Singer-songwriter Sarah Hart records music for Oregon Catholic Press in 2020. “At the end of the day, all writers want to write from a place of honesty so that other people can feel their own story in a song,” said Hart. (Courtesy Sarah Hart)
Singer-songwriter Sarah Hart records music for Oregon Catholic Press in 2020. “At the end of the day, all writers want to write from a place of honesty so that other people can feel their own story in a song,” said Hart. (Courtesy Sarah Hart)
" A new liturgical song should start with the Holy Spirit motivating somebody to create.

" Glenn Byer OCP worship publications manager

Before an Oregon Catholic Press song is belted out, mumbled through or captured with an exquisite voice by hymnal-holding Catholics in the pews, it undergoes an extensive development process that includes theology and liturgy experts, music editors, and engravers.

First, though, comes the most important moment in a song’s journey to print.

“It should start with the Holy Spirit motivating somebody to create,” said Glenn Byer, worship publications manager for OCP.

Dan Schutte, who wrote “Here I Am, Lord” and “City of God,” is one of the most well-known composers in the church, creating music for more than 50 years. He said his songs often begin when God touches his heart during prayer, a liturgy or while he ponders Scripture.

Inspiration also may come amid ordinary moments — while driving a car, working in the garden, feeling awed by nature. In such instances, a song emerges not from prayer in the traditional sense but “prayer that involves being aware of the presence of God in and around us,” said Schutte.

Once a composer feels a song is ready to be shared, it’s submitted to OCP, where a committee reviews the piece. The group includes accomplished musicians, individuals with advanced degrees in liturgy and theology, and those involved in music ministry at a parish.

GLENN BYER

“We evaluate the song through various perspectives,” said Byer, a liturgy and theology expert and author who holds a Sacred Liturgy Doctorate from San Anselmo in Rome. The piece also must fulfill a liturgical need. “It could be a bang-up text, but if there’s not a liturgical use for it, then it would need to be published elsewhere,” Byer said.

When possible, the artists are kept anonymous during the initial review process, with OCP welcoming music from anyone.

“We are somewhat unique as a publisher in that we accept unsolicited submissions,” said OCP’s Rick Modlin. “We like to keep it open in the hopes of finding a new gem.”

As music development manager, Modlin reviews newly submitted music, helps determine what gets published and then works with composers to prepare a piece for print.

New compositions typically are published first as an individual song, which OCP refers to as an “octavo,” or as part of a collection, such as those featuring hymn texts by women or pieces for first Communion. The majority of songs that make it into a missal or hymnal were published previously. “They are the collections of the most requested, most used music,” Modlin explained.

RICK MODLIN

Once a song is accepted by OCP, its composer works with Modlin’s team in music development. This is the most hand-on phase.

“A song might be perfect and fly right through, but usually there are some changes suggested,” said Byer.

Foremost, the piece needs to work for its intended purpose. If it’s a Communion song, for instance, it must be long enough to sustain a Communion procession.

The theology of a composition is reviewed at several points in the publishing process. If a song is slated for a missal, it is also reviewed by an outside theologian. Special attention is paid to how the Eucharist, the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity are treated within a text, Byer said. For example the song must convey that the Eucharist is truly the body of Christ.

“OCP as a publisher is great about ensuring theological soundness,” said Sarah Hart, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and a leading contemporary Catholic musician. “I’ve learned over the years they are very, very picky about the songs that come in and making sure the songs are good for the church.”

Modlin noted that a composition should not only fit a liturgical need and be theologically sound but also say something new or express a concept in a new way. “So we are looking at the poetry of it, too,” he said.

After music development, the piece passes through music editorial, where it’s examined from a textual perspective, and then it’s on to engraving. There an OCP team ensures notes are the correct font and size and are spaced properly. OCP’s engraving is widely recognized in the liturgical music world as especially beautiful.

The final steps are printing the song or collection of songs and making a recording. Nearly all pieces published by OCP are recorded.

Hart said her greatest hope for a finished work is that it will help people feel something in their heart or soul and “go deeper with their faith.”

“Perhaps it will make them cry, perhaps it will make them laugh, perhaps it will make them think about something that they hadn’t thought of before,” she said. “At the end of the day, all writers want to write from a place of honesty so that other people can feel their own story in a song.”

Schutte said he tries to write music that expresses what worshippers would like to say to God. Ultimately, he hopes people experience beauty in his work.

“When something beautiful takes our breath away or causes our eyes to tear up,” said Schutte, “we experience the presence of something and someone transcendent.”