Book Review: "From Mountains High: Contemporary Catholic Music 1970-1985" by Ken Canedo

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The second half of the 20th century brought about much change in the world. Even the Roman Catholic Church, a fixed institution for nearly 2000 years, changed with remarkable swiftness. As a result of Vatican II, instituted by Pope John XXIII, the language for the Mass officially changed from Latin to the vernacular in November of 1964. Everyone going to Mass could now understand what was being said without need of a missal.

That change was accompanied by waves of new music composed by seminarians (and a few religious sisters) who were inspired by the songs of the Kingston Trio; Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and the like. This Folk Mass revolution was described in a book by Ken Canedo entitled Keep the Fire Burning. Canedo, a composer for Oregon Catholic Press, lived through the Folk Mass revolution as a teenager, participating as a musician; in Keep the Fire Burning, he provides the history and background for what proved to be a systemic change in liturgical music.

In From Mountains High, his new book from Pastoral Press, Canedo continues the story, beginning in 1970 and carrying it through 1985. He chronicles the continuing evolution of contemporary liturgical music from the raw, experimental Folk Mass that fired the imagination of young Catholics to the more formalized and sophisticated contemporary music of today.

The Folk Mass revolution was organic, breaking like a tidal wave over the Church. The demand for music was constant and urgent; young Catholics became excited over hearing and singing the Word of God in a familiar musical language. Much experimentation took place for good and for naught; eventually the necessary infrastructure was created to bring the music more in line with the liturgical needs of the people.

From Mountains High traces that evolution of contemporary Catholic music primarily through the workings of its movers and shakers – those who wrote and performed the music, and those who published it. We therefore read about the life stories and groundbreaking work of the St Louis Jesuits (“Be Not Afraid,” “One Bread, One Body,” “You are Near,” and the link) followed by the Monks of Weston Priory (“Come to Me,” Wherever You Go,” “Hosea,” and others), The Dameans, Michael Joncas (“On Eagle’s Wings”), John Michael Talbot (“Holy is His Name”), Bob Hurd (“Shelter Me, O God,” “Come Unto Me,” “Power of Love”), David Haas (“Blest are They,” “You are Mine”), and Marty Haugen (“Shepherd Me, O God,” “Mass of Creation”).

Having told the story of the first publisher of Catholic folk music (FEL Publications) in his previous book, Canedo continues the history, detailing the trailblazing work of the powerhouse North American Liturgy Resources (NALR) which discovered the music of the St. Louis Jesuits. NALR was the first to develop a hardbound hymnal of contemporary music known as Glory and Praise. Eventually NALR would be purchased by Oregon Catholic Press who, along with GIA Publications, remains a leader in the publishing of contemporary Catholic music.

Canedo devotes chapters of From Mountains High to certain specialties in Catholic music, beginning with the children’s songs developed by Carey Landry, in partnership with Carol Jean Kinghorn. Already an established composer of Folk Mass music (“The Spirit is A-Moving” being his most popular song), Landry ventured into children’s songs after a chance meeting with Kinghorn who convinced him of the power of his music to awaken the love of God in the young. It would turn into a series of influential musical collections produced for religious education known as “Hi God!”

Canedo also describes the dramatic growth of liturgical music for the Spanish Mass. As the Hispanic Catholic community grew in America, it became increasingly important to address their unique musical and liturgical needs. Much like the Folk Mass movement, Hispanic Catholic musicians experimented with songs for the liturgy and even adapted popular folk song melodies, fashioning lyrics more appropriate for worship.  In extensive interviews with pioneer musicians Arturo Perez, Mary Frances Reza, and others, Canedo traces the fascinating development of Hispanic music and in particular, Oregon Catholic Press’ leading role in creating Spanish language missalettes and hymnals.

Movers and shakers did not consist merely of musicians and publishers. Canedo addresses another part of the growing infrastructure of contemporary Catholic music – the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM). It became clear to one priest that such an organization was needed to nurture these liturgical musicians. Enter Father Virgil Funk, founder of NPM. Beginning in 1977, NPM attracted 1400 participants to its first convention, more than twice what was expected. Father Funk was attentive to the needs of musicians who not only needed help in becoming more proficient in music, but also needed to be educated in liturgy so as to make the proper musical choices. He was to serve as director for twenty-five years.

In reading both Keep the Fire Burning and From Mountains High I was struck by the sheer happenstance of events that created this new music in the Church. Musicians such as Ray Repp (the earliest Folk Mass composer) and the St. Louis Jesuits (Dan Schutte, Bob Dufford, John Foley, Roc O’Connor, and Tim Manion) never intended that their music start a revolution. By simply following the promptings of the Spirit they collaborated on songs and shared them generously with their communities, never dreaming of the impact of their music to the general public. Such composers supplied what younger Catholics in particular were searching for – a way to express their love of God in their own voices. Publishers such as Ray Bruno of NALR paid attention to what was happening and invested time and treasure into these and other fledging musicians despite the financial risk. At times the process became messy (as in the copyright issues faced both by FEL Publications and NALR) but through perseverance and hard work, an entirely new form of music has now become a permanent fixture of the Church.

I highly recommend From Mountains High (as well as Keep the Fire Burning) to all liturgical musicians, both contemporary and traditional. Ken Canedo has done an important work in documenting the history and background of the Folk Mass and contemporary Catholic music so that we as liturgical musicians can know where our heritage came from and where it is going.

You can purchase From Mountains High and Keep the Fire Burning from Oregon Catholic Press. Visit KenCanedo.com for a series of fascinating podcasts on the Folk Mass.

Visit our Book Notes archive.


Copyright 2018 Susan W. Bailey

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About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.

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