Make Me A Channel

At noon Mass today, our pastor emeritus chose “Make Me a Channel/Prayer of St Francis” as the hymn of the day. It’s of the generation of “Keep In Mind,” and I remember singing this as a pre-Catholic in sixth grade.

It may be most famous for being a favorite of Princess Di, and it was arranged for four-part singing at her funeral.

My musical colleagues struggled with it in college. We were handed a rather static arrangement of chords to go with the text. GIA’s Diana Kodner improves on the usual accompaniment in the Gather hymnals. I confess I don’t know what to do with it. The tune is singable and it seems to have a certain staying power. Except for the deceased Princess of Wales, I don’t know anyone who counts it as their favorite. Enough people seem to like it well enough.

It has an unusual structure, especially for its day. Four short verses, like most metered hymns. But verse three is suggestive of a different key with the use of the IV and V/V harmonizations. Yet the melody isn’t really all that different. AABA form, right?

OCP gives the briefest bio of the composer (pictured left).

Other composers have attempted to set the text attributed to Saint Francis. I can’t say I’ve ever seen one written for the assembly that really impressed me. Maybe you have.

Those who attend to the “categories” on this site will note I’ve added a new one under “Liturgical Music,” that of “Songlist.” Yesterday’s post on the Deiss classic seemed to have sparked some interesting discussion, so I’ll go with the idea of commenting on specific songs and hymns in the Catholic or Christian repertoire. This category will not include psalms, Mass settings, or compositions of that sort. Any suggestions for hymns or songs we should look at?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Make Me A Channel

  1. Ben says:

    This has been one of my favorites for years. Growing up in a Franciscan Parish probably helped push the song into my favorites list.

  2. Mollie says:

    We sing this at our church every week (during the sign of peace, a practice I’m not crazy about – but I do love the prayer). I’ve learned it’s important for the accompanist to keep the pace moderate. That last line (“…and in dying that we’re born to eternal life”) is awfully wordy, and if you’re going too fast it sounds ridiculous.

  3. Somewhat surprisingly, Todd, the arrangement for Di’s funeral was by Mark Hayes (as one might’ve looked to Rutter for something.) It is a worthy staple for a modern church choir, and Hayes’ catalog is just as valuable to me, or moreso, than Rutter’s, Leavitt’s, Courtney’s et al. His ear/brain/hands connection is something to behold. He’s an artisan composer, though, not a seminal composer, IMO.
    As regards Temple’s basic tune, I’ve found that if you avoid strums, use added major ninths and suspended 7ths here and there, it breathes a bit freer than its modest, very folky origins. (And I met and heard Temple in the Bay Area in the early 70’s, yikes.)He was considerably older and plumper than the photo indicates. So am I, for that matter! His “Take My Hands” is the only other major holdover, but doesn’t enjoy the popularity of PoSF.
    In fact, I would say the PoSF is the only piece routinely requested for funerals, or might come up on a Sunday radar now and then from that era. From Temple, Wise, Repp, one moves to SLJ’s, and all heck breaking loose.

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