A New Kind of Popular Preaching: ‘Icons Singing’ Now Available Online

Maria Hayes Friar News

Kevin McGoff with members of Pax Chorum outside St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford, where they performed a series of songs composed by Kevin about the saints. (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Abramo)

HARTFORD, Conn. — Katherine Drexel. Mary Magdalene. Francis and Clare of Assisi. Theresa of Calcutta. John Paul II. Earlier this year, the words, prayers and writings of these saints were among the many brought to life through “Icons Singing,” a performance that featured original music composed by Kevin McGoff, OFM, and iconography created by Robert Lentz, OFM, and Michael Reyes, OFM.

The audience that gathered at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in downtown Hartford on June 16 was treated to 15 pieces – 13 original compositions, one liturgical chant (Litany of the Saints) and one hymn setting (“For All the Saints”) – performed by Pax Chorum. Kevin conducted the professional choir, which was accompanied by Gabriel Löfvall, the parish’s director of music.

Kevin, who received his musical training at The Catholic University of America, Chicago, and the University of Hartford, Conn., developed the idea for “Icons Singing” several years ago while composing choral music based on the words of the saints while working at parishes in San Diego. He was inspired to combine the prayers and writings of the saints with images created by Robert and Michael after viewing their work.

“When I became aware of the icons, I thought it was a natural fit to celebrate the artistic work of several friars together,” he said. “Art in its varied forms has the capacity to uphold, elevate, mirror, enrich, challenge and illuminate the thinking, attitudes, and assumptions of those who experience it. The words of the saints, married to the choral art and the images of the saints depicting the core values of their blessed lives, are instructive and constitute a kind of ‘popular preaching.’”

The icons were displayed throughout the church during the performance. They are available for further viewing and purchase at www.trinitystores.com.

Icons of John Paul II, the Syrophoenician woman, Katherine Drexel and St. Teresa of Avila were among those displayed in the church. (Photos courtesy of Carolyn Abramo)

Throughout the coming the coming weeks, Kevin plans to release videos of the performances on his YouTube channel. The first two are included below.

The text of “Salve, Madre Santa” is taken from a prayer contained in a homily offered by St. John Paul II on Jan. 1, 2002, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, which commemorated the 35th World Day of Peace.

“John Paul II delivered his homily following a particularly violent time in the Middle East and this is, I believe, the catalyst for his prayer,” said Kevin in his composer’s note. “A man with a sincere devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, John Paul II seemed to be keenly aware of the fact that the land of her birth and death is in a constant and lamentable state of bloody turmoil. His prayer brings this fact into focus for us.

“The three structural parts of this motet are all based on the components of a C major triad (C-E-G),” he continued. “The brief introduction is centered on the pitch E and is an insistent address to our Holy Mother to hear us. The central section is built upon an ever present C in the bass and the final section is in G major, where the chords of the introduction reappear, transposed and repositioned, to carry the final words: No peace without justice.

The title “Laudato, Si mi Signore (Canticle of Brother Sun)” is taken from the first line of St. Francis’s canticle in its original Umbrian dialect. More recently, it was used by Pope Francis as the title of his encyclical regarding care for the earth and the poor.

“As a text for singing, the canticle presents many challenges,” said Kevin in his composer’s note. “It is lengthy, wordy, and archaic, and not set into neat metrical stanzas making for unique compositional approaches. Even fluent speakers of modern Italian need to proceed with care when reciting or singing St. Francis’s lauda in its original Umbrian. Realizing the work’s importance, the composers Amy Beach, Carl Orff, Leo Sowerby, and Roy Harris, among others, have set this text in various and notable ways. Churchgoers of many Christian denominations would readily recognize the metric translation ‘All Creatures of Our God and King,’ by William Draper. My approach to this text was to follow Draper’s lead by creating a metric version in English that was as faithful as possible to the meaning of Francis’s lauda. I have retained the original Umbrian first line as a ritornello.”

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.

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