PRAYER BECOMES MUSIC
Hermit Sister Mary Beverly
is my joy and privilege to announce something quite new from
Marymount Hermitage. We have been able to record
and publish Sister Rebecca Mary’s original musical compositions
in which she sings in Hebrew, and occasionally Aramaic and
English, and accompanies herself on the guitar or dulcimer.
Sister Rebecca Mary singing and playing her guitar in chapel
as a form of prayer daily.
did these songs come from? They arose out of prayer, Scriptural
prayer, daily prayer, prayer before the Blessed
Sacrament in chapel. You might call these heart songs, hymns
of praise to the Lord arising out of the unceasing prayer
of a Hermit Sister. These songs form an intimate part of
dialogue with the Lord. They have been composed and used
in private. They have never been public, nor have they ever
heard by anyone other than a few songs, which Sister Rebecca
Mary sang for her immediate family and close friends over
the years. How did they come to be recorded?
friends and neighbors, Eberle Umbach and John Hayes, are
themselves musicians, composers, performing artists, teachers
and writers. When they came to know Sister
Rebecca Mary little more than a year ago, they discovered that she was writing
music and singing in Hebrew. They were fascinated by this unique occupation!
They asked to hear some of Sister’s selections and she was amazed that
they liked her music. Eberle, especially, felt that she would like to record
this music for the sake of archiving it. John had learned the technical aspects
of digital recording and they had the equipment to carry out this project.
One of the aspects of Sister Rebecca Mary’s music is
that it is like a river. At least this is how I think of
it. Today, you can step into the water
of the river, but the water is different than it was yesterday. The water
is always new and fresh. The water bubbles up from an ever-living
is the Holy Spirit. Sister Rebecca Mary’s prayer songs, because they
are not written down in music notation, stay in her memory when she is using
for daily prayer. After awhile, new songs replace the older ones and gradually
she forgets the older set. Eberle did not want these songs to be lost. She
and John offered to record whatever Sister would like to keep and she agreed.
In a series of sessions from March to December 2004, approximately
35 songs were digitally recorded on a mini-disk. All
the recordings were made in chapel,
we have discovered has perfect acoustics--in itself, a surprising gift
from the Lord. Both John and Eberle loved Sister Rebecca
Mary’s songs and urged
her to publish them. This was the first time we began to think that these songs
might be enjoyed by a wider audience.
and John have consistently refused to accept compensation
for their time and expertise for this work. On their part,
it has been a labor of love. We depend on the Lord, Himself, to reward
As a way of thanking our two friends for envisioning and implementing
this project, Sister wrote for Eberle and John a song, which
is Isaiah 49 in her collection.
Sister Rebecca Mary is often asked how she is inspired to write a particular
piece. Another example is that when her beloved and young nephew, Jay,
died suddenly, to console her sister, Dorothy Mann, Sister
Rebecca Mary wrote Jn.1&Rev.7...”God
will wipe away every tear...”
by her own admission Sister Rebecca Mary’s musical training has
been minimal, I think you will agree with me that her singing and playing
has all the authenticity and pleasing quality of someone whom the Lord
in His own mysterious and gracious way. The only reason Sister Rebecca
Mary agreed to publish her prayer songs was the idea that this recording
would give honor
and glory to God and not to herself.It
is our hope that, as her prayer has arisen as music to the
Lord, the songs will also lift your heart
and mind in prayer.
myself do not know Hebrew. However, since the key words are
repeated often, I have come to learn a fair number of them.
is a feature
of the songs, I would like to mention that this is in itself an
aspect of Hebrew
poetry. You will notice that often in the psalms, for instance,
a word or phrase from one line is repeated in the next. Secondly,
of contemplative prayer with Scripture. A word or phrase, which
resonates in ones heart, is repeated over and over, allowing
one’s heart to go deeper
into that reality, savoring the grace of it. So the repetition of words in Sister’s
music arises out of both the Hebrew structure itself and the nature
of contemplative prayer.
invite you to read the following interview of Sister Rebecca
Mary, which Eberle and John conducted in March, 2005 as the CD
publication. Since we are Hermit Sisters and our life is one
hidden in silence and solitude,
seclusion and withdrawal from the world, it is our hope that
Hosanna will be a small window
into our life of prayer in a way which
words and pictures
here to view the information on the cd or wish to
order one or more copies of this CD. All
go to support the Hermit Sisters at Marymount Hermitage in
our life of prayer for the Church and the world.
The bell tower near the chapel here at Marymount
Hermitage has become a familiar landmark. We use it for
the logo of our new CD.
April 19, 2005
Marymount Sisters Rebecca Mary and Mary Beverly,
to you! On the special occasion of our new Pope's
election, I write to you with a heart full of love and
gratitude. Thank you for your prayers and
service for our sake, our state. Indeed, our world is a better place because
of your faith-in-action.
is actually the second note I have written to you since the
death of Pope John Paul II. He has opened up
such a vast well-spring of grace that I can
hardly take it all in. I have realized that like Todd and me, the two of
you were joined
on mission in the year 1984. We were married Jan. 7, 1984. 21 years x 2 =
of this time has been desert living and now I can't help
but realize the call for us to live what we have learned through the desert.
entered the promised land, the land of intercession, where rivers of living
water will flow.
have become the bell tower and where you go, the bell rings.
have become the Angelus, the living prayer, and every flower you have
picked in the wild, now blooms and springs forth.
new day..."Come with me
into the fields."
OF SISTER REBECCA MARY, HSM
By Eberle Umbach and John Hayes
E: I want to ask you about your musical background. Was there
music in your family? What were your early interests in music?
My mom played the piano. She basically played by ear, but
she could read some music. She mostly played ragtime or
music from the movies, show music. I have two older sisters
and all three of us girls sang and harmonized together. My
oldest sister, Jeanne, played the piano and ukulele. My other
sister, Dorothy, doesn’t play an instrument, however
she sings and whistles beautifully.
|Eberle Umbach and John Hayes were introduced
to us by our mutual friend, Robert George. The three of
them play in various musical groups in the area for civic,
social, and cultural events.
There was quite a lot of music in your family.
SRM: Yes. My parents didn’t really sing, but they loved
music. We all loved music. I wouldn’t say anyone in the
family had much musical training. I’ve probably
had the most and it has been rather minimal. I studied
years and had two classes in music theory in college.
When I joined the convent, I quit playing guitar. I had
my guitar away. After several years, the community used
guitars occasionally for Mass. Then I was given a guitar
playing again on a regular basis.
So that’s when you started taking up your first
Is that when you started composing?
SRM: No, I started composing some time in the ‘70’s,
but I composed in English. I composed maybe thirty
or forty songs. The first songs I composed, I did with harmony.
a lot of harmony in those days. Then when we came
here to Mesa, Idaho, I wrote just one or two English songs.
But I didn’t
do anything in Hebrew until the year 2000.
I wanted to ask you about the first songs, the first 30 or
you perform those or do them
were they private, for your own use?
SRM: They were all intended to be private, but
one of the Sisters in the community [the Sisters
Mary of Oregon]
or four of the songs into music notation. The first
song I composed, “The Spirit and the Bride
Say Come,” the
community sang once or twice at Mass.
Were the songs all written to biblical texts?
SRM: Well, that one was. “The Spirit and the Bride
Say Come” is from Rev. 22:17. The other songs were
spiritual, like spiritual folk songs. But I didn’t
take most of them from Scripture.
So you wrote the lyrics to them yourself?
So then you came here to Marymount Hermitage and you started
SRM: We moved to Idaho in 1981 and then founded
Marymount in 1984. I think I composed one
or two in English
early years. I don’t remember what
they were. Then about the year 2000, I started
composing songs in Hebrew.
Why did you begin composing in Hebrew?
SRM: I had a tape of a Jewish opera singer
named Jan Peerce. I’ve always liked
the sound of Hebrew music like “Fiddler
on the Roof” and other collections
like that. There is just something about
it that fascinates me. So I got his tape
entitled The Art of the Cantor. The songs
were chanted with
orchestral background music. I absolutely
loved it and I thought, “I
wish I could sing it.” It did not
have any English translation. It was in
Hebrew. I thought, “I would love
to sing in that language! If I want to
know what he is singing, if I want
to sing it, I better study Hebrew.” That
is when I started studying Hebrew, about
to play the dulcimer has been a new project for Sister
So you started teaching yourself Hebrew?
SRM: Yes, with home study courses. Audio
Forum, for instance, offers numerous
the most part, are people who are native
speakers. You really get
a good sense of how the language should
sound because it is spoken by someone
who is speaks
That would be important to you because it was the sound of
Hebrew which really
SRM: Yes. Besides learning Hebrew so
I could sing in that language, I was
to read and pray
in the original language of the Old
Testament. Audio-Forum had a program
me how to chant and sing
in Hebrew. So that’s when I finally
learned how to sing Hebrew. It took
awhile, since the accent is in a different
It is usually on the last syllable
rather than the first. Sometimes
it is on the second. But with about
75% of Hebrew words, the accent is
on the last syllable. This is not true
English, so the difference took some
time to learn.
that Hebrew is different from English
and the effect that that would have
on writing songs would be difficult.
The accent is different. Another
difficulty is that you read Hebrew from right
to left, which is the
of English. It seems that would have
a profound effect when you are writing
a song. Is that true?
SRM: Well, it is true, but by the
time I started writing Hebrew music,
familiar with the
seem that strange. When a language
is very different from yours, everything
about it goes with that language.
you are not
putting English interpretations in
it. It is a switch of your mind.
The difficult part of composing a
song was putting
into musical notation. Our music
is from left to right. The way I
solve this problem is that I have
the lines of
script written on a piece of paper
and then over the words I put the
appropriate guitar chords and often
to tell me which note I want for
the melody. This means that a
lot of the melody and all of the
rhythms are entirely in my head and
never written out in music notation.
of course, is that over time, I forget
the melody and the song
is lost! I tend to remember only
the songs I am currently using for
prayer on a daily basis.
Do you always start from a text?
Or do you sometimes have a melody
SRM: That is a good question. Generally,
I do start with a text, but sometimes
a melody comes
mind and then
something to go with it. Because
my songs usually
spring from my prayer, the Scripture
text is almost always
point. In writing out a melody,
I try to fit the music to the words
first. The refrain often is the
line of the psalm, for instance.
If it is not
is a verse which
seems to tie the other verses together.
The number of lines in the verses
of a song in
vary a lot. So music-wise,
one melody for all the verses often
does not work.
The length of lines varies from one verse to
the next in a song?
SRM: Right. I rather like that
aspect though, because it is
challenge! I find
that part intriguing.
Hebrew poetry is not based on the number of syllables the
it is in
fits into our
idea of melody quite well because
the lines generally are the
Hebrew poetry is
built on a different
idea of meter.
SRM: Yes, that is very true!
So the whole process of building a melody to a Hebrew
when you translate
parts of the song into English?
SRM: That is a BIG challenge.
I like having a song in Hebrew
but in Hebrew
instance, “The Lord
is my shepherd. I shall not
want,” is four words.
In English, it is a phrase
of nine words.
So you can’t
really use the same melody
for the English translation?
SRM: No, I have to change
the melody somewhat by
here and there.
Translations which are
I just don’t do.
If the sentence structure
is similar, then those
are the songs I usually
do in both Hebrew and
English. What I like about
the Hebrew is that it is
so direct. The language
does not have a large vocabulary
and that gives it a certain
power and strength, which
appeal to me.
It is interesting that
you say the directness
you because that
hear in your music. It
is very direct, both
in your singing. It sounds
is the way you feel about
the Hebrew language.
SRM: That’s right. I love the Hebrew words themselves.
Hebrew is an ancient
and primitive language. It doesn’t
use a lot of words. Hebrew
is also rhythmic. The words often have the same ending and
so they sound good together.
also makes for smoother
Something else I hear in your music is rhythm. There
quite complex and
unexpected. They are
not regular and predictable.
say musically how you
are dividing up the
inner beats, but I
your sense of rhythm.
I am wondering
comes from the Hebrew?
SRM: It probably does
because the Hebrew
lend itself to the
same kind of rhythms
and melodies that English
does. I always feel
very satisfied when
I can do
and English in a song!
I like the idea of
first starting with
the Hebrew and then
it even gives the English
a certain depth, a
certain strength and
power. I, myself, hear
it differently because
background of Hebrew
words first. I love
to do that.
So it is almost like the
by the sound
and cadence of the
SRM: It is the same
sound. I am saying
in Hebrew. That
is the particular
when you hear that
same text in English,
it is not just the
English has a very big vocabulary
a lot of languages.
French, I know,
has no where
words as there
are in English. So, therefore,
you have to have
words do double,
a large vocabulary
because it is specifically
two different languages,
French and a
SRM: Well, that’s very interesting! So that’s
why it has such
a huge vocabulary and you can do so much in English.
your music as
a kind of
SRM: I get my
ideas when I’m
line of Scripture.
like to pray
Then after prayer,
I think, “Oh,
that would be
nice as a song.” So
then I put it
to music. It
is like the words
are playing upon
my heart. I sit
listen to the
Lord, but I can
get a lot of
But when I have
sung the verses
that the Lord
is speaking to
me, the music
is in my mind.
My “distraction,” if
you want to call
it that, is what
I want to pray
about! I find
a really wonderful
my mind is singing.
all right! I
am singing God’s
I imagine there is a whole
SRM: Yes, in
was a magazine
a priest, who
what the psalms
of David sounded
like when they
I don’t think I knew that.
70 of the
composed by King David.
the priest discovered
him his question.
laughed and he said, “You got your Gregorian chant
from us!” In
that chant goes way back. It is ancient, built on the psalms,
as they were sung in ancient Israel. And
since I began studying Hebrew, I have heard some very historically
chants, and they sound very much like Gregorian
there is that connection. Of course, in the early years
when I was in the convent, I learned Gregorian chant
and we, as
Sisters, sang in a choir and so I have Catholic liturgical
music in my background, as well as ideas from
artists, whom I have liked in the past.
I am wondering how you might
There is an
It’s not like I am singing.
I am hearing the words out here, which is God’s word,
speaking to me. And because it is in a different language
sometimes I pay more attention! So it ministers to me.
I should put it
that way. It helps me to listen more attentively to God’s
word. Then, the fact that it is the original language
of Old Testament, it is very ancient, simple and strong.
don’t quite know what
to ask. It seems like such an important aspect of your
music. Prayer seems to be very much a part of its identity.
after singing songs of praise, they walked out to
the Mount of Olives.” (Matt. 26:30) So the
last thing Jesus did before His Passion was to sing.
It is just a small line and
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody
comment on it. To me, that is a very important line.
It is as if
the singing was part of Jesus preparation for His
coming Passion and
Death. He sang praise to His Father and then goes
to Gethsemani and
starts His agony. Of course, the singing was part
of the religious tradition of the Seder meal which
But I just love that line!
for Christmas and Easter and sometimes other high holy days,
our non-Catholic friends form an orchestra to provide special
music for Mass. Pictured from left to right are Bob George
on guitar, Sister Beverly on flute, John Hayes on baritone
ukulele, and Eberle Umbach on flute. All of us musicians
play multiple instruments and so orchestrating each piece
is a real joy.
It’s very beautiful.
were asking, “How
music is prayer?” It was part of Jesus’ prayer,
too. When He was in the agony, He prayed.
The Gospels do not record anything about singing
in Gethsemani. But that
was part of his prayer for something which
was coming up and which
was going to be horrendous. We also have accounts
of the martyrs
singing as they went to execution. How mysterious
it is that music is an unspoken part of life
and death and eternity!
you’re almost saying
that it adds a dimension beyond the words.
of God’s beautiful gifts.
He has given us a lot of beautiful gifts, but there
is something about music, and I think for me, it
is the mystery.
We can never totally understand it.
in the night,” is the holy charge of hermits.
Night vigils have long been a tradition of hermits.
In the vigil,
we watch, we wait in silent prayer. We keep
vigil like sentinels.
Concepts like watching, waiting, keeping silent
seem to be useless
words to many in a culture where everything
is accelerated, going
full speed to accomplish a multitude of important
things. Yet as a hermit, I am called to watch
and wait in silence.
Daniel saw something of the mystery of God
in his night watch.
So I too will watch for Him. Not to discover
the mysteries of
God, but to give Him praise and to lift up
in prayer my brothers and sisters in need.
Lord’s presence, it is very
different. I am more relaxed. It is more
authentic prayer then because
there is nobody listening, but God.
words with a heartfelt spirit. I like to see myself as the
minstrel of the Lord, singing His praises, asking for His answer
to my favorite prayer: “The desire of my heart is that
all may be saved.” I know it is first and foremost God’s
orchestra at Easter time included Sister Rebecca Mary,
Bob George, Judy Ellis on cello and Sister
Mary Ellen standing behind.
||John Hayes is shown playing his bouzouki,
an ancient Greek instrument. He plays a variety of string
instruments with us including guitar, baritone ukulele
and electric bas.
||Bob George plays his guitar, but he also plays mandolin
and clarinet for our orchestra.
||Eberle Umbach is shown playing our newly donated piano.
She is a classical pianist, but also plays flute, marimba,
dulcimer and a wide variety of percussion instruments.
||Sister Mary Beverly is shown playing the flute. She studied
the piano when young and is now getting the opportunity
to refine her skills on the newly donated piano.
||Sister Mary Ellen is playing her new angel harp.
Mary Ellen is using Eberle's "frog" as a percussion
instrument for the Easter Mass this year. We make a joyful
noise unto the Lord!
||Sister Rebecca Mary is playing her guitar which is her
By Sister Mary Ellen Hanson, SSMO
has come to the Heartland of Idaho! May your spring be as
full of Life as the one here at Marymount
Hermitage on the mesa. We still have some snow patches in mid-March
and the buttercups are the first to take advantage of any open
spaces to show their color.
once again became “hooked” on
the fine art of bird watching. Early in the month, skies overhead
became a major geese flyway. On a clear morning
from about 9:30 to 10:00 AM, twelve flocks noisily embarked from a southeasterly
direction in various formations. Some had very clear leadership. Others seemed
to ramble here and there. The honking always seemed the same. One early group
supported over a hundred sky-borne birds. Another made up a nice tight group
of thirty. In the evenings, some were just beginning their journey. Night flying
though is not quite as popular.
geese types always have moved northward this month. I wonder
how that is all determined? Noteworthy are the numerous types
which leave white, jet trails behind and choose the higher altitudes and
to be going in the same direction both north and south at all hours of night
and day. There is no flapping of wings, however. Maybe they carry the same
various numbers of “passengers.” The Sisters say the meadow larks arrived
earlier than usual.
three varieties, are at home here. Horned lark and western
oriole nest 200 feet below the mesa along Goodrich Road.
A blue heron
rookery is very busy along Midvale's Weiser River.
and mud are features of spring regionally as well. Mud is
usually one kind: red and “clayish.” I have since acquired mud boots. The car washes
will not accept cars with mud! Bugs include all the varieties God had in mind,
I think: the brown ones which in a heated hermitage keep one company year round
(relatives of the box elder bugs, they say); re-emergence of the spider, wasp,
lady bug families and one discovered today resembling a miniature centipede;
the scary looking stink bug, which never hurts anyone, but sure smells when “done
wonderful aspect of this sabbatical is how musical it has
been. Musicians abound here on the mesa. It is a joy to share
in the group with flute,
guitar, dulcimer, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele-banjo, piano, drums,
bells within the
framework of liturgy. A rather ecumenical combo, actually.
role? As percussionist, a
contribution with cymbal, triangle, frog, drum, basket, finger cymbals
and song. I think I like the “frog” the best! A new angel harp is now asking
to be included. We shall see! It has a wonderful tone and is anticipating the
same kind of harpist! The honest aspiration for the latter is a “healing
Sister Mary Ellen began her sabbatical here in Aug. 2004
and concluded it on May 21, 2005. She then returned to her
community in Beaverton, Oregon. It was a blessing having
her here and we miss her very much!
would like to publicly thank Paul Franklin and the staff
of Custom Recording in Boise, Idaho for their very professional
and courteous assistance in producing our first music CD,
thanks to our faithful print, Jim Strange and
his staff at
Ontario Instant Press, in Ontario, OR
for the CD booklet so professionally printed.
bless all our generous friends and benefactors.
"Help us, O Mary, always to re-think our lives
with a spirit of faith.
Help us to safeguard places for silence and contemplation
in the frenzy of our daily lives."
Pope John Paul II on Jan. 1, 2001
"Praise of God becomes like
the continuous breath of the soul."
Pope John Paul II on Jan. 9, 2002 in Rome
HERMITAGE NEWSLETTER is
published by Marymount Hermitage, Inc., a non-profit, tax-exempt
corporation in the State of Idaho.
The Hermit Sisters of Mary are a canonically approved Catholic
community of women hermits following the Rule of St. Benedict.The
newsletter is normally published three times a year and is free.
The newsletter is sent to our relatives, friends and benefactors
so that we might share the spirituality and material progress
of Marymount Hermitage. Please pray that we may be faithful
way of life in prayer and penance, solitude and silence. Any
donations to Marymount Hermitage are sincerely appreciated
and are tax-deductible.