A Musical Glimpse into the Community

by Shea Rowell, MSMU C’19

As a student intern for the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives, I have had the opportunity for the past several weeks to examine the music collection held by the Daughters. While sorting through hundreds of pages of sheet music composed or owned by the Daughters, I cannot help but wonder at the depth of devotion that emanates from the hand-scratched notes and type-written lyrics resting upon the printed staves. The music is eclectic, some as traditional as new settings of the Mass Ordinary, and some as particular and fresh as the quirky “Summer School Songs” reflecting the joys and struggles of a teacher in the summer. Each piece, however, reveals the lives of the individuals who contributed to the lyrics or music, and the community at-large.

Through the lyrics of the many pieces, the common values of the Daughters of Charity become evident. There are dozens of pieces dedicated to the Vincentian saints: St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac, and St. Catherine Laboure. These must have been the objects of frequent private meditation and public reverence, as the lyrics uphold them as models for holiness in the community. Many of the hymns focus on the role of
the Daughters as servants: servants of the poor, servants of the community, servants to the will of God. Humility, then, is chief among the virtues the community exalts. The joy of life and sense of humor of the community also hide within the pages of music, as many of the pieces are songs of praise and thanksgiving to God, and a few even poke fun at community life!

In short, the music written or held by the Daughters gives the world another perspective of their spiritual lives. We can hear the sound of a new Daughter joining the community transcribed in the “Vow Hymn.” We have evidence of the favorite songs, sacred and secular, of the individuals, hand-copied on scratch paper. We can imagine the trill of their treble voices lifted in prayer to the lyrics of “The Three Kings Song for Joy” on the feast of the Epiphany, or joining in the chorus of the “Alleluia” at Sunday mass.

The Daughters’ individuality, styles, and preferences, are highlighted by the diverse selection of compositions. Their unity, however, as members the Daughters of Charity, is manifest in the common values they and experiences they document in music. Like all art, the music of the daughters expresses their identities and the beauty they found in the daily practice of God’s will.

I would like to include the lyrics to one of the “Summer School Songs” (anonymous) as an example of community humor, sung, it seems, to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to  Town.”

Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better go hide, I’m telling you why —

The Council had a meeting today.

They’re making a list of who’s there or here —

You might find that you’re other places next year —

The Council had a meeting today.

They know what you’ve been doing, and they know what you can do,

So they might be picking out another job next year for you.

 

So pack up your trunk, get your habit in shape,

Throw out all your junk and never feel safe —

The Council had a meeting today.

 

The collection will be open to members of the community and to researchers by the end of the semester.

 

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