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"Ray Repp was a trailblazer."  
  Ray Repp (1942-2020)  
Mary G. Fox  

Looking back more than fifty years, leaders in the Church in music, theology, and administration remember how Ray Repp's music touched lives and inspired them and other young people.

Donna Eschenauer's experience was similar to many who were attracted to Repp's joyful, easy-to-sing music. "I was a high school student in a girls' boarding school in upstate New York when I was introduced to the contemporary music of Ray Repp while on a retreat," recalled Eschenauer, the associate academic dean and associate professor at St. Joseph's Inter-diocesan Seminary, Yonkers, New York. "After this experience, a group of us who played guitar brought the music back to our school and used it for Sunday Mass. At the time, everyone was so open to this music because it spoke to us about our identity as Church and most especially about how near God is to us."

Repp, whose compositions included "Allelu!" "Peace, My Friends," "Hear, O Lord," and "I Am the Resurrection," died April 26 from cancer.

Judith M. Kubicki, CSSF, recalled the years when Repp's music was first sung as "an exciting time to be young in the Church. Everyone was singing Ray Repp, and many took up the guitar."

Kubicki, an associate professor of theology at Fordham University, said, "Ray Repp was a trailblazer. In the period immediately following the Second Vatican Council, he had the vision and courage to 'do something new!' I remember visiting my home parish the Saturday evening when a newly organized folk group played guitars and sang Ray Repp music at Mass. The Church was full of excited young people; the euphoria in the congregation was palpable. Repp helped to make real and concrete one of the key principles of Vatican II: the participation of the assembly by embracing the cultural expressions of the people. Many became active in the music programs of their parishes because Ray Repp gave them something to sing about in their own voice. Many are still involved today. We certainly have grown much in the last fifty years, but we have Ray Repp to thank for helping us take our first steps."

Recognition was not a consideration when the young seminarian first joined the psalms to folk music and soon afterward led young people in song at the Masses for the Catholic Extension Society's Lay Volunteer Program. As Ken Canedo explains in Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution, Repp was an unassuming young man in the summer of 1965 when he began composing and leading songs on guitar for the Masses for the Extension Society's program. Canedo relates that when Repp asked permission to lead the music at Mass, the priest agreed to Repp's playing the guitar and the assembly singing the songs he had written. The young people in the program took to the music, and when the month-long training program ended, they asked Repp for copies of the songs.

During the months that followed, Repp worked with the poor in Salt Lake City and led the singing of traditional music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, while his fellow volunteers sang his music across the country. In Keep the Fire Burning, Canedo states that it can be argued that Fr. Clarence Rivers was the first folk Mass composer or that Paul Quinlan, SJ, was the first Catholic folk artist. Repp, however, he says, "was the first documented Roman Catholic composer to set the official Mass text to folk guitar music."

Canedo, a liturgical musician and composer, recalls learning to play the organ as a high school seminarian in San Fernando, California, when he first heard Repp's music. "Suddenly, in the fall of 1968, my school was hit by a liturgical tsunami." Canedo explained that the music helped the seminarians connect to both the liturgy and service in the Church. "With a weekly folk Mass, we learned to love the liturgy, and music became an integral part of our prayer. Ray Repp inspired a whole generation of young musicians to a lifetime of service in the Church. Many of us are still serving our parishes today as choir directors and pastoral musicians.

Liturgical theologian and composer Fr. Michael Joncas already had learned a Gregorian chant Mass and a Gregorian requiem Mass when he was introduced to folk music at the high school seminary for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Repp, he said, "had an unerring ear for what was singable by groups of people steeped in the sounds of hootenannies and a skilled appreciation for chords that could be fingered and strummed by budding guitarists. His two 'Masses for Young Americans' allowed us to sing the official English texts of the Mass in a musical vernacular appealing to our age group. Many of his compositions bespoke unapologetic joy with their slightly syncopated melodies and opportunities for rhythmic hand-clapping. Without losing the charm of these pieces, he could also craft plaintive texts, melodies, and harmonizations. As a high school student I was immersed in Repp's compositions, listening to his recordings and memorizing nearly every page of the Hymnal for Young Christiansthat made the compositions of this 'first wave' available to a wider public."

Roc O'Connor, sj, explained that Repp composed "music folks could sing." O'Connor, a liturgical composer who had been a member of the St. Louis Jesuits, said that people connected with the authenticity and hope in Repp's songs during a tumultuous time. "His songs opened the way for Catholics to hope in and praise God's love."

The music, Steve Janco said, helped people understand who they are as members of the Church. "One of my earliest and most vivid church music memories involves standing in a circle around the altar at my home parish, holding hands with my second-grade CCD classmates, and singing Ray Repp's 'Here We Are' with our teacher, Sr. Mark, of happy memory," said Janco, a liturgical composer and director of the Program for Music and Liturgy at Alverno College, Milwaukee. "Ray's song helped to make that experience a lasting memory for a second grader. That has enabled me years later to realize and appreciate what Sr. Mark was trying to do shortly after Vatican II: teach us through posture, gesture, and song what it means to be Church.

Mary G. Fox
is the Editor of Pastoral Liturgy®. Pastoral Liturgy® is published by Liturgy Training Publications.
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