BR. JOEL: This is Echoes from the Bell Tower. Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live work and pray in southern Indiana. We're your hosts, Br. Joel Blaize.
BR. KOLBE: And I'm Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski. We could go on and on about chant, liturgical music and musical traditions in the monastery. This week, we have a short episode talking about composing music, but first I have a small favor to ask.
In an effort to get more people to hear our podcast, we entered Echoes from the Bell Tower in the Podcast Awards contest. We need you, our faithful listeners, to nominate us between July 1 and July 31. To nominate us, go to podcastawards.com, register to vote, once you're registered you can choose Echoes from the Bell Tower in the People's Choice category and the Religion and Spirituality category.
This whole process should take less than 5 minutes and it will really help us find more listeners. Thanks in advance to everyone who nominates us! We have until July 31! Ok, now here's Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: There are several monks at Saint Meinrad who are musical composers. Fr. Tobias Colgan claims to be an accidental composer.
FR. TOBIAS: Two days after I was invested as a novice in 1970, this was a Tuesday, Fr. Samuel, my immediate senior in the community, asked me if I could write a setting of the Responsorial Psalm for the following Saturday using guitar accompaniment. I was 19. When you're 19, you don't know what you can't do, and so I said, "Of course, I can do that."
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Tobias completed the assignment. It was a different style of music than what had been heard in the Archabbey Church at that time, but Fr. Columba, who was the choirmaster, allowed him to perform it.
FR. TOBIAS: I never imagined in my whole life that I would become a composer, but because of an invitation early on, I haven't stopping since then in the 47 years since then.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Tobias says his music is inspired by chant. He had been around Saint Meinrad for six years by then, coming through the seminary from high school, so he was starting to absorb the chant tradition.
FR. TOBIAS: Even though I was writing music in English, it was new melodies but in the Gregorian modalities. So it kind of was a bridge, I think, from the chant to a new expression for the liturgy. I do believe that that was what helped the monks to embrace it very willingly when we got further into it.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Tobias has written and continues to write music for the liturgy.
FR. TOBIAS: That means I'm writing music for a text, whether it is a Psalm text, whether it's a poetic text, whether it's a scriptural text from another place other than the Psalms, but it's always text-based music that I'm writing.
BR. JOEL: His creative process includeslectio divinaor spiritual reading, pondering a particular text to try to find the melody in it.
FR. TOBIAS: I take the text in, try to find the melody that's hidden there, and release it. If I'm successful, the melody and the text will be wedded together seamlessly so that they interact with each other without the melody getting in the way or distorting the text.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Tobias has composed music for Sr. Genevieve Glen over the years. One time, after hearing a collection of her hymn texts Fr. Tobias set to music, she said, "It was like hearing my soul sung back to me."
FR. TOBIAS: That was very moving for me, and I felt like I may have succeeded in putting a melody with the text. I think to use that image of singing a person's soul back to them, because so much of what we do in the Divine Office or at the Eucharist is God's word, if we can find the right music in the text, in some kind of mysterious way we're singing God's own voice back to Him, his own words back to Him.
BR. KOLBE: One of the newest composers in the community is Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: Every once in a while, I just get in the mood to write music. I don't know where that comes from, but just the desire to create.
I get an idea and it just has to get out. Sometimes weather changes, seasonal changes kind of inspire me. Sometimes things going on in my own life will inspire me, like when I took vows, when I was preparing to take vows. That was a really emotional time and I had a lot of emotional energy, and I find that writing music helps me process all those feelings and it gives me something to do to not go crazy.
BR. KOLBE: Listeners, I know you've heard us say this a lot in the credits, but Br. Joel composes the music for this podcast. He put A LOT of thought into the intro and outro music.
BR. JOEL: That was a really fun project. I started with our tagline - stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work, and pray in southern Indiana. I thought about those words, wisdom, wisdom, wisdom. Well, then I thought about the Advent "O Antiphons." O Wisdom, O Sapientia, and so I started out the intro with the monks singing "O Sapientia," which is the Latin word for wisdom.
And then it's Echoes from the Bell Tower, so I incorporated the audio of our bells ringing, and then I thought, "Okay, we're monks in the 21st century, this is a podcast," and so I start throwing in all this electronic music and music that I wrote. It's kind of repetitive arpeggios and random music that I was trying to evoke the feeling of bells just going nuts ringing. Then it calms down and then just sort of ends with that single melody line, which is kind of like an echo. I tried to incorporate chant, that line about wisdom. I tried to incorporate a feeling of an echo.
BR. KOLBE: When writing the outro, Br. Joel continued with the Advent theme.
BR. JOEL: And so I used as the basis of what I wrote the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which is the Marian hymn that we close every Compline with every night during Advent season.
If that makes sense. So the opening line of the outro is "Alma, alma." I decided to turn it into a round, because what's a round? It's an echoed melody, and Echoes from the Bell Tower, so I repeat that line… "Alma." Then one of the next lines in the chant is ... "quae pervia caeli Porta manes." So, over the ... alma … I then throw in that little line, "quae pervia caeli Porta manes."
Then they start playing at the same time and it just builds from there, and then it takes off into a full round of just original music at that point. I used the Alma Redemptoris Mater as the framework and to tie it in thematically with the opening.
BR. KOLBE: Composing music can be a ministry for us monks by helping people pray. The creative process of composing in itself also becomes a prayer.
BR. JOEL: Yeah, I think that's true. I think that's also very Benedictine, that our work is prayer and our prayer is work.
Whether I'm composing a text to be used in a musical composition or if I'm using a psalm or somebody else's text that they've given me, these texts aren't just texts, they're prayers. And so when I'm writing music to accompany the text, I'm thinking about the prayer and I'm praying the prayer. I want, as much as possible, the music I write to reflect the tone and meaning and character of the prayer. That helps the text; that helps the prayer come alive for me even more.
It really becomes mine in a way, and hopefully it helps other people, when they're singing the text. Hopefully, it also comes alive for them the same way. Ultimately, it's all for the worship and glory of God. So as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing better I could be doing, that way.
BR. KOLBE: Thank you for listening to our episode on composing music. This podcast was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with help by Br. Joel Blaize, me - Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. And you guessed it, the intro and outro music for this episode was written and produced by Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: Other music came from Fr. Tobias' CD, "Gentle Shepherd," the "Gregorian Chant for Advent and Christmas" CD…
BR. KOLBE: …and of course the original music composed by Br. Joel. Thank you, Fr. Tobias and Br. Joel, for sharing your musical talent and for talking to us about composing.
BR. JOEL: If you haven't had a chance to rate and review Echoes from the Bell Tower on iTunes, please take a moment to do so. It helps other people find the podcast.
BR. KOLBE: Listeners, we're going to take a break for the summer, but we will be back in the fall with more episodes and stories. Make sure you subscribe to Echoes from the Bell Tower on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts, so you don't miss our episodes this fall.
BR. JOEL: We have all of our past podcast episodes, including last week's full episode on chant, on our blog at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
BR. KOLBE: And, don't forget, if you enjoy our podcast, please vote for us at podcastawards.com. Thank you!