Be Thankful Like Carole Bayer Sager

Modern country stars aren’t the only ones who can write inspirational music. Carole Bayer was born and raised in New York City. Even before high school graduation from the New York City High School of Music and Art, she had written her first pop hit, “A Groovy Kind of Love”. She recorded three albums as a singer between 1977 and 1981. But her main focus has been writing. Her pop standards have been recorded by the Beach Boys, Bette Midler, Helen Reddy, Carly Simon, The Doobie Brothers, Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Rod Stewart, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and many others. She won an Academy Award for best song (“Arthur’s Theme” from Arthur), a Grammy Award for song of the year “(“That’s What Friends Are For”), two Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the New York University Alumni Association. During all this time working with the stars, she married record producer Andrew Sager in 1970, a pairing that ended in divorce in 1978. She later married Burt Bacharach with whom she wrote many of her songs in the 1980s. Today she is living in Los Angeles and married to Robert Daly, former chair of Warner Brothers and current chair of the American Film Institute.

She often collaborated with others It appears the most inspirational collaborations are with David Foster. “Thankful” was released on Josh Groban’s Christmas album, Noel, in 2007. Though it is on a Christmas album, it is a fitting song for Thanksgiving, with the key lines being, “And even though this world needs so much more, there’s so much to be thankful for.” It is a call for us to work to make the world better while keeping in mind the need for gratitude. I have heard “The Prayer”, also co-written with David Foster, sung as a duet by Jackie Evancho and Susan Boyle, by Andrea Bocelli and Katherine McPhee, and by Josh Groban and Charlotte Church, but it could easily be sung by any sized group. In fact, Anthony Callea, the runner up of the 2004 season of Australian Idol performed “The Prayer” to such acclaim that it became his debut single hitting number one on Australia’s charts. That single has the record for highest and fastest selling single in Australia. “The Prayer” was originally written for an animated musical fantasy film, Quest for Camelot, in 1998. The film flopped, but the song lives on. Unlike “Thankful”, this song actually refers to God. It seeks guidance through grace and faith. “The Prayer” won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song from a motion picture in 1998. I truly appreciate that there are pop singers and writers willing to express the spiritual dimension that all people possess and too many in the pop culture are reluctant to show. I’m also happy that such efforts have been recognized by others in that culture.

Vittoria/Raffaella Aleotti –Who is She?

Scholars are unsure whether this woman composer was one or two sisters. Both Vittoria and Raffaella are shown as composers, as exceptional organists and teachers in the convent and performers of vocal and instrumental music in the homes of the elite of Ferrara, Italy. Vittoria composed only madrigals, a secular genre, and there is nothing heard of her after 1593. We first hear of Raffaella in 1593. She wrote only sacred music and gained fame for her performances and leadership. In any event, Giovanni Aleotti’s many talented children were born in Ferrara.

Vittoria showed early musical talent, mainly on the harpsichord and voice. After working with a prominent teacher, Ercole Pasquini, she was sent for musical training at age six or seven to San Vito convent which was known for nurturing such talent. By age 14, she chose to enter the convent as a nun and dedicate her life to God’s service. It is possible Vittoria changed her name to Raffaella in the convent. However, a dedication of Vittoria’s published music written by her father suggests there were two musically inclined daughters.

1593, the same year that Vittoria published her secular music, Raffaella published a book of sacred concertos in Venice. It is reported that she was the first nun to have her sacred music published. Apparently, Hildegard’s music, written before Gutenberg’s invention, was only preserved in manuscripts. Raffaella was famous as an organist, as well as playing the harpsichord, the trombone and other wind instruments. Raffaella took over the direction of the concerto grande, the convent’s main ensemble, which had 23 singers and instrumentalists who played the harpsichord, lute, bass viol, flute, cornet and trombone. Although nuns were not allowed to interact with men, some of the music had parts for tenor and bass. The instruments filled those parts. They performed for Pope Clement VIII and the queen of Spain, Margaret of Austria. Raffaella was the Maestra at the convent until her death. She enjoyed complex music and often used harmony and dissonance to emphasize the text. There was criticism however, because the polyphonic complexity of many voices blurred the ability to discern the text thus making the holiness of the music disappear. In light of the counter-reformation, authorities were quite conscious of the need to make sacred music understandable.

I first heard a choral performance of Raffaella’s, “Ascendens Christus in Altum” in a CD, Ladies Night, produced by the Columbia Choral Ensemble and given to me by a lovely woman who was at one of my presentations. What a lovely gift! I could appreciate the polyphony and intertwining of the multiple voices. And since we are not bound by the strictures of the 16th century, it included male singers which, no doubt, gave the music more depth than the original hearers could enjoy. The words, translated from the Latin, are simple: “Christ ascends on high. He led the captive in captivity. He gave gifts to mankind. God ascends in jubilation. Alleluia.” Simplicity of lyric is useful for the understanding and appreciation of this style of music and on that note I appreciated it.

Childrens’ Hymns

When I told a friend I was leaving to give a presentation to a group of women who sing in schools, she asked me if women wrote most of the hymns written for children. I thought a bit and it occurred to me that women did indeed write the bulk of the classic children’s hymns that I know of. Sure, men have written some great hymns originally meant for kids to sing, such as “Jesus Loves the Little Children” by C. Herbert Woolston and, believe it or not, “Onward Christian Soldiers” by Sabine Baring-Gould.

But it appears the bulk of children’s hymns were written by women. Why? In part, it may be due to the Sunday School movement begun in the 1780s to educate working children on their one day off from the factory. Sunday Schools then aimed to teach children the three Rs and knowledge of the Bible. Once laws established mandatory education and curtailed child labor, Sunday Schools continued with an even greater emphasis on the Bible and religious education. Most of the teachers were women. Many of the women in my book “Sisters in Song” were Sunday School teachers. Many compiled books of compositions for children. Those teachers in the beginning didn’t have the tools and helps that exist today, so they had to make their own lessons. This is illustrated by the experience of Nellie Talbot in rural Missouri. One week, she had the Sunday School teacher’s equivalent to writer’s block and couldn’t come up with a lesson. Finally in frustration with her own lack of creativity, she looked outside and said, “How can you say there’s nothing to teach when you have the sun and the sky and the trees and the flowers?” She went on to write “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”. Cecil Alexander wrote “All Things Bright and Beautiful” for her Sunday School class in addition to compiling her own collection in “Hymns for Little Children.”

Some mothers would write songs for their own children. The talented ones sometimes ended up with a popular published song. Lesbia Lesley Lockett Scott wrote “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” for her children to learn and sing on All Saints’ Day. It’s now a staple in the Episcopal Church.

Some women wrote for other media and the compositions became hymns. Anna Warner wrote novels. In her 1860 novel, “Say and Seal”, she includes a segment about a dying boy and his Sunday School teacher. The teacher sang a song to comfort the boy. That song must have gone viral by 1860 standards for it had become popular to people and soldiers on both sides on the Civil War. “Jesus Loves Me” is still a staple for children today.

Dale Evans’ medium was television. Her producer needed a children’s song for one of her TV episodes and asked her to compose a Sunday School song for a child to sing. In just a few minutes, she wrote “The Bible Tells Me So” and it made it to the Hit Parade for many weeks.

Who knows what will pop up in the future with the ever widening media outlets? It could be an exciting time for new children’s hymns.