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Monday, July 09, 2007

Musical Musings: Calm Me, Lord

I left to go on retreat early this morning (I'm finishing the draft of this in the novitiate library, in fact and will pop in early Monday to post it). The second term of summer school began yesterday, and as department chair I was in bright (or at least early) to deal with the last minute minutiae and incipient crises. Unfortunately, I had made the tactical error of telling people not only that I would be away for the next 10 days, but unavailable. "But surely you'll check your voice mail?" That would be, no. "Better catch her now, I guess..." seemed to be the general response. The day, already packed with appointments, proved to be relentless. A parade of people tramped through my office, with concerns small and large. (One thirty minute conversation was interrupted every five minutes!) Calm me, Lord!

So, for those times when three people have melted down in your office in succession and you fear you may be the fourth, I offer you this playlist:

1. Calm Me, Lord from Fire of Love by Margaret Rizza
The name says it all. The piece begins, "Calm me Lord, as you calmed the storm, still me Lord..."
The prayer repeats, vocals and instrumental parts interweaving. The underlying melodic structure is simple, moving up and down the major scale, with the last notes gently bringing you back to the start. I sometimes let this run through my mind when faced with a difficult personality in my office, rather like a prayer wheel.

British composer Margaret Rizza writes music that I find prayerful, stilling and that feels grounded in a deep prayer life and awareness of God's presence. I found her music on the daily podcast Pray-As-You-Go (a ministry of the British Jesuits). If you haven't tried these, the 10 to 12 minute meditations are wonderful to walk or commute with.

2. Sanctum Nomen from Fire of Love by Margaret Rizza
More Margaret Rizza. My Roman Catholic roots are showing, I'm afraid, with the Latin. Another "stilling piece" with a short text: Sanctum nomen Domini magnificat anima mea. My soul magnifies the holy name of the Lord. Just in case I forget what my role is in the roiling chaos of some crisis, this text reminds me to call on the name of the Lord. Though quiet, it's in C major, so strong and sustaining.

3. Vision: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen Very gentle music "resurrected" from medieval Abbess Hildegard's oeuvre. Despite the date, these are not set as plainchant or polyphony, but include vocals, electronic overtones and instrumentals. Part of their appeal for me is they are not chant, so I tend to focus less on the text. (Purists can find chant versions in Origin of Fire by Anonymous Four, which I like, but have not made it onto my iTunes playlist labeled: calm.) Both these pieces give me the sense of burbling water flowing past, and over me. Cooling and calming.

5. Suscepit Israel from State of Grace II: Turning To Peace by Paul Schwartz
All the songs on this album pull from one of two Latin texts, the Magnificat (Luke's account of Mary's joyous cry to Elizabeth) and the Stabat Mater (a typically medieval Marian prayer based on the sorrows Mary faced). After years spent living in a desert, the sound of raindrops on the roof was a sure sign of blessing, an image that the harp at the beginning of this piece strongly evokes for me.

6. Baba Wethu Singenile from Gospel Songs by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
"Our father, we have entered in the holy close to us.. remove the darkness that surrounds us and give us your light.." The call and response form this piece takes reminds me to listen, really listen, to the needs of the people parading through my office and to the voice of the Creator who made us all. (As my spiritual director would say, think of it as a trialog rather than a dialog.)

7. Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kije - Symphonic Suite Op. 60
Violins and flutes send you off by train into the lavender covered hills of Provence or pick your own favorite scene from a French film. Relax.

8. Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012: V. Gavotte I & II from Bach: The Cello Suites by Yo-yo Ma
Just the cello, dancing gently, weaving one person out the door (and the next one in!)

9. Enfold Me in Your Love from Fire of Love by Margaret Rizza
Yes, this is a Margaret Rizza fest. Unlike the other pieces from her in this playlist, this has a longer text (six verses). Each verse ends with a plea to "O hold me, enfold me in your love".

10. The Grail Prayer from Fire of Love by Margaret Rizza
No matter how hideous it's been, you still have to go back into the fray. So this piece recommits me to the work at hand - but hopefully with an improved attitude (lest I be the one being committed!): Lord, I give you my hands....I give you my spirit, that you may pray in me...

11. Exaudi Nos, Domine from Fire of Love by Margaret Rizza
If you've only got 3 minutes to find your center again, try this one. No instrumental introduction, it gets straight to the point: Exaudi nos, Domine; dona nobis pacem tuam. Hear us, O Lord; grant us your peace. From a simple start it gradually acquires more layers, then slowly leaves you hanging on(to) the peace. You can hear a clip here.

Where to find the music: has it all: State of Grace II: Turning to Peace, Vision : The Music of Hildegard von Bingen, Gospel Songs, Bach : The Cello Suites Inspired By Bach, From The Six-Part Film Series / Yo-Yo Ma, and Fire of Love

Be warned: Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Margaret Rizza are seriously pricey at Amazon! Better to order Fire of Love from GIA. Babu Wethu Singenile is available at iTunes. If you develop a love for Margaret Rizza (and you should!), and live in North America, GIA only sells two of her CDs. Kevin Mayhew in the UK sells them all (and Cathy tells me to watch for the occasional three for two sale...thanks Cathy!).


  1. Michelle, I am with you on Margaret Rizza - every time I hear her music on pray as you go, it puts me in another world - and it's a peaceful one. Excellent list! I need to go back and listen to Prokoviev(sp) -- I haven't listened to the Lieutenant Kiev suite in a long time!
    Thanks for putting this calming music together and hope this silent retreat is all you hoped for!

  2. Wow - this is just cool! I'm looking forward to checking all these artists out once our new computer arrives (iPod not working on old laptop, so downloading would be senseless).

    Can I add the music of Sarah Hart to the suggested list? Especially the song "Be With Me, Lord."

  3. Wow. a seriously fabulous play list. I want them all. We have a meditation time before each worship service with soft candle light and gentle music playing. These will definite make that time more delicious.

  4. well done, Michelle! I hope you have a restful break!

  5. Rev Scott - Sarah Hart's Music:
    Here it is.

    It IS on Amazon - but very pricey!

  6. Lt Kije! Wow! If you ever get a chance, screen the British film "The Horse's Mouth", starring Alec Guinness. The soundtrack is Lt Kije, and it fits the film beautifully.

  7. Being an old horn blower, you can't beat Mahler's Resurrection Symphony for relaxing and reempowering one's self in the pastoral ministry

  8. Michelle! Thanks for a great list! Oh, I am so with you on ANYTHING Prokofiev, and of course, JSB, The Fifth Evangelist, leads us to heaven in all of his music! Now to listen to some of those that are new to me.

  9. Muthah - I know I have heard Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, but the music isn't in my memory bank so I will go and listen to the excerpts from Amazon.

    And, I am so perplexed as to what movie I heard Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kiev's Suite - I thought it was from the movie Barry Lyndon, but I went to the soundtrack and it wasn't there. Does anyone remember which movie used this suite as part of the soundtrack? It's driving me batty!

  10. Aftr readign the beginning of e-mail, perhaps you should add one more to the list for fun...
    Blondie's Call Me!

  11. what a wonderful list- I love Bachs Cello Concertos- and have grown quite interested in the Music of Hildergard von Bingen.

    Good stuff for me to look up, thanks for this.

  12. oooh...yes, yes, YES! Margaret Rizza is such a joy...and I can't imagine anywhere without Bach's cello suites. Don't know Paul Schwarz, though, so that's a pleasure to come (when I'm next allowed to spend any money on music..)
    Thank you for a lovely calming collection.

  13. Oh! I don't know WHO first turned me on to "pray-as-you-go" but I LOVE IT! :)


  14. If you listen to today's (Tuesday July 10) Pray as you go (, the Kyrie by Margaret Rizza is the music on the podcast.

    The person speaking on the podcast pronounce "Rizza" more like "ritza" (not to rhyme with pizza). Learn something new every day.

  15. Thanks for telling me about


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