Today a great deal of Roman Catholic “folk” music used in parishes tends towards the bland and trite. Much of the blame for this can be laid at OCP’s feet, and that fact has been an impetus towards the restoration of more “traditional” music in Masses, an impetus that has come from the Holy See itself.
But during the 1960’s and 1970’s, when much of the music had its genesis, the possibilities for real creativity were more easily exploited. Although composers and performers of that era were just as capable of mediocrity as their current counterparts, there were some really outstanding ones, many whose work has been forgotten. One of the best examples–in every sense of the word–is Sister Juliana Garza.
Sister Juliana was originally from North Hollywood, California. She made a profession with the Sisters of Charity of Providence in Seattle, Washington, but not before she was learning and making music. From here:
She was raised in an atmosphere conducive to the development of her talent. Her father, who has taught Spanish classical guitar, interested his daughter at an early age in the instrument she now uses to accompany her songs. By the time she was twelve she and her father had spent many recreative hours playing the guitar together. During her late teens Juliana began singing professionally, with folk and popular music her main interest.
Mixed Expressions (Audio Recording ARL-1223, 1967)
That background is very much in evidence with this, her first recording. Although her vocal range sometimes doesn’t quite get to the edge of the envelope she pushes it to, Juliana Garza is a skilled classical guitarist, a very deft composer and lyricist (something that is desperately missing from so much music today,) and her vocals are authentic and clear. Some of her folk approaches a British folk ballad style. The result is an album that, at times, blows one away. An example of this is “The Love of Our God,” featured in this YouTube video:
As she described when the album came out:
“The songs I write have already been written,” says Sister Juliana. “They have been written in the wind, the sky, the trees, in all that pass me by. I have just paused to listen and write them down. The artist rearranges what he sees and thereby creates a new expression of life. This is what I have tried to do. I have gathered what I have learned and what I have seen and thought about and unified it in song. To all who listen let expression be individual so that the thoughts grow, for only then will these songs find meaning.”
- The Time Is Now
- Forest Of Plenty
- Days Of September
- Comes Winter
- Virgin’s Lullaby
- The Sun Is Now Shining
- Sparkle and Shine
- The Love of Our God
- The Wind Will Blow
- Mary Immaculate
- Heart Of Christ
- The Sky’s A Dying
- The Loved One
- Someone’s Not For Crying
- Bring Him All Of Your Troubles
- All The Days
In addition to Sister Juliana’s vocals and guitar, she was assisted in the recording by Sisters Mary Margaret Lang, Mary Ann Costello and Ann Mary Dussault.
Communion Muse (NALR 31608/8, 1973)
Artists sometimes get into a formula rut where that formula either stays the same or deteriorates. But that’s not the case here; after a six year hiatus, some of which was back in her native California, Garza is back with a band. The result is an avant-garde masterpiece that deserves to take its place with the best of them. One difficulty that may have hampered her acceptance in “mainstream” Catholic music is the fact that both this and the previous album are more at home in a coffeehouse (or, in the case of pieces like “Uncertain Tide,” in a club) than at Mass, but “We Come To Your Table” is a masterpiece that made many a communion special.
At the time the album was made, she was teaching at Immaculate High School in Seattle. She had this to say here about her music:
“Composing songs is a form of prayer for me,” commented Sister Juliana Garza as she waits for “Communion Muse,” her second record, to be released at the end of February.
“Music springs out of life situations,” according to Sister Juliana. Four of her songs on “Communion Muse” are social comment. The “Migrant” resulted from Sister’s working with the migrants in the Yakima Valley two years ago. And “Winter” is about the hippies; their quest for living life now and not wanting to be crushed by society.
“An artist is a person who expresses outwardly what people feel inwardly and I am an artist,” said Sister Juliana. “The songs I write express my feelings about God; they come from who I am, and that has to be shared. One of the reasons I sing is that there are people who will listen.”
- Communion Muse
- When It’s Time
- Pardon Me
- Uncertain Tide
- It’s All Right
- We Come To Your Table
- Psalm 83
- Peace Be To You
- Our Father
At the time the album was made, she had a contract with NALR for three albums, but to my knowledge the other two were never made. Catholic music took another direction, one more predictable and easier for parishes to digest (if not necessarily the parishioners) but without the artistic flair of which Sister Juliana Garza was a master.