of view of the arts the most appealing aspect was the beautiful music at the Mass in Glasgow. I plan to use some of that when I continue working on religious themes in music with my Transition Year students.
I was hugely impressed - from the traditional Be Thou My Vision (as commentator Sally Magnusson said, it can move all hearts) to the modern compositions of James Macmillan, written specially for the occasion - his Gloria was particularly striking, and I suspect it will surface again many times in Masses to come. Macmillan was interviewed that morning on BBC 2 and spoke enthusiastically of his liturgical compositions (his most famous is probably Veni Veni Emmanuel) and how Benedict's own interest in music had been helpful to the Church.

Tomorrow we have US Catholic singer John Angotti in school for a faith and music workshop - I'm really looking forward to that, but a little nervous about the logistics! All TY students in town are coming to the morning session, while our 1st and 2nd years will face the music in the afternoon. When I do the music and faith module in TY I like to expose the students to a live performance - this year they're in for a real treat.

On Friday last I went to the Phil Murphy weekend in Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford. L'Angelus were doing a concert of their Sacred Hymns in the local church, and what a treat that was. Beautiful acoustic hymns in the best of settings. They performed most of the material on their Sacred Hymns Collection album, with some pleasant surprises like Amazing Grace, People Get Ready and Lead Kindly Light. The event was entertaining, inspiring and prayerful. My own contribution was to lend the band a double bass! I think it worked well acoustically and visually. With the band's permission I filmed the event and am including one song, Be Thou My Vision, in this post. As time allows I'll upload more - you'll find them on my new YouTube channel - faithartswebsite. I've three done so far. On July 15th I had hosted a more "secular" gig with L'Angélus in Arklow, and that was also excellent. Even then we got treated to at least three spiritual songs. I'll be uploading some of that material soon.

The previous night I got to see Tom Paxton live in the National Concert Hall. He's not particularly a gospel singer though any sixties folk singer couldn't help but be influenced by gospel music. There was talk about heaven and angels in his songs, especially when singing about his family. And the opening song How Beautiful Upon the Mountain was based on Isaiah 52:7. The music and lyrics are catchy - "How beautiful upon the mountains are the steps of those who walk in peace …. God knows the courage you possessed, And Isaiah said it best…". We're familiar with some of those lines in Our God Reigns. Though Paxton is at the latter end of his career, an impressive four decades, he was like a spring lamb on the night, full of enthusiasm and witty repartee. And he stayed on for quite a while after the gig, signing autographs. I bought the DVD Tom Paxton Live at Huntingdon Hall, recorded last September. Song list is pretty much the same as on the night at the Concert Hall - the only difference being the backup musicians. Good job I got this on the night as I can't find a trace of it for sale on the web!

Hadn't realised it was so long since I wrote here. Image, being too busy on teacher's holidays!
Anyway, have been coming across various little spiritual gems on largely secular albums of late so I thought I'd mention a few here over the next few posts. Apart from personal enjoyment and inspiration many of these songs are suitable for school use, e.g. for meditation, school folk groups, religion and arts courses etc.
As I'm hosting a concert this week with this group (see news page) I thought I'd start with the album Ça C'est Bon by L'Angélus. "The Waltz of the Sorrowful Mysteries" is a lovely French version of the Hail Mary - "Je vous salue Marie, pleine de grace...", while "The Waltz of St Cecilia" is a poignant song of separation and hope - "And your name on my lips will be my morning prayer, until again we dance the Waltz of St Cecilia". Both songs can be previewed, or/and downloaded for $0.99 at CDBaby)

Last Saturday evening on EWTN, there was a fine programme with an unwieldy name - New, Sacred, Beautiful, and Universal: Colloquium XIX. The programme featured highlights from the 2009 Colloquium of The Church Music Association of America (CMAA), and event which dealt with the importance and distinctive nature of sacred music in the Catholic Church.
The spirit was infectious as we got to see and experience so many Catholics getting enthusiastic about liturgical music. And they weren't just discussing it - several times we got to see the rehearsal sessions, small groups practising outdoors in beautiful gardens or by a lakeshore and the sung masses that were the event's high points. What struck me most was the predominance of young people - all the more interesting as the music was mainly traditional chant and in Latin. As one of the directors pointed out this was no bunch of oldies trying to turn the church clock back - most weren't even around for Vatican II. In fact the philosophy of the event seemed very much rooted in Church documents on the liturgy.
The discussions and interviews were creatively presented as well - more like conversations as various groups of two sat down informally to talk about church music and what it means for the liturgy. The participants were hugely committed to the traditional sacred music in the church, especially in Latin, and that's fine, but I think I detected, from some contributors, something of a subtle distaste for more modern music in the vernacular, especially if it wasn't in some sort of traditional mould. Fair enough, there can be excesses of tacky trendiness in churches today, but I've experienced some very respectful, beautiful and sacred music in more modern idioms. And, it must be said, without the proper guidance and spiritual formation, the traditional music can be become too much of a lofty performance that excludes rather than uplifts the congregation. Whatever the case I'm sure it must have been a wonderful experience to take part in this event - details of the event, and the full programme under review, can be viewed online ( ). Fortunately this summer there's a similar event closer to home - the 41st annual Irish Church Music Association Summer School of Church Music takes place at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, from 5-9 July 2010 (see News Page).

Holidays at last - thought those last two weeks would never end. So, finally, a chance to catch up on a few things. Have just discovered a new (to me) Catholic composer and singer from America - John Angotti. He has an excellent voice and has some impressive material - check out the song I Can Only Imagine, in the video clip on left. I believe a short Irish tour is planned for September - watch this space for details. His own website is here, and his Facebook page here. where you can find more video clips, not just of his music, but of his talks as well.

Today is Trinity Sunday, and if wasn't such a busy time of year in school, and if I was better organised, I'd have compiled loads of resources for the occasion. Oh well. Have a look at that beautiful Trinity picture on the home page, and there's a curious Trinity video on the spoken word videos page (Jesus B.C.). My favourite Trinity song is "Lord of Love" sung by Michael Card and Charlie Peacock - first track on the Coram Deo album - the song can be previewed here.

Managed to get to the Don McClean concert in the new Grand Canal Theatre last week. I was always a fan, but my appetite for his music was whetted by the recent "Ar Stáitse" concert on TG4 - see entry below for 1/5/10). In that entry I wrote about the religious themes in American Pie, which of course he performed on the night. It was going around in my head for days. Other songs of his also had spiritual themes. I'd always thought Genesis (In the Beginning) was an arrogant kind of song - "We have grown, we have captured the throne of the kingdom God made". But hearing it live and paying more attention to the words I'm not so sure. You could read it as a criticism of the arrogance of people, or a tribute to our maturing - the kingdom is described as one "God made for our winning". The song starts promisingly - "In the beginning there was nothingness and God but waved his hand/and from the endless void there sprang the beauty of the land", but I'm not so sure how God or humankind comes out of this line: "man was but a molecule that God had left behind". The Adam and Eve story is retold in a traditional fashion, but a warning, that sounds like a reference to original sin, is sounded ("though the father sets the price, the children pay the cost"). That warning is echoed in the chorus ("our children alone/have so little time left for beginning.") That might seem to support the idea that we are being criticised for not developing a kind of world that's helpful to our children. Jerusalem used that city as symbol of unity between faiths, though the ideas were more simplistic than is usual for McLean - "The markets and the alleys, the temples and the tombs. A place for all believers, it has so many rooms."
Apart from his own songs McLean performed a respectful version of an old Rev Gary Davis spiritual Keys to the kingdom, - "I've got the keys to the kingdom,/The world can't do me no harm",. He captured the righteous anger in Bob Dylan's Masters of War : "For threatening my baby/Unborn and unnamed/You ain't worth the blood/That runs in your veins." And includes a Biblical flavour - "Like Judas of old/You lie and deceive". But there's an understandable forgiveness deficit - "even Jesus would never/Forgive what you do". Homeless Brother (see clip above) is one of my favourite McLean songs - full of compassion for the homeless, and Jesus gets a mention here too - "Somewhere the dogs are barking and the children seem to know/That Jesus on the highway was a lost hobo". One could argue with that description but no doubt it is respectful and sincere. I've been listening to the "Homeless Brother" album of late after many years. That features a version of Crying the Chapel (remember the Elvis version?). I used to think that was an irreverent send up of tacky and sentimental religious songs, but now I'm not so sure. Now I find more heart in it.
In general the concert was enjoyable but while the new venue is impressive I thought the sound could have been better. And while it was good to hear such a wide range of songs, I was puzzled that there was nothing from his new album "Addicted to Black". Though it was on sale in the foyer it wasn't even mentioned. Hardly a vote of confidence from the artist! The backing group was musically proficient, but somehow I felt that a certain spark was missing.

Recently I was trying to think of musical resources for the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation and came up with a few ideas. Would love to hear more from anybody. Many of the songs are available on YouTube, iTunes, 7Digital etc. Some could probably be streamed live in class through the likes of Lastfm or Spotify, though I haven't tried these in class yet.
Sometimes having done the Sacrament of Reconciliation I use these songs in a prayer service or just at the end of class. Healing of the soul in general features in the calming song Healer of My Soul by John Michael Talbot. It's on his "Signatures" album and on the album "Brother to Brother" where Talbot duets with Michael Card. Only in God, also on the "Signatures" album implies reconciliation with God - "Only in God is my soul at rest". Where Do I Go, sung by Ashley Cleveland and Gary Chapman on the excellent "Songs From the Loft" album covers similar ground. Tell It All Brother is a little known song recorded by Kenny Rogers when he did music with an edge with the First Edition group (before the awful Lucille!) - mightn't be to everybody's taste but great for the confession theme (listen to the song above).
Under the Rug
(video clip on left) by RandyStonehill uses the title metaphor to convey the way we sweep our sins under the rug instead of dealing with them. In Paradise by Sal Solo (saw him giving a great concert in Rathmines church a few years ago) tells the story of the reconciliation of the good thief on the cross. It's on Solo's album "Look at Christ", which is hard to find, but well worth tracking down - it's a light rock version of the Rosary, though it wasn't marketed as such, I presume to appeal more widely than just a Catholic audience.

Well, I did a bit for Catholic School's Week, but it didn't help that we were in the middle of Mock Exams, with no school assemblies as a result. Still, we did make use of our Prayer Room for some class services and conducted some classes on the theme. Apart from the discussions, I got students doing some artwork - e.g. posters to highlight the event, which got them thinking, I hope. At the prayer services I used the folllowing songs: Where To Now Edmund from the album "Islands of the Heart" by Peter Kearney - it's about the vision of Edmund Rice (it's a CBS); Be Thou My Vision by Cajun Group L'Angelus from their excellent "Sacred Hymns Collection"; and the very appropriate Salt and Light Amy Delaine from the compilation album "Songs From the Loft" (a must for every RE Dept!).

Recently I noted the passing of Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, (see entry for 27/9/09) and now another great female singer has died. Kate McGarrigle, along with her sister Anna wrote and sang some wonderful songs, with the sweetest harmonies, like Heart Like a Wheel, Heartbeats Accelerating and Love Over and Over. Their best work I think was in their earlier 70's and 80's albums, especially their first, simply titled "Kate and Anna McGarrigle". That has to be one of my favourite albums of all time. I've seen them live a few times, which was such a treat. Little of their output was religious material, but their Catholic French Canadian background shone through at times. There was Travelling on for Jesus from that first album, and the many Christmas songs from their album "The McGarrigle Christmas Hour". The latter includes her song about the Three Wise Men - I've included a video of her singing it on the left. It's not the best recording and she wasn't that well at the time, but it's recent and worth a look. Rest in Peace.


Gave a plug during the summer to the band L'Angélus who were touring in Ireland and performed at Catholic Underground events. After listening to them on Today With Pat Kenny on RTE Radio 1 I ordered one of their CDs, Sacred Hymns Collection, and it was certainly worth it. There's great music on the CD that is suitable for school use, for meditation, school choirs and folk groups. What I like best is the fresh contemporary arrangements given to familiar hymns, especially the beautiful version of Be Thou My Vision, which I think will help young people discover the value and beauty of songs that have become too familiar in uninspired arrangements. I've often thought that the old hymns needed an uplift. Many contemporary Irish performers have reinvigiorated old Irish folks songs, rescuing them from come-all-ye hell, but I'm still waiting for a similar approach to our heritage of great hymns. This release will help, as did some tracks by Van Morrison (who also recorded Be Thou My Vision) and Beth Nielsen Chaman (on her Hymns and Prism albums), but I'm still waiting for the definitive work! See also my review of the album here.

On last Sunday's episode of Joe Duffy's Spirit Level on RTE 1 Helen Toner of the recent Knock Youth Festival reckoned that music was very effective at engaging young people, and sure enough there was some quality Christian rock on the show (a genre underexposed in the Irish media) - from the North of Ireland there was a video of the Rend Collective Experiment (the song was more accessible than the name!), and in the studio we got another soulful gospel song from Padraig Rushe (pictured above) - a former Dublin Gospel Choir singer who has a promising solo recording career - check him out on My Space.
It wasn't just the musical arts that figured on the programme. The recent Icons in Transformation exhibition in Christchurch was really unusual, and not just because the Protestant Church, according to Joe Duffy, was traditionally suspicious of religious images. The work of Ludmilla Pawlowska of the Eastern Orthodox Church was a combination of traditional icons and modern works inspired by them. It was striking how much the human eye figured prominently in the modern works, and how the colours were just as vibrant as in the traditional counterparts, but in a very different way.
Last Thursday Cajun group L'Angelus played a superb live set for Today With Pat Kenny on RTE Radio 1, which included a beautiful rendition of Be Thou My Vision. While they play many "secular" gigs their Catholic faith is important to them and to the whole Cajun culture. In their Irish tour they have been playing for the Catholic Underground, an innovative group that combines prayer and the arts, an initiative described enthusiastically on the show by Fr Sylvester of the Friars of the Renewal in Moyross. On the strength of that show I've just bought their album Sacred Hymns Collection and will review it here shortly.

Regular readers will know I look forward to the musical items on the show Spirit Level, the monthly religious magazine programme on RTE 1, and once again I wasn't disappointed. There were two soulful performers - Padraig Rushe, formerly of the Dublin Gospel Choir sang the catchy Free Now from his new album Greyworld, while Joseph Fitzgerald's best song was the haunting and unaccompanied "Deep". See it all at the Spirit Level website.

Last Sunday morning saw a new religious programme on RTE 1. Spirit Level got off to a promising start. Apart from the discussion (about forgiveness), the show was more innovative and appealing with its musical items - Nóirín Ní Riain sang the beautiful Jesus My All to Heaven Has Gone, with her two sons, and we also saw her rehearsing for her recent Celtic Joy album. In an interview with Anna Nolan she was positively enthusiastic about the monastic life (she shares in the life of the monks in Glenstal Abbey), about our roots in Celtic spirituality and about the Holy Trinity (you don't hear enthusiasm for the Trinity too often in the media!). A more surprising appearance was Luka Bloom (formerly Barry Moore) who sang the catchy Don't Be Afraid of the Light that Shines Within You, (see clip) a spiritual song in the broadest sense. The show finished with Elikya, an African gospel group, from Limerick!

Have been doing my usual module on religious themes in music with my Transition Year students - most of what I've in the past is outlined in previous music blogs, and in my article on using music DVDs in class, so I'll just include just some new resources ad observations here. I used the usual DVDs (many are posted in the videos page) - this year James Taylor (Shed a Little Light) wasn't that popular (sob, sob), but as usual Alison Krauss (Down in the River to Pray) and Jewel (Hands) got a high rating - one student made a reference to "eye candy", but they did engage with the spiritual issues in the songs! Bruce Springsteen's song If I Should Fall Behind didn't fare too well with some, but one student wrote that he hoped to get it onto his MP3 player the next day!
Most interesting comments were raised by the Steve Vai clips - there were prayerful instrumentals For the Love of God and Whispering a Prayer (see clip on left). The boys loved his guitar playing, though some didn't like his facial gestures! They split fairly evenly on whether instrumental music could ever be spiritual, without accompanying lyrics. Eric Clapton (Tears in Heaven) and Bob Dylan (Knocking on Heaven's Door) went down well, with some of the more musical students joining in the singing, which I haven't experienced in these sessions before.
As usual I invited the students to bring in their own music (in advance so that I could have a listen myself and get lyric sheets printed), and just one student obliged (thanks Jordan!), but he produced loads of material, including the Dylan and Clapton tracks that I already had on DVD. Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer featured as well and once again there was great singing along on the chorus. Some of the material was new to me - there were religious references, but in some cases the songs were open to widely varying interpretations. Reverend Wrinkle by Black Stone Cherry may have been about an inspired clergyman - "Moonlit man got it all in his head/He can find the beauty/In the things that are dead … He knows the only way back home". The Runner by Kings of Leon was hard to figure out - "I talked to Jesus/Jesus says I'm okay" - but this being used to cover up dodgy behaviour? Prayer by Disturbed reminded me of metaphysical poet John Donne in Batter My Heart, wanting to be wrenched violently away from sin - "Living just isn't hard enough/Burn me alive inside", but I suppose is also open to more disturbing interpretations.

On RTE Radio 1 this week Dave Fanning did an item on Christian music with his guests Liam Lawton and Ronan Johnston, both of whom are involved in Christian music in Ireland. It was a great idea for a mainstream youth orientated show, and at the end Fanning said they could have gone on for three hours about it. But that just highlighted the main flaw with the item - it was way too short. And so we got just snippets of some American Contemporary music from the likes of Casting Crowns, and often with jokey voiceovers which didn't help. I may be wrong but I felt that Lawton was uncomfortable with this format of fragmented music and fragmented commentary. He did manage to make an interesting distinction between American Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and European sacred music - in general he found the latter to be more reflective, though he did praise Catholic American singer John Michael Talbot for his meditative material. Johnston concurred, and also began to talk about some of his favourites (like the late Mark Heard) who were somewhat off mainstream. He found the typical CCM material to be too safe, not allowed to deal with the doubts. He thought U2 was the greatest Christian band and instanced their song I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, though I'd question how one who has encountered Christ could sing that. Where else could you go looking and still be a Christian? At one stage Fanning wondered if we weren't a bit disdainful over here about this kind of American music. Mind you his own introduction to the segment left something to be desired - Christian music from USA was "not all bible thumping hicks", he said, and assuming a lot about his young listeners urged them: "before you stretch out your cynical atheistic finger to turn to another channel, broaden your horizon". Remember that Examiner survey during the week showing a high rate of belief in God among young people.
This interview is archived here.

Saw some of the Sunday ceremonies of World Youth Day - as usual the music was of a very high standard, during the final mass - that Kyrie would certainly lift the spirit. At this stage I'm wondering how to incorporate the WYD experience into my R.E. teaching. I'll certainly use the Stations of the Cross from Friday when I look at religious themes in drama in my Transition Year classes, and at the various depictions of Jesus in film. Doing Eucharist I might show the Last Supper sequence at the start of the Stations (very Leonardo!) and some clips from the final mass. Juday Bailey's set from the Saturday night vigil (see below) will be useful for when I'm doing religious themes in music. It's lively and exhuberant and should go down well. The students often argue that music in church should be more joyful!

Yesterday's Vigil at World Youth Day got off to a great start with a warm up set from Judy Bailey and her band. Judy is a gospel/reggae singer with an African-Caribbean groove! She also played WYD 2005 at Cologne. Her set from the vigil in Sydney can be seen at the official WYD website - it's the video segment "Prelude to the Evening Vigil" and is well worth a look. The rest of the Vigil also featured some excellent choral and orchestral music. The music of Taizé figured strongly.

On Today With Pat Kenny (RTE Radio 1) last week Pat interviewed a monk from the Cistercian Abbey in Austria which has had a surprise hit with the recent CD Chant - Music for Paradise. The monk, whose name I missed, was full of enthusiasm for the music and for his vocation. The monks had put a clip of their Gregorian chant on YouTube (left) which they could point to when they heard Universal Music was looking for a choir to sing Grgorian Chant for a new CD. It's not my favourite music, and apart from getting school choirs to sing it, I don't see much use for it in R.E., but I'm open to correction! But it's great to see the monks' success, and great to see religious music making an impression in the mainstream.

MAD 2008
: Went yesterday to this new Christian Rock festival near Glenealy Co Wicklow, and what an enjoyable afternoon it was. I arrived in time to hear the Elation band (Irish group that has played before for Youth 2000 and youth events at Knock) - hadn't heard them before and they were really good - lively, driving soft rock hymns, when a excellent line up of vocalists and musicians. Also impressive, and quite similar to Elation in many ways, was Ben Cantelon and the Soul Survivor Band. Shel Perris had a good voice and lively Christian message but sang to backing tracks, which is not my cup of tea, though the younger people in the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. The audience was quite varied with I'd say a slight predominance of teens and young adults, but plenty of parents and youth leaders as well. The venue was excellent - loads of space and toilets, free parking right beside the main tent, and very efficient stewarding. If there was a fault it was that the music was way too loud! I saw some people fleeing the tent and listening from outside, and I saw one fellow strategically using cotton wool!
The event was nondenominational but coming mainly from an Evangelical Protestant background. However, this Catholic founds lots to admire and nothing to offend! Pics from the event here.

I was really saddened today to hear that Gospel singer Larry Norman died last Sunday. He was the first contemporary gospel singer I started listening to after Cliff Richard popularised some of his songs. He was never that well known in Ireland, and many years ago I was really disappointed when I heard one day in Dublin that he had played a concert there the night before and I didn't know about it.
Larry was probably the first of the "Jesus rockers" in the early 70's, a real trailblazer who at times fell foul of the mainstream gospel music world because rock was his idiom, and of the secular music world because it wasn't at all accepted to sing about Jesus in rock music. His song Shot Down, which I have used in class many times captures this early negativity towards his music, and his Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music provided the rationale for his novel approach. As regards using his songs in class, when looking at themes in music, I tend to use audio only as the students find his appearance too freaky! He certainly was one of a kind, quirky, creative, innovative.
He didn't much go in for devotional material, but pushed the boat out much farther. His songs were full of striking metaphors - Jesus was an Outlaw, a UFO, the Rock that rolled away the blues! I think his early albums are the best - e.g. In Another Land and Only Visiting this Planet which has the classic Great American Novel, a blistering social comment on US society - "Your money says In God We Trust, but it's against the law to pray in school", and a sharp dig at the KKK - "the sheets you wear upon your head are the sheets your children sleep on".
I thought his later material was weaker, and too much of his output was re-releases and compilations, but he always had such a distinctive voice and presence. May he rest in peace!
NB I have put some concert footage on the videos page.
For a moving account of Larry's last days see his website.

The most striking programme I saw over Christmas was The Liverpool Nativity on BBC - shown live on BBC 3 and then repeated on BBC 1 on the Sunday before Christmas. It was a modernised nativity play recorded live on the streets of Liverpool, featuring rock and pop music associated with the area. There was some slight controversy beforehand, but I thought the whole affair was entirely respectful of the Christian story.
It was the style rather than the substance that was unorthodox. The narrator was the Angel Gabriel! Soap actor Geoffrey Hughes (ex Coronation St I think) had "Gabriel" printed on his leather jacket, and wings painted on the back of it - subtle and imaginative I thought, rather than tacky. As the Annunciation approached he declared that Mary was a virgin, saving herself for her marriage to the beloved Joseph. Mary was a waitress in a Liverpool café, Joseph an asylum seeker trying to fit into his new country. Herod was transformed into Herodia, a ruthless and power hungry government minister with her own slimy spin-doctor, anxious to crush any messiah that might threaten her position. The Three Wise Men travelled by Rolls Royce, delayed on their way by the rush of last minute shopping on Christmas Eve!
The political subtext was less than subtle, with Herodia eroding civil rights to pursue her "war on terror", and talk of "régime change". She decided to score some political points with a roundup of asylum seekers, causing Joseph to have to be registered. To an extent I felt that a modern political agenda was being imposed on a timeless story, but then the political realities of the time were part of the original Christmas story, and pleas for a compassionate treatment of vulnerable people are still at the heart of that story. This wasn't claiming to be a historical presentation of the nativity, but a revisiting of an crucial event, seeing it through the lens of modern times, not a cheap effort to make it "relevant", but a creative and bold attempt to shake us into looking again at a story whose impact may have been dulled by everything from over familiarity to crass commercialism.
Much of the story was conveyed in song, and instead of opting to write new material for the occasion the producers chose songs associated with Liverpool. Obviously they weren't written with the nativity in mind, and not every word of every line fitted the context, but broadly they captured the spirit of the event, and this reworking gave them a whole new set of meanings. I, for one, won't hear them again without being reminded of this new layer of meaning related to the birth of Jesus. Needless to say, Beatles songs were prominent. Not surprisingly, All You Need is Love was the main anthem for the night, while Let It Be (sung as the shepherds and other visitors approached the crib) and Lady Madonna (sung by the Wise Men in the crib) seemed particularly suitable. Mary got to sing My Sweet Lord, but here it was in reference to her devotion to Joseph - their love story was very tasteful and convincing. I cringed when I heard one of the "shepherds" stating into John Lennon's Imagine. I know it's often seen as a deep meaningful song, but personally I find it bland - "imagine there's no heaven … and no religion too" as if such ideas were too divisive and had to be dumped to achieve world peace! Yet, whether by design or happy accident, the song was placed rather crucially - sung by a shepherd before the angels arrived to announce the good news. No need for such wishy washy and aimless sentiments after that!
Considering that the event was live across several Liverpool venues, with the actors dancing, running and singing, the few bum notes were understandable, and I loved the understated musical accompaniment - most songs were backed by simple guitar, violin and accordion arrangements, busker style, with an orchestra and choir for the big numbers.
On TV and Radio over Christmas there were plenty of carol services, plenty of religious songs on the mainstream music programmes, good coverage of religious services, and all that was welcome and important, but here was an imaginative programme that got thousands of people onto the streets of Liverpool to celebrate the Nativity without diluting the story, that got thousands more watching it on TV, and that blew out of the water any idea that the Christmas story hasn't got something compassionate and challenging to say to a 21st century audience.
Watching the programme I wondered what use I could make of it in religion class - mostly for next year. I normally show the Annunciation clip from Jesus of Nazareth, but this will make for an interesting contrast - Mary gets the news as she works in a café - Gabriel announces it to her in a disembodied voice only she can hear, and how she and Joseph cope with the news is really well done. After Christmas I normally do some classes on The Three Wise Men (more of that soon) and this year I will use some of the clips showing them meeting Herodia, and visiting the crib. When I do classes with Transition Year on religious themes in music and drama, many of the scenes should prove useful.

Finally on holidays! Such a relief. To finish up I did a Christmas themed prayer service with third year students. They were wired, but I struggled on! Used a few Christmas meditations, with some seasonal music – Go Tell It on the Mountain from Jams Taylor’s Christmas album, recently re-released, Angels We Have Heard on High by Kim Hill from her Christmas album and to finish with the upbeat Immanuel from Amy Grant’s first Christmas album. There’s so much more great material at Christmas, I’ll be reluctant to put it away in January. But I’ll get some more mileage out of it – first week back at school I usually do a few classes on the Three Wise Men, interesting characters with a lot to say to 21st Century Christians, and quite a few songs and poems have been written about them. For last class with Transition Years (15/16 year olds) I did a class looking at a little of the artistic side of Christmas – a few Christmas songs, along with T.S. Eliot’s poem The Cultivation of Christmas Trees. Earlier I had used Randy Stonehill’s song Christmas at Denny’s for the Christmas assessment. The answers were insightful, but some found it somewhat depressing for Christmas – it’s about a guy fallen on hard times who is trying to find hope again.

Have been doing the Anointing of the Sick with 6th year students (17-19 year olds). Have to be careful as there have been bereavements in the class. Suggestions for resources would be welcome! Today I used the Hopkins poem Felix Randal - "Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended being anointed and all …". It felt like an English class! To finish I used the song Now is the Time For Tears by Charlie Peacock, which deals with how one might relate to a grieving person - "Cry with me don't try to fix me, friend …" - from the compilation album Coram Deo, which contains many reflective songs. It certainly quitened the students … should have used it at the start of class! Tomorrow might try Healer of My Soul by John Michael Talbot (on albums Signatures and Brother to Brother)

Went to a great concert last week! Beth Nielsen Chapman was playing in Whelans of Dublin, and I’d say it’s not often that venue gets such a spiritual experience. Yet the spiritual content was subtle enough at times. Mainly the concert was a really enjoyable musical treat. Her songs have such beauty and depth, some really serious stuff at times, but she’s a great personality on stage, full of fun. And what a band! Apart from the two great guys in the mini wind section, and a guitarist, it was a family affair - her son Ernest on keyboards, guitar and excellent backing vocals, his cousin Trip on drums, his wife very effective on bass and miscellaneous percussion. She played several songs from her recent album of spiritual songs, Prism, including the playful God Is In, Shine All Your Light, and the haunting That Mystery. The second disc on that album has songs in many different languages from different spiritual traditions, and in this concert she joined them all in a long medley, which I thought worked really well. Of course there were plenty of old favourites, like Sand and Water, All I have (very romantic – a song with a very low divorce rate she said!) and the seasonal Every December Sky. All in all a great night – the icing on the cake was getting to talk to her at the end and get an autograph.

One thing I love about Advent and Christmas is the music. I love digging out the CDs and tapes. The season seems to bring out the best in composers. I like every year to add to the collection, but haven’t come across anything new I want to get this year yet (any suggestions?), though I have ordered a CD to give as a present – Merry Axemas features Christmas songs done as electric guitar instrumentals done by some of the best players, like Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. Check it out on Amazon, there are sound samples, but I doubt if it’s going to have wide appeal!
Had an Advent Prayer service with the third year students a few days ago, and had to whittle music down to three pieces – tough choice! I used Prepare Ye the Way by John Michael Talbot (from his New Earth album) – a great and tough song, what John the Baptist might have sung in the desert! Michael Card’s The Promise is another excellent song for the season, available both on his Christmas album The Promise – A celebration of Christ’s Birth, and on The Final Word, part of his trilogy on the life of Christ. Finally I wanted something on the Immanuel theme – spoiled for choice here! I used Amy Grant’s Immanuel from her second Christmas album Home for Christmas. Later on I’ll flag some songs that deal with the Three Wise Men – suitable for classes immediately after Christmas. Apart from the album’s mentioned I also find the following useful: Kim Hill – Real Christmas; Peter, Paul and Mary – A Holiday Celebration; John Michael Talbot – The Birth of Jesus; Kathy Mattea – Good News; The Roches – We Three Kings; Amy Grant – A Christmas Album; Amy Grant – A Christmas to Remember; The Hutchisons - Christmas. This music is mostly in the folk/acoustic rock/contemporary vein. Most of the albums can be tracked down on Ebay, Amazon, Christian Discs, while the Hutchisons album is available from their own site here.

At the end of the Mission of the Church module I brought the third year students to the prayer room. Apart from some prayers and readings I found it hard to come up with some good music on the topic - all suggestions gratefully received (use contact details over). I used Go and Do the Same by Sal Solo from his excellent Look at Christ album, Salt and Light by Amy Delaine from the Various Artists album Songs From the Loft (full of useful material for teens), and Here I Am Lord - the John Michael Talbot version from the album Table of Plenty, and even Go Tell It on the Mountain by Peter, Paul and Mary (don't think this version went down too well with my lads!).

Doing classes on The Mission of the Church with third year students, I gave one class over to looking at music as a way of spreading the gospel. This year I used three pieces of music on video - Michael Card singing the beautiful Known by the Scars, and Amy Grant singing Too Late, a song about commitment, and Calling on You, a rather unusual prayer song by metal group Stryper. All video clips I had taped from The Rock Gospel Show, an old programme broadcast on BBC, but the students rightly pointed out, especially with Stryper , that the message wasn't coming through very clearly because the words couldn't be made out clearly, surely a telling point with relevance to any method of spreading the gospel. These clips are hard to find now, but plenty of alternatives are available from the likes of John Michael Talbot, Liam Lawton, and others I've mentioned in my article on using music DVDs in class (here). At a parent teacher meeting today I was glad to hear that one student had reported home, favourably, on the classes, and that the parents were also fans of Michael Card.

Got to the Cork Jazz Festival again this year. Went to the Blind Boys of Alabama concert in the Cork Opera House, and what a night! The support group was fantastic for starters. The Campbell Brothers performed some foot stompin', soul stirrin' black gospel music, with enough energy to light up Cork for a week. There was plenty of singing about judgement day and the morning train to take you there. A highlight was the praise song Lord I Just Want to thank You!, and slowing down the tempo a soulful version of I'll Fly Away, more commonly heard as an up tempo bluegrass song. And there was a cautionary tale - Don't Let the Devil Ride! This introduced as a "service announcement for Cork" - don't let the devil ride 'cause he'll want to drive! The Blind Boys of Alabama, singing gospel for six decades, received a great welcome from the packed theatre as they launched into spirited versions of gospel classics like People Get Ready, When the Stars Begin to Fall (a beautiful acapella version), Amazing Grace (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun!). There was plenty of banter and gospel exhortations between the songs, and the audience was on its feet for the last few songs - I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord was particularly good. After the encore the Blind Boys stayed on stage to greet the fans for a long while after. For both groups the message and the vocals were central, but both had the hottest of bands as well. See video clips page for a sample of the work of The Blind Boys.

Went to see John Michael Talbot in concert last night – at Mt Argus Church in Dublin. It was a beautiful prayerful experience. It seems he rang the parish priest and asked if he could do the concert there – an offer not to be refused! It was a short event, a very holy hour. I particularly liked his version of Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, and Cave of the Heart. The familiar favourites were there too, allowing people to pray/sing along. He didn’t say a lot on this occasion but I liked his words of introduction to a song from his new album – Come Home Little Children from the album Living Water (his 50th) called us to come home if we have drifted, from Jesus, from Church, from humanity. Sound clips from this album can be heard here. Great to meet some friends and acquaintances there too – thanks Yvonne for the guided tour of that wonderful church and its Saint Charles of Mount Argus exhibition.

One of my favourite programmes from the nineties was The Transatlantic Sessions and I'm thrilled to see it back on RTE 1 on Friday nights. The formula is simple - get some of the best folk musicians from Ireland, Scotland and USA together in a big house in Scotland and let them play away to their hearts content. Just two little disappointments to report here - it's not quite as good as the previous two series, with the material and performers just a tad weaker, and considering the musical roots involved I would have expected some gospel music to figure strongly - the nearest so far in what I've seen are two songs by Joan Osborne (well known for What If God Was One of Us, theme of the short lived Joan of Arcadia series). St Teresa, and Holy Waters seemed to be just using religious terms as metaphors.

The interface of religion and the arts often figures on BBC 1's Heaven and Earth show, which came to the end of its run last Sunday morning. One of the special guests was a favourite singer of mine, Beth Nielsen Chapman, one of whose albums, "Hymns", is a most beautiful collection of mostly old Catholic Latin hymns from her childhood. On the show she spoke warmly of God as the "creative spirit" who goes by many names. Her upbringing on US army bases where a single space was used by many religious traditions gave her an appreciation of the presence of God in these religions. Her next album, "Prism", available later this month, will be a collection of spiritual songs, one of which she performed with great enthusiasm on the show. "God is In" was a simple but infectious song on the theme that God is everywhere. There were lines that might raise some eyebrows - "God is in those dancing pagans … God is in the atheist and all those things that don't exist". Irony or what? Anyone offended?

On holidays finally! Time to catch up on a few things. Gave my TY students an exam at the end and included a music video with questions as I didn't have time to do much of those this year. I offered them (boys) a choice between Iron Maiden and James Taylor, and to my surprise a big majority went for James Taylor singing Shed a Little Light, from the Squibnocket DVD. The answers were quite perceptive. Also at the end of time I was surprised to get a good few works of art with a religious theme. A few were paintings/drawings but most were poems, with just one short story. This was the best year yet for getting the art works. That same day we had a visit from the Diocesan Advisor, who conferred certs from the Diocese to those who had a reasonable body of R.E. work to show (Thanks Eileen!). This certification is a great idea and I'd encourage more schools to take up the opportunity. We displayed our arts work and our social commitment work (Young Social Innovator, Special Olympics, Young Vincent de Paul etc.). Without this it would have been very hard to get the students to present a portfolio of R.E. work.

Can't wait to start catching up on more music. New Bruce Springsteen music DVD is just out. Live in Dublin features most of the songs from his Seeger Sessions concerts, and some gospel numbers are included - e.g. Oh Mary Don't You Weep, Jacob's Ladder, When the Saints Go marching in, This Little Light of Mine. Not sure if it would be much use in school - not the kind of music most of our students would be interested in I'd say. This comes in DVD only edition or Audio CD edition or combined DVD/double CD. I notice that Bruce's website features a large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Not sure why! The site also features links to video samples from the DVD.

Sorry about irregular blogging, school is too busy, as always in third term. Transition Year students are involved in so many outings and special events I haven't had as much class contact as I'd like. Did however get to continue with module on religion and music, by playing some CDs followed by discussion. Reaction from the students was quite positive judging by their reviews of the songs. I started with a handout on some of the issues raised by the whole interaction of faith and music (can send the handout on request - use contact link on left). The songs I used included What About the Love by Amy Grant - a great song about doing good for the wrong reasons, and with a sting in the tail about the songwriter being too judgemental. As an example of rocking up an old hymn I played Christ the Lord is risen today by Ashley Cleveland, from her Men and Angels Say album (see music section of the site for CD review). Now Is the Time for Tears by Charlie Peacock from a great CD called Coram Deo is a touching song about grief of any sort and how to relate to friends who are suffering from it. Each song provides so much material for discussion that it's hard to get through too many without rushing it. I usually provide handouts with the song words and a few questions to kick start the discussion.
I'm running out of TY classes at this stage but hope to get a chance to do a class with music DVDs. If not I'll use some of this material for the summer exam - show a music DVD with spiritual theme and ask a few questions. It'll make a change from the traditional exam format, which should be in keeping with the TY ethos!
One requirement I have on this course is that the students must produce some sort of a work of art with a religious theme. I suspect there will be a minimalist approach! One year I got two slips of wood nailed together to make the most basic of crucifixes. The deadline approacheth so I will report here soon on what I get. We're also getting a visit soon from the Diocesan advisor who will give certificates based on the work done in this course so students are under orders to gather their material in presentable format.

Yesterday I started on the religion and music module, with an in-class concert with Peter Kearney. Peter is an Australian singer-songwriter living in Carlow, who specialises in faith inspired songs. This is the third time we've had him in school with the Transition Year classes. For a double class he sang and played guitar, and it was the most relaxing class of the week. All I had to do was sit at the back of the class and enjoy! Peter also tells the stories behind the songs, which suits perfectly what I'm trying to do in this module - to highlight the religious themes in music and to raise awareness of the issues relating to the different contexts in which music and religion meet creatively. This year Peter also brought a handout which divided his songs into different categories which helped to show the diversity of possibilities in this area - e.g. songs for liturgies, songs inspired by scripture, songs about social issues, songs for meditation. Peter has also written a musical about the life of St Francis of Assisi, Good Morning Good People! which he will perform with flute player Roma Dix in St Michael's Church Gorey, Co. Wexford on Thursday May 31st at 7.30 pm. Go along for some aesthetic nourishment! For more information on Peter's work see his website

Got some more music DVDs recently to add to the collection - Heart of Gold by Neil Young is a superb DVD if you're into folk/rock/roots music. I could watch Four Strong Winds over and over. Emmylou Harris does backing vocals, which for me is a bonus. On this DVD is the song When God Made Me from Young's Prairie Wind album. Some of you might have seen him singing this in the concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This song is somewhat controversial - gospel flavoured in style it asks a few rhetorical questions. Some take offence, but I think it's general and subtle enough to be interpreted in many ways, including an interpretation favourable to belief in God, though with the hint of caution about some of the practices and attitudes of believers. Check out the lyrics and the controversy here

Second great DVD I got recently was the Musicares Person of the Year Tribute to James Taylor. Many of Taylor's hits are performed by other stars like Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Rait, Sting and the Dixie Chicks. He duets with Carole King on You've Got a Friend, and there's yet another version of Shed a Little Light, a song mentioned in my recent An Tobar magazine article on using music DVDs in class (email me for the resources). I still prefer the version on the DVD Squibnocket.

9 Jan 2007
I don't want to let go of Christmas! The tree and the decorations went on Sunday last, but back in school at this time of year I usually do a few classes on the Three Wise Men, still reasonably seasonable. So I'm in the middle of this with third year students. I'm using the material in the old Veritas book Love One Another - there's a few pages at the end of the Christmas chapter that give the scriptural context from Matthew, with some of the stories that later grew up around these wise men. Another exercise looks at what relevance their story has for today. In the second class we discussed T.S. Eliot's poem Journey of the Magi, which the third years manage fine with some guidance, and in fact this year it led to some interesting discussions as we teased it out. I have notes and resources on this poem on my Teachnet project. For a bit of variety I play the familiar song We Three Kings - there's a fine traditional version on John Michael Talbot's Birth of Christ album, but I like the up tempo version on the album We Three Kings by The Roches.
I've asked the students to bring in any Christmas cards that feature the wise men, which might give us a chance to look at the artistic interpretations. I might follow this with some pictures on a slide show presentaion - try a Google image search on "Magi" for a wide variety of material.

Just back from the Cork Jazz Festival, great music and atmosphere as usual. Struck me on Sunday morning that it was a pity there wasn't a high profile Jazz mass during the festival. I don't think there was any. Some mightn't like the idea, but I think with thousands of musicians in the city for the weekend there was a chance to involve them, even minister to them. I'm no jazz expert, but there are plenty of spiritual trends in Jazz, which isn't a million miles from gospel music. The Harlem Gospel Choir featured in one of the main concerts on the Friday night (unfortunately I wasn't down on time for that) so the festival wasn't bereft of spiritual input. I've come across liturgical/spiritual work by the likes of Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck, so let's hope that next year some imaginative parish will take on the task. There's a Church right down the road from the main venue, (the Metropole), St Patrick's parish I think, which would be an ideal venue. Though not jazzy, the choir there at Mass Sunday at midday was in fine form and there was a great sermon about the extra light we need to get us through these complex times. Funny how jazz, once regarded in some circles as immoral, now seems downright respectable compared to, say, the excesses of heavy metal! And there are spiritual nuggets in heavy metal too, but that's another story.

Finally saw Walk the Line last night - the Johnny Cash biopic. More could have been made of the importance of religion in his life, but there were some nice moments - his brother Jack getting familiar with scripture to get ready for life as a preacher while Johnny listened to country music on the radio. There's a funny incident when Johnny sings a gospel song for a record producer who finds it too ordinary and unconvincing - Cash misinterprets this as the producer thinking he, Cash, doesn't believe in God! It's clear all along that both Cash and future wife June Cater were inspired by gospel songs from an early age, and when she gets him to leave behind the drink and pills it is suggested by a Church visit that religion has a part to play in this turn around. But Cash is shown warts and all, and his cheating on first wife Vivienne is particularly painful. The film well deserves all the accolades it got, especially tghose for the two performances at the heart of it - from Reese Witherspoon and Joacquin Phoenix.

The inservice day in Laragh went well I think, at least I enjoyed it. The setting didn't seem so idyllic with the rotten weather. But I met some old friends and some new teachers signed up for the faitharts email list. The session was about using Music DVDs in religion class, either to illustrate themes under discussion or as a study of religious themes in music, or the search for meaning in modern culture (Part A of the NCCA's framework document for non-exam classes at senior cycle). The teachers seemed to enjoy the music and came up with some good ideas for dealing with this material in class. I can send the materials I used as Word document attachments on request (see contact link on left) - song words, worksheets, full list of songs used and on what DVDs. Might put these on site as download anyway.
Just found out last night that the James Taylor video Squibnocket is being released on DVD in October - I'd highly recommend it, partly because the song Shed a Little Light is performed really well, even prayerfully, on that one. It's a country studio setting, better than the concert setting in the Pull Over DVD. Best price seems to be on where it can be pre-ordered.

Blog Sept 2006 Finally getting a bit of free time to get the blog going again. During the summer I managed to get CD versions of tapes I have found really useful over the year - mostly on Ebay. No more winding and rewinding and missing the right song for prayer room sessions. Songs From the Loft has an excellent selection of songs suitable for school and features various artists from the US contemporary Christian music scene, including Amy Grant, Kim Hill, Ashley Cleveland and Wes King. Coram Deo is along similar lines but more reflective, and features Michael Card among others. Standout tracks are Lord of Love (great for prayer services on the Trinity) and Now Is the Time for Tears, a wonderful piece on bereavement. Brother to Brother is also excellent - Michael Card and John Michael Talbot sing each others songs - plenty of material for prayer and reflection sessions. Also picked up a music DVD guest starring Amy Grant (Peter Cetera is main performer) and it was worth the price to get her version of El Shaddai, a beautiful prayer song written by Michael Card. Bringing my first class to the prayer room this week so I'll surely use some of this material. Tomorrow I'm doing an inservice workshop for the Dublin Diocesan Advisors in the idyllic setting of Laragh near Glendalough. Based on a section of the NCCA's non-exam syllabus I'm looking at the search for meaning in modern music, using a selection of music DVDs for the purpose. Have prepared some materials (song words, worksheets, resource lists etc) which I'll send to anyone on request (Word attachments). Will write about how I get on in a day or two.

Our prayer room got a beautiful face-lift recently so I thought I'd better make good use of it. Brought the 6th years and 3rd years in for end of year prayer services and while there were a few frisky moments, inevitable at this time of year, it went fairly well, at least I thought so. With the 6th years it helped that a few unruly gentlemen weren't in on the day. I had been doing a sacraments course with them so the service acted as a kind of recap of the course - I used some impromptu meditations with a song for each sacrament - just about managed it in under 40 minutes. Songs used: Baptism - Baptism Meditation by Michael Card from his impressive trilogy on the Life of Christ (my tape copy of You Have Been Baptised in Christ is worn out. Can those Glory and Praise songs be found on CD? For Eucharist - Come to The Table from the same source; for Reconciliation Come Ye Sinners by Ashley Cleveland (see review of her album on this site), though I the past I've used Kenny Rogers' Tell It All Brother (a striking song from his early days - "in the dungeon of your mind who've you got chained to the wall?"); for Confirmation Sal Solo's catchy Spirit from his Look at Christ album (a soft rock Rosary), which we've also used at many graduation masses; for marriage I used Love is Not the Only Thing (but It's the Best thing) by Mark Heard from his album Second Hand, though the imagery was a bit too obscure (might used Michael Card's The Wedding next time); for Orders Here I Am Lord was excellent. I used John Michael Talbot's version (Glory and Praise worn out again!) from the Table of Plenty album; for the Sacrament of the Sick I used Gentle Healer by Michael Card, forgetting that Healer of my Soul was also on the Talbot album Signatures. The Talbot and Card albums are great because you can usually hear the words clearly.
The service with third years was on the topic of the hereafter which we had been doing in class, and no, I didn't play any hell songs. There were readings in the R.E. book and I used some music as well - for the resurrection theme I chose Christ the Lord is Risen Today, a great soft rock version from Ashley Cleveland's album (Men and Angels Say) and I also tried out In My Heaven from Mary Chapin Carpenter's recent album Between Here and Gone. Not exactly theological, but touching in its own way - "Nothing shatters, nothing breaks, Nothing hurts and nothing aches, We got ourselves one helluva place in my heaven". Finished with the upbeat Ready to Go from Randy Stonehill's album Return to Paradise (full of great songs).
The prayer services helped a little to achieve calm at a time of year when it's in short supply. The prayer room is an oasis!

There's something to be said for this time of year when some students start to drift away. Had a much better than usual 6th year religion class today with small numbers. We were doing the Eucharist, and the other day one of the students mentione seeing The Manchester Passion over Easter on BBC (see entry below for Easter 2006) so I brought that in today and played my favourite scene - the Last Supper. It seemed to go down well, prompting plenty of questions. Have wearing out the new Springsteen album - Ok so there's no original material, but those old songs, icluding a few gospel numbers, are given a major revival, or as Bruce puts it on the accompanying DVD "recontextualised". We have some great old hymns that could do with the treatment, but are enough of our top contemporary performers well disposed enough? Any chance of Christ Moore singing Soul of My Saviour (soulfully!), or Mary Black doing Sweet Sacrament Divine? Any more ideas?