I first heard about this collection of songs for contemplation and consolation (as the album subtitle reads) from one of the composers himself when we met by chance while we both were at an interview weekend for doctoral programs at a top research university earlier this year. Tony Alonso, an extraordinarily talented composer and musician (he provides the lead vocals in several of the tracks to this album), is also a great guy. It was nice to meet him in person and I can only say good things about him. Two weeks after we met, during which time he mentioned only in passing this project within the context of some of his more current work, I was giving a talk to a group of Episcopalian parishes on Staten Island, NY, and I heard performed the title track, “Castle of the Soul,” by the music ministry for the Lenten payer that started off the evening. It was beautiful, made so in large part because of the extremely talented musicians who led the community in song, but also because the composition is simply excellent. Members of that parish music ministry shared that they had been reflecting throughout Lent with this album and everyone had been very moved by the music.
I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to finally listen to the whole collection. Most of the pieces have been composed or are part of the collaborative effort of Alonso. Additionally, the work of Liam Lawton, who is listed as co-creater of the album, is also feature prominently throughout, as are two pieces by Chris de Silva, who is, like Alonso, another young and talented composer.
The title track and the closing piece are both inspired by the writings and spirituality of Teresa of Avila, but this is not an exclusively Carmelite-inspired collection. Quite the opposite. There are some original lyrics by Lawton and Shirley Erena Murray too, as well as classic prayers put to new settings such as de Silva’s “Laudamus Te” and Lawton’s “Veni, Sancte Spiritus.” The remaining pieces are an ostensibly random collection of inspired pieces ranging from Psalms 51 and 42, the Confessions of St. Augustine, and the writings of Mother Teresa. I say ostensibly random, because in the end the album flows well in a meditative whole.
I can echo the acclaim given by the musicians on Staten Island that this is an excellent CD for prayer, meditation and keeping sane while driving in busy urban traffic (Alonso has lived in LA for years and certainly can appreciate the comparable Washington DC Beltway traffic nightmare on the East Coast for which this collection has helped alleviate a burden of traffic-induced stress!). As a liturgical accompanist in a variety of settings, most regularly these last five years at Holy Name College’s daily celebration of the Divine Office and Eucharist, I’m always on the lookout for something new and, well, good. I have already ordered the octavo for the title piece, “Castle of the Soul,” and encourage other liturgical musicians to check out this and other selections from the album. While my impending move from Washington to Boston leaves the question of my regular activity as a pianist in liturgical settings open, I hope to draw from this set of pieces when I can in the future.
Castle of the Soul is available from GIA Publishers, Amazon.com and can be downloaded directly from iTunes. You can watch a performance of the whole collection of pieces from the 2012 LA Religious Education Congress below. Enjoy!