By Rory Cooney
There are a few songs from the church repertoire that I remember from the first time I heard them, and as a music or choir director, decided on that very hearing that I was going to add them to the repertoire. Here I Am,Lord,ofcourse,wasone. SowasChristBeOurLightandIAmtheBreadofLifeandGatherUsIn. Iheardmostof those songs for the first time on a recording, but I Am the Bread of Life, I sang in the late 1960s at a funeral of a Vincentian at St. John’s in Camarillo, the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which the Vincentian community used to run.
Another song that I remember from a vinyl recording I received in the mid-1970s is a song by a group called The Dameans. I remember listening to it on a portable turntable in a mobile home I lived in back then! The album and the song was called Beginning Today. I don’t recall much else about it, but I assume someone gave it to me because they wanted the song for a wedding. Like a lot of songs, the lyrics aren’t about marriage as such, but are about a promise of steadfast love and commitment that takes all kinds of forms in our lives, one of which is in the sacrament of matrimony. I was really taken by this group of four seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans (hence their name, the Dameans) and their sound that was reminiscent of the Kingston Trio or Brothers Four, a connection to the folk music revival that was slowly giving way to the rise of rock music, but still thriving with the rise of artists like Cat Stevens, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell and so many others.
Eventually, the Dameans were ordained, and one of them, Michael Balhoff, became a pastor in a town called Gonzales, near Baton Rouge. The music group there had a high school student named Gary Daigle playing piano and guitar, and Mike was impressed enough with him that he eventually invited Gary to join the Dameans in their concerts and writing meetings. Adding piano to the Dameans acoustic guitar and upright bass sound changed their style, and the first album they did after Gary joined them, Remember Your Love, might be said to have changed how liturgical music sounded in the U.S. or at the very least, contributed to that change. In addition to the title song, that recording includedWe Praise You and Come, O Lord, both of which are still in the active repertoire of many churches. Remember Your Love came out in 1978, followed by Michael Joncas’s On Eagle’s Wings in 1979, and the piano was in church to stay.
The follow-up album to RYL was Path of Life, which was a collection of songs for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Today’s seing of Psalm 16, one of the common lectionary psalms of the Easter season, was co- wrien by Gary with Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote, and was the title song from that collection. The Dameans continued to write songs and produce new recordings for another ten years or so, and are still friends and partners, though separated by a lot more miles. In 1985, Gary Daigle moved from Louisiana to Phoenix to take a job at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale. We met almost on the day he arrived and started taking liturgy classes with John Gallen, S.J., shortly afterward, and Gary, Terry and I started working together on my second album, Do Not Fear to Hope, in 1985. Three years later, Gary was producing our albums, and we had already begun other collaborations.
Gary is now the music director at St. Edna’s in Arlington Heights. Over thirty years later, we are still friends and collaborators on projects whenever we can find the time. He is one of the finest musicians-and human beings-I know.