CD ushers in new liturgical voice with fresh, surprising mix

| Father Jan Michael Joncas | December 7, 2011 | 0 Comments

I’m Lifted Up: Songs and Psalms by Will Pitts, 2010, Guardian Angels Music Ministry

Guardian Angels parish in Oakdale has been blessed with a vibrant music ministry for many years, including significant liturgical composers such as John D. Becker and Roger Stratton.

Will Pitts, a colleague of John’s and Roger’s and a member of the music ministry at Guardian Angels, has recently released a CD of psalms and songs entitled, “I’m Lifted Up.” This recording ushers in a new voice among the liturgical composers working in the Twin Cities area.

Unlike recordings consisting strict­­ly of liturgical music, “I’m Lifted Up” mixes genres. Three of the compositions are psalm settings intended for use as responsorial psalms (Psalms 1, 128, 24). These consist of a refrain for the congregation with verses for a vocal soloist. The writing here is very accessible, with melodies reminiscent of David Haas or Michel Guimont and piano, guitar, bass and guitar accompaniment. (There is a lovely echoing violin obbligato on the setting of Psalm 128.)

The title song, “I’m Lifted Up,” is a gospel-styled song that testifies that “whenever I feel lonely . . . when peace cannot be found . . . I trust in God only to never let me down.” Piano, bass and percussion drive the performance, with Monica Stratton offering a powerful solo performance over the choir’s characteristic harmonies. A more lyric witness song has Lisa Amerongen testifying that “My Favorite Miracle” is the birth of a child, which grounds belief in God.

A glimpse of life

The majority of the pieces are what I would term singer-songwriter ballads in which we discover significant events and feelings in Will’s life: his awe at the sacrifice of Christ as he comes to receive holy Communion (“A Man I Never Met”), his identification with Christ in weeping for Lazarus at the death of his own best friend (“I Will Weep for You”), his gratitude for his mother’s love and sharing of faith in raising him (“Because of You”), his delight in the friendship of a married couple who welcomed him to Minnesota (“Someone Very Special”), and even a country-influenced narrative about a hunt­ing dog, Snickers, who modeled what it is to “follow and heed / in the footsteps of her master” (“Run”).

Will has a very distinctive voice; while others might have a more polished approach to his compositions, hearing Will sing them gives them an immediacy and authenticity reminiscent of singer-songwriters like Randy Newman or Greg Brown.

The final composition on the re­cor­ding is a total surprise, an art song as lush as anything written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, resulting from a collaboration between Becker and Will. In 2005, Becker played his 1991 instrumental composition on Will’s new piano. Haunted by the beautiful melody, Will sought to create lyrics for it, a task completed in 2009. Given a radiant performance by Monica Stratton, “What I Cannot Hold” is a magnificent conclusion to the collection.

What I find especially interesting about this collection is its mixture of liturgical music and music that I would find appropriate for other venues: prayer services, catechetical sessions, faith-sharing, Christian coffee houses or concerts. I think of Will as a Christian troubadour, both helping the community to sing its faith in formal worship and sharing his own faith journey.

Information about purchasing copies of “I’m Lifted Up” (as well as other recordings by the Guardian Angels Music Ministry) can be found at http://www.guardian-angels.org.

Father Jan Michael Joncas is a well-known liturgical composer and a professor at the University of St. Thomas.

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Category: Arts and Culture, Spotlight