“Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.” -African-American Spiritual
Across the globe and throughout all time, peoples have used music to express truths about the Divine, and truths about the human condition. Music can serve as a means for deepening prayer, or sharing stories, or communicating information. And when we open ourselves to learning about the music of other communities or cultures, we experience more deeply what it means to be part of the human family.
This Lent we are taking some time at our Midweek Evening Prayer services to learn about 6 African-American candidates for Sainthood, and so I thought it would be a great time to more intentionally incorporate some music of Black composers into our liturgies. You might be tempted to think that means we will be singing some extra Spirituals or gospel music, and to a small extent you might be correct; but these genres encompass only a small portion of the wealth of musical repertoire by Black musicians.
So that you might have the chance to learn a little more about the music I am using and the composers who wrote it, I will be including a brief page of information about the pieces that I use in the weekly worship aid that we put up on our website. I think you will be delighted at the variety of music – yes, Spirituals and gospel, but also classical and jazz music as well. The music I will be including is a small snapshot of the great contributions made by Black composers. I hope that you will read those messages in the worship aid each week and be informed and enlightened, but more importantly I hope that the music itself will aid your prayer and reflection as we make this Lenten journey together as a parish community.
I will conclude this message by telling you a little about the new Mass setting we are singing this season, which is also by an African-American composer. Throughout the season of Lent during the Eucharistic Prayer we will be singing selections from the Soulful Lenten Mass by Dr. Kevin P. Johnson. Dr. Johnson is an Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at Spelman College, and alongside his academic career he has also served as Director of Music at various Catholic churches. He continues to serve as a music consultant for Catholic archdiocese nationwide. His contributions to church repertoire include several mass settings and collections of psalmody. Dr. Johnson has works published by Colla Voce, GIA Publications, Treble Clef Press, and his very own publishing company, Lion and Lamb Publishing.
–Julie Ford, Liturgy and Music Director