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 place...be 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:
Amazon.com 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!).