Spirit & Song: Earning “Hymnal” Status

by Chris Calderone

In 1999, Oregon Catholic Press released Spirit & Song: A Seeker’s Guide for Liturgy and Prayer. This worship resource, geared towards youth and young adults, provided ritual orders, planning guides, and plenty of musical selections for aspiring music ministers. It also granted access to a new wave of contemporary worship music arising from youth conferences, retreats, and other similar events. In the subsequent decade, OCP expanded tremendously on the “Spirit & Song” model with the formation of a separate division at spiritandsong.com, the release of Spirit & Song 2 in 2005, and the launch of an annual-subscription collection called Choose Christ in 2009. Now, OCP presents us with a new release – in hymnal form. Spirit & Song, touting the name to replace its two-volume predecessor, comes to us with a consolidated yet ever-expanding approach to publishing contemporary music.

Spirit & Song arrives, of course, on the heels of the new Roman Missal and the mandate by the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship to cease the publication of the first two Spirit & Song volumes. In a webinar offered by OCP in late 2013, editors cited this necessity with several other objectives in the creation of the new hymnal. These objectives included a new and expanded contemporary repertoire, a “house-cleaning of liturgically inappropriate songs,” and attention to the “New Evangelization” movement. To accomplish this, songs were filtered through two committees of paid church musicians, traveling evangelists, and academics with master degrees and Ph.Ds. in theology. Some of these committee members also served on the editorial team. This new 352-page hardbound hymnal is complete with Mass settings, a psalter, and a more varied repertoire.

Two of the five Mass settings included in Spirit & Song have been revised: one being Steve Angrisano’s Mass of a Joyful Heart, the other being Matt Maher’s Mass of St. Timothy. OCP also included Curtis Stephan’s Mass of Renewal, secured rights to Ed Bolduc’s Mass of St. Ann, and introduced Tom Booth’s Mass of the Desert. In a church full of teenagers or young adults, I would likely trust any of these five Mass settings to fulfill its purpose in quickly unifying a mixed congregation in song. A tiny smattering of additional service music accompanies these five settings.

Editors proudly offer “two verbatim settings of the most common psalms” in Spirit & Song. In this psalter, 28 psalms yield 49 psalm settings. While the numbers are meager, the ratio is fairly consistent with other mainstream hymnals. In week-to-week liturgy planning, I would feel quite limited in finding a setting for each Sunday’s responsorial psalm. However, the music/worship leader of an occasional retreat or semi-annual event would likely have little trouble finding an appropriate psalm for the day. The settings themselves are all of the same ilk, almost exclusively from the main pool of Spirit & Song artists and composers. 36 psalm settings have been lifted from Spirit & Song 1 and 2. Syncopated melodies and folk-driven rhythms abound with the hope of engaging youth and young adults. Consequently, many of the psalm settings run the risk of inaccessibility for the average parish congregation.

Spirit & Song maintains the original vision of Spirit & Song as a liturgical resource by providing ritual music and guides. The hymnal contains outlines for the Order of Mass, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confessions (a popular form of the Sacrament for youth gatherings and retreats), and even guidelines for the reception of Communion. I consider these outlines a great strength and advantage of Spirit & Song. There’s something to be said about a “youth hymnal” that can empower a small group of aspiring liturgists and musicians to learn about and plan Evening Prayer or a Reconciliation service for their peers while providing nearly all the resources to do so. Spirit & Song contains 27 appropriate and accessible songs for the above-mentioned rituals, as well as for RCIA, funerals, and marriages.

The main body of songs in Spirit & Song combines categories found in the first two volumes, and provides a well-rounded liturgical variety to choose from. 66 songs “for the Church Year” span from Advent to Pentecost, and include selections for Christ the King and the Blessed Virgin Mary. After this, 172 songs fall into three categories: Gathering & Sending, Communion, and General Songs, each section alphabetical by title. Excluding the Mass settings and psalm settings, 128 of the 265 songs in Spirit & Song are lifted from Spirit & Song 1 and 2. These “re-prints” represent a body of worship music which, in the past 15 years, has become established in its own right, and which joins the ranks of other post-Vatican-II “waves” of music. Spirit & Song nonetheless introduces a plethora of new music, as well as some interesting approaches to liturgical music.

Editors of Spirit & Song, in the 2013 webinar, used the term “blended worship” to describe the repertoire found in the hymnal. The preface cites four sources used to achieve a repertoire of blended worship.

The first, perhaps most intriguing, is the use of “traditional hymns arranged for contemporary ensembles.” Examples would include Sarah Hart’s and Kevin Hipp’s arrangement of “Come, Holy Ghost” and Trevor Thomson’s verse/refrain, English/Latin arrangement of “Salve, Regina.” Those who cherish our Church’s repository of chant and hymnody will likely disapprove of these arrangements. However, such arrangements just might succeed in sparking interest with those worshippers who are too young to remember – or care about – the origins of these “classics.” While some artists have set traditional texts to completely new music, I find others trying too hard to reinvent the wheel – often with poorer design. I wonder how much more effort it would take to simply teach the same young worshippers the “originals.” The texts usually remain intact, though, and finding new musical vehicles to propel forward enduring texts is neither a new nor necessarily a bad idea.

The second source comes from “enduring titles written in the 1970s and 1980s.” Indeed, the hymnal’s new repertoire was not left to fend for itself, touting favorite OCP titles such as “Table of Plenty,” “Christ, Be Our Light,” and “On Eagle’s Wings.” One would expect nothing less, and a good handful of carry-overs from the first two Spirit & Song volumes include these favorites.

The third source of the Spirit & Song repertoire compliments the “enduring titles” with “songs by today’s contemporary Catholic songwriters.” The Spirit & Song division of OCP has evolved into a “label” of sorts, supporting a growing pool of songwriters who regularly release albums, podcasts, videos, and collaborative collections through spiritandsong.com. The same artists, many who are veterans from the first two volumes, provide the bulk of music published in Spirit & Song I have found some of these artists’ “latest releases” in Spirit & Song to be solid additions to a contemporary repertoire. Jesse Manibusan and Sarah Hart, for example, offer a fine and versatile new song for Communion titled “Bread of Heaven.” The songwriters have also done well in writing songs for specific purposes, but I find some of it a bit forced. One particular travesty is found in a new song for the Sprinkling Rite, which includes the supplication, “on our dryness pour your dew.” Perhaps a strained correlation to the “like the dewfall” simile found in EP II, I again feel as though some artists are trying too hard. Despite such examples of overshooting the mark, the “contemporary Catholic songwriters” at Spirit & Song have successfully filled this new hymnal with songs to meet nearly every liturgical need.

Finally, Spirit & Song draws on music from “our evangelical brothers and sisters” as a source. OCP has done well to secure rights to music from “blockbuster” artists who are rarely – if ever – included in major Catholic publications. Tried and true praise & worship standards such as Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” and Hillsong United’s “Mighty to Save” stand alongside other devotional songs offered by Spirit & Song artists. Even some recent top-of-the-chart hits, such as Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord),” are at the top of OCP’s advertising list for Spirit & Song. Such inclusions, of course, run the risk of fading out of the limelight long before the hymnal runs its course. In this aspect, Spirit & Song will continue to strive for a balance between short-lived trends and enduring repertoire.

The Spirit & Song hymnal presents music in a comfortable page layout, avoiding most mid-song page turns and consequently creating occasional blank space. However, the music and lyrics themselves appear fairly condensed in the hymnal. Most psalm settings and some other songs also resort to text-only verses; I would personally prefer to see the music of these verses printed out. Other resources, such as the guitar/vocal harmony book, provide a more generous music and page layout, contain full acknowledgements, and add to the alphabetical index with scriptural, topical, and liturgical indices. Song titles, numbers, and acknowledgements are in a “fun” yet legible font. Both the hymnal and the additional resources continue Spirit & Song’s tradition of meticulous – and occasionally irksome – transcriptions, including every syncopated rhythm, 16th note, triplet, tempo change, instrumental interlude, and cue notes. While such attention to detail keeps many transcriptions faithful to their composers’ modern recordings, it often leaves little room for interpretation, and I find myself telling musicians, “You’ll have to hear the recording to learn this one.”

The last features in need of mention are the additional resources for Spirit & Song. OCP offers full keyboard and guitar accompaniments, as well as an 18-CD set featuring every selection in Spirit & Song. OCP wisely decided to make available a spiral-bound version of the guitar/harmony book this past summer. Solo instrument books in C, Bb, and Eb are due this coming Fall. While the hymnal itself only contains an alphabetical index, other resources include scriptural, topical, and liturgical indices. The pinnacle of resources, however, lies in the “All-Inclusive Digital Edition.” With this option, customers can have their cake and eat it, too: an annual subscription, starting at $400 for a congregation up to 200 people, includes digital downloads of various text and melody prints, accompaniments, solo instrument parts, MP3s, and reprint permissions for every selection found in Spirit & Song. This service, offered in partnership with LicenSing Online, provides a fascinating option for music ministers. I cringe, however, at the notion of adding on yet another reprint-permission and licensing subscription to the two or three subscriptions many parishes currently maintain.

OCP continues to reach out to youth and young adults through Spirit & Song, and this division aims to provide a hardbound, enduring hymnal to update an already-successful endeavor. To this end, I believe that Spirit & Song delivers as a solid, well rounded, and practical book for liturgists and musicians. While its scope continues to be geared towards younger congregations, Spirit & Song has graduated from “songbook” status and has earned place in any hymnal collection as a fine and useful resource.


Chris Calderone recently finished a M.A. in Liturgical Music degree from Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary, and currently works as Director of Liturgy and Music at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He has worked and served in Music Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Young Adult Ministry in various parishes, schools, and summer camps in Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York.


7 responses to “Spirit & Song: Earning “Hymnal” Status”

  1. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    I have used music from the Spirit and Song series since volume 1 was published, alongside a variety of music from other resources and publishers. I find it to be a very helpful source of liturgical music, whether as a supplement to another hymnal or as a repertoire of music in its own right.

    While many of the composers are associated with youth ministry movements (LifeTeen, etc.), I would not characterize this as a youth-only resource. I have found depth of prayer, spirituality, and theology in many of these songs, psalms, and acclamations.

    In 2002, I was tasked with leading the music for a new Sunday evening parish Mass as part of a youth ministry initiative. We primarily used music from the Spirit and Song series, accompanied by lead/rhythm/bass guitar, keyboard, drums, flute, and several singers. Over time, this Mass attracted a stable community of disciples with a full range of ages represented. I would estimate that there were as many people there over the age of 40 as under, and many traveled a considerable distance every week to attend. Far from segregating the parish by age, on any given weekend we had a few high school and college students singing Palestrina and Byrd at the morning choir Mass, and a few octogenarians clapping along with the band in the evening. We were blessed with the musical and financial resources to do both forms of worship well, and both thrived under one roof.

  2. Nick Basehore Avatar
    Nick Basehore

    “One particular travesty is found in a new song for the Sprinkling Rite, which includes the supplication, “on our dryness pour your dew.” Perhaps a strained correlation to the “like the dewfall” simile found in EP II, I again feel as though some artists are trying too hard.”

    It’s not a strained correlation to EP 2…it’s a direct quote from the English translation of the Pentecost Sequence.

  3. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    These hymnal reviews are a great feature of PrayTell.

    While our parish hasn’t used Spirit & Song, we do use WLP’s Voices as One, which seems to occupy roughly the same stylistic position. It’s been a blessing and has augmented our parish repertoire. It is one of two hymnals in our parish; the other is GIA’s Gather 3rd Edition. It’s probably clear that we have a bit of a bias toward the contemporary in our repertoire, but by no means are we all-guitar-all-the-time, and we do incorporate some older and more traditional hymnody and chant.

    For a large, suburban parish like ours that doesn’t cater to a particular demographic, resources like Spirit & Song and Voices as One couldn’t stand on their own as the only, all-purpose hymnal for all occasions. But they do give us the ability to inject newer compositions and contemporary arrangements.

  4. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    I wonder about the marketing wisdom of a hardbound hymnal for this style of music. Maybe my view is skewed because the primary place I’ve encountered this genre is a well-know Catholic “megachurch” outside of Baltimore, but it seems to me that a projection screen is a much more likely way to “deliver” these texts than a traditional hymnal.

    1. Scott Pluff Avatar
      Scott Pluff

      @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:
      I wondered that too. The new S&S seems to go in two directions: a hardbound hymnal which presumably lasts 10 years in the pew, plus a robust digital edition which seems open to continual addition and editing.

      I am disappointed that they do not offer a spiral-bound edition of the keyboard book, only a hulking loose-leaf binder. This is a step backward from SS 1&2.

    2. Jim Pauwels Avatar
      Jim Pauwels

      @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:

      Hi, Fritz, are you questioning whether the material will have a 10-year lifespan, as Scott Pluff’s reply to you may imply; or whether a book, as opposed to a projection screen, is the best way to deliver the content to the assembly, for reasons other than the material’s expected lifespan (e.g. perhaps there is something about the nature of the material, or the experience in singing it, that makes it more suitable to ‘consume’ on-screen)?

      Either way, it’s an interesting thought :-). The latter possibility, that some forms of music are somehow more suitable to be sung via a screen than a book, hadn’t occurred to me before.

  5. Michael Zorner Avatar
    Michael Zorner

    This post is a little old bit I thought I might comment anyway.

    Our parish creates a weekly worship aid and pulls music primarily from GIA’s Gather and OCP’s Journeysongs. Last year we subscribed to the digital edition of Spirit & Song and slowly began incorporating music from it into our weekend masses. We have found great success with this contemporary music with both youth and adults. I find that it is a style of music that people who don’t often come to church enjoy. There have been a number of times that visitors to the parish have commented on how they enjoy the music. It is most often a song from Spirit & Song that they are referring to.

    One thing in particular that I like about the hymnal is that I can trust that all the music is appropriate for mass. Knowing that it has been vetted by two groups and then approved by a Bishop for use at mass is very important to me.

    And just a note about the sprinkling rite song mentioned. We have used it the last two years at Easter and have found great success with it. It has a simple refrain that even those who only come at Easter can pick up quickly.

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