In an earlier post, we spoke about the good, the true, the beautiful. In this post we focus more on one aspect of this trilogy: music.
I love music. I was born, by God’s goodness and designs, in a very musical family. My father was a member of bands when he was growing up; he would sing in New York and play the accordion.
These big bands, at that particular time of American history, gave a lot of hope to a country that was in war and suffering. To a lot of the country that felt lost, music was a reliable source of hope. My father said he saw so many women crying when he played because they were thinking of their lovers oversea in the war.
That touched my heart as I grew up, and I realized the power of music was limitless. My mother did not have those same opportunities, as she got married at 20 to my father. But she also came from a very musical family as she was a convert from Southern Baptist, and so did a lot of singing growing up.
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Our community is very musical, probably because those that founded it wanted to be able to praise God in music. You might think of music in terms of Gregorian chant. But the history of music really progressed through the church. The polyphony, the choir boys, the choir girls, the motets, the great musicians that came through the church – they came because, at that point in time, music was really for the edification of God and to bring mankind closer to God.
And isn’t that what good music does? It lifts us up. It brings us closer to God. So when we founded our community, we immediately began to put in time and effort to the beauty of music produced by our Sisters. We have many Sisters receiving degrees in music, Sisters who are quite professional in a variety of musical instruments, Sisters who are professional singers, and even some that were in ballet or other types of dance before they entered.
We bring this together as a community several times every day in divine worship. It’s called the Liturgy of the Hours. It flows out of the liturgy, the mass itself, and it comes from the Psalms of David. As we pray these psalms, we sing them sometimes to various tones. Our sisters are writing their own music to reflect many things in our community. But we didn’t want that to stay just in our community.
In 2013, we received a request from Monica and Kevin Fitzgibbons of De Montfort Music to consider creating an album. Since the call came to me, I was all about it. Why not? Why shouldn’t we? We needed to get the permissions and everything, which is the beauty of religious obedience. We thought about, “Is this what we really should be doing now? And is this correct?” Then the decision was made; we decided to go for it. The name of the album was Mater Eucharistiae, Mother of the Eucharist.
The album cover, the name of the community with the chapel on it, is a beautiful symbol of what we’re trying to do. We certainly thought it was beautiful, but we were unsure if other people would agree. If they did, great; that’s why we did it. But if they didn’t, that would have been okay because we gave God our efforts. If He chose not to have it blessed in the way that we wanted it to be, we could accept that because it was a gift.
As time would have it, this particular recording became number one on the classical recording Billboard charts. There were so many unforeseen graces to bring this out to a world saying, “I’ve been waiting for something like this.” If you have never heard the album, you can purchase it on www.SistersofMary.org along with our other albums. This one sold so quickly, and we couldn’t be prouder and more grateful for that. We received so many emails, phone calls, notes, cards, and expressions of gratitude: the power of sacred music is limitless.
The second album we did was called The Rosary. In this album, we pray all 20 mysteries of the Rosary. You can put it at whatever mystery you decide to pray. In the background is music of us singing. Now, I don’t know about you, but being very musical, I can have a hard time focusing if it is silent. But if music quietly plays in the background, I’m just immediately lifted up. That’s what I think the beauty of this is. Many people use this because perhaps they want to pray their Rosary, but they get sidetracked. Again, the power of prayer and music worked very well here.
Because of the success of the first two albums, we received thousands of requests to create another, including requests to create a Christmas album. I had to laugh to myself, and I probably kind of ignored it thinking, “ As if there aren’t enough Christmas music albums out there. That is just what we need, another Christmas music album.” I mean, I’ve got my favorites. Everybody’s got their favorites. They come out in abundance every single year, so why do we need another Christmas album? However with all of the requests even I had to say, “I do believe this must be God’s will.”
So, with the permission that I needed from the Mother Superior and the council at our Mother House, we decided to do a Christmas album and it became Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. This particular album has 16 different hymns. It has everything from the single tone to the Gregorian. It goes from the earliest centuries of the church all the way through original compositions written by the Sisters. The album has accompaniment by the organ, violin, and flute. The singing sometimes breaks into many different parts, really showing how musical the sisters are. As some of my friends say laughingly, “Do you only accept young women who are very musical into your community?” Absolutely not. Of course, we don’t.
However, I believe that if anybody sings enough and is around music enough, they will certainly sharpen their ear. They will certainly grow in depth of this beauty. They will begin to become much more, as we might say, musical.
I know that happens with some of our sisters: they might enter and not really be that much into music other than listening to it while they’re jogging or at dances. When asked to perform, they’ve said, “I’ve never really sung before.” To my surprise, they haven’t really ever sung, even at mass. I encourage them to lift up their own mind and heart by singing, and eventually they realize, “I’m getting better at this.”
The message even beyond the beauty of this is that in every human heart, there’s a desire for God. People who have no faith have written us and said, “I’m beginning to become a believer because your music raises me. It’s heavenly. It’s not of this world. There’s something about it.” That person opened their heart. Somehow that person came in contact with this music. At some point, that desire for God was ignored probably because of some suffering they couldn’t understand. Maybe their only response became anger instead of acceptance, and they said, “Someday God, I know you’ll explain this one to me.” But they weren’t there yet. So they responded with anger. But deep inside their heart still was that desire for God.
When we hear these beautiful chants, these beautiful hymns, these wonderful Christmas hymns, they are a rich part of our community, our tradition, and that of other communities. We actually have seven different nationalities represented in the Christmas album. It is also in three languages – English, Latin, and Polish.
When we hear music, we maintain a certain relative peace and quiet where God speaks to the human heart. Music can open a heart and change the world. Make sure you are allowing Him to speak to your human heart. Set time apart every single day just to be with Him, even if it’s just a few minutes. If your desire is always to carve out even more time, God will see that desire and bless it because He wants all of your heart, not just a little portion. He is a lover who will not stop until He has every speck of us.
Thank you, God. God bless you all.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP is a Foundress and Vocations Director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Her podcast “And The Truth Shall Set You Free” can be downloaded every Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST from iTunes. The podcast can be seen on YouTube at Go_LEDigital.
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