Word of God Chorus and Orchestra: Praises for the King (W/G 8020, 1980)
Throughout the 1970’s the Word of God, that Catholic Charismatic covenant community par excellence in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had two distinguishing features. The first was its authoritarian headship structure, whose main architects were Steve Clark and Ralph Martin. The second was its flat music style, heavy on chorded acoustical guitar and light on percussion. Both of these were doubtless considered “from the throne room” by the community’s leadership.
How the first came to a halt is better documented in a place like this. As far as the music was concerned, although there was certainly better quality Catholic music being put out during the era (some of which is on this site,) much of what graced parishes, prayer groups and communities alike was flat and banal. The unimaginative style that the Word of God and other covenant communities employed was no better than some, but no worse than many.
The limitations of that style were thrust in front of everyone, however, with the release of John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper in 1979. Produced in neighbouring Indiana, this skilful combination of orchestration, Talbot’s guitar work and the simple choral arrangements changed a great deal of what people thought was possible in Catholic music (and his subsequent albums reinforced that.) This obviously caused coordinator consternation in Ann Arbor. How could a recent convert like Talbot take an uncovenanted group in Indianapolis and outdo us?
To some extent, Praises for the King can be seen as a response to that groundbreaking effort. To accomplish this Jim Cavnar, music director at Word of God, brought in Cleon “Skip” Chapen to write truly orchestral arrangements for this album. They beefed up both orchestra and chorus from previous efforts, diversifying the instrumental mix and definitely changing the sound if not the song selection.
So how does it come off? It’s not as creative of an orchestration as one would like (Chapen would have done well to study both Talbot and the mysterious producers of A City Set Upon a Hill Cannot Be Hid) but it is an orchestration, and a serious step up. And, in a change that almost seems contradictory to the format, this album goes back to earlier Word of God efforts like New Life in that it replicates/incorporates the worship of the community, including singing in the Spirit. As Cavnar himself does all but admit, it is one of their more spontaneous and spiritual productions.
One feature of the album that is in line with earlier production are the acoustics. Word of God albums were generally recorded in reverberant acoustical environments, as was the case with many other Catholic efforts of the time. It’s too bad that an album they sent to London to master ended up being recorded in the basement of a church.
With all that said, Praises for the King is a creditable production, and in reality the best album the community ever put out.
- Hymn of Glory/Psalm 89
- Be Exalted, O God/Thou Art Worthy
- Proclaim His Marvellous Deeds
- Psalm 150
- You Are Holy/Holy God We Praise Your Name
- One Thing I Ask For
- The Song of Moses
12 Replies to “Word of God Chorus and Orchestra: Praises for the King”
The critique here is silly and superficial. The writer obviously knows very little of The Word of God or its history. He treats the musicians as if they were recording artists competing with other artist of the time. This is the furthest from the truth. This music came from the life and worship of a vibrant and lively Christian renewal community. I was not working (as second recording engineer) on this album as I did on other ones. This might have been a recording of a live performance in Hill Auditorium (one of the finest concert halls in the country). Cleon (Skip) Chapin was not “brought in”. He was a member of The Word of God Community as were all the musicians on the album.
I think New Life and Hymn of Glory were recorded on two track stereo in reverberant rooms. I believe they were both church sanctuaries not basements. The rest of The Word of God Music and Servant Music were recorded in one inch eight track and mixed down.
Songs of Praise album collection was recorded in order of the printed music books for the purpose of learning and teaching the songs. The Word of God provided a legal music book for the Charismatic Renewal at a time when publishing companies were suing the Catholic Diocese of Chicago for stealing music rights. When we sang music written (and collected from friends) by our own musicians, it seemed very life giving. It was music that was an expression of our life together and corporate worship of God our Father.
There are a few things that bear observation here.
First the album cover (which replicates your perspective on the nature of the music) states the following: “It’s our expression of our love and adoration for God as we have experienced it in the basement of Bethlehem Church in Ann Arbor”. That’s where the business about the recording venue comes from. And it should be noted that many church sanctuaries (especially older ones) are reverberant as well.
Second, concerning FEL’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago (and others) some perspective is necessary and comes from here:
The Dameans got their rights back and are selling their albums again.
Third, if you’re interested in discussing the general merits or demerits of covenant communities such as Word of God, this is an excellent forum:
I was part of the chorus in those early (about 1977)recordings you speak of and to this day have never experienced a more profound worship experience than while part of the Word of God Community. The music was not intended to be “electronically enhanced performance”. It was pure Spirit led praise and worship and intended to be shared with the growing charismatic movement as just that. It was vibrant, alive and filled with the awesome presence of the Spirit of God.
This album was recorded in a professional recording studio using the best equipment of the day, not any kind of basement. I know this for a fact, since I was there, conducted most of the performances, and co-produced the recording. The musicians, with few exceptions, were not professionals. The orchestrations were designed to make the best use of the available instruments, highlighting the best voices and instrumentalists available who were also members of the community. It’s completely disingenuous to suggest that this was inspired by anything other than the worship life of the community, which was, while I was a member, vibrant, inspiring, and creative. It set out to capture the emotional arc of a prayer meeting, and, despite all of its flaws, it succeeded pretty well.
Though, at a distance of 30 years, it does seem rather naive in its enthusiasms, and, indeed, quite unsophisticated by today’s standards. Unfortunately the best album that the Word of God Community produced, which was an album of songs by Don Fishel, the group’s premier composer, was never released.
I discussed the basement business in my response to Mr. Plummer; that came from the album cover. Reverberant acoustics were a common fault in “Jesus Music” albums of the era, especially Catholic and Episcopal ones.
Charismatic Renewal Services (the marketing and distribution arm of the covenant communities) was a fairly substantial business operation in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. As Mr. Plummer points out, one of their objectives was to furnish Catholic prayer groups, communities and parishes with sheet music and recordings; however, the last ultimately opted for NALR and ultimately OCP, which hasn’t advanced the state of Catholic parish music as much as they would like to think.
The major change in this album was the instrumental mix. As you will recall, the “norm” presented by most of the WoG’s albums was heavy on acoustic guitars and light on percussion, in part because percussion in church was regarded with deep suspicion by many. The orchestration on this album was a surprise to me at least. Although orchestras are not uncommon in churches today, at the time this was something of a novelty.
I try not to compare this or any other music on the blog to current standards. Some has obviously aged better than others. Some has appeal in parts of the world uninfected with the worship style we have in the US. However I think it’s legitimate to compare it to contemporaneous productions.
It’s too bad that the album featuring Donald Fishel’s music never saw the light of day.
I couldn’t agree more! However, many of these songs were certainly never even written, nor conceived of, to be sung with orchestral accompaniment. I always loved the music of WoG in the ”70s, and was very inspired by it. It contributed greatly to enthusiastic worship because it was new, original, and expressive of the group worship experience.
International Liturgy Publications (ILP) is honored to publish the music of Don Fishel, Roger Holtz, Jane Terwiliger, Sr. Stacy Whitfield, Amy Righi, Ann Berger, Michael Giszczek, Ann Fons, Sr. Sarah Burdick, Elissa Krieg, Jim Cowan, John Flaherty and many other talented authors and composers that give glory to God in their artistry. The reviewer of the music (review posted above) clearly knows little about the Charismatic Renewal, Word of God or the music born of this covenant community experience. Comparing these recordings to the recordings of John Michael Talbot (who has also made an enormous contribution to the experience of Catholic music as prayer) is inappropriate, as each is the fruit of two very different faith experiences and each is intended to be a unique genre of music. For more music from these dedicated composers and authors, please visit http://www.ILPmusic.org. God’s blessings, Vincent Ambrosetti, Publisher, ILP
He knows more than you think.
I disagree. Much of the music was great
You are correct! Most of the music was great!