Let Natalie Merchant Write a Mass

Recently, I came home to hear my four year old daughter listening to a CD which has entranced her, making her memorize words, melodies, song order. It turns out she is also memorizing poetry. A relative bought for her the new Natalie Merchant record, "Leave Your Sleep." Music critic Jon Pareles has an interview with Merchant in today's New York Times, and Merchant describes the songs as borrowed poetry (including that of Gerard Manley Hopkins) that she set to music, poetry to do with her experience of becoming a mother.

Many readers here will recognize Merchant as the unearthly voice behind the former pop band 10,000 Maniacs, and who left that band for what turned out to be a very successful solo career. Over several decades, she has built up a sparkling singular universe of songs rooted in her plaintive, haunted, demanding, yearning, contained, introspective voice. She is something of an artistic icon for a sizeable portion of my generation, especially perhaps among women. For many years she was helping to define a generation's sound and soundtrack, not through stylistic force but through a meditative experimentation that has almost always borrowed sounds and styles to land both inside and outside pop music in the same album.


In the new interview, Pareles reports that "she has found a cloistered convent in the south of Spain where she could stay and write music for liturgical texts." From some video of her early years on her website, and from what I've read in other interviews, Merchant was raised Catholic and "drifted from the church" by her teens. Whether or not this potential liturgical work is a revisiting of her Catholicism, I hope she will go to that convent. Let her write a mass!

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

Cross-posted to Rock and Theology

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Bill Collier
8 years ago
I've been a fan of Merchant's since her 10,000 Maniacs days. Such a unique voice and songstyle. She was interviewed about her new album on NPR last week. She related how she did a lot of background research on the poets featured in the songs. She seemed to be especially impressed by Hopkins and the beauty of the poem she selected to put to music. It's too bad the NYT's interviewer didn't include anything about Hopkins in his story.
Kate Smith
8 years ago
Thanks for this post!   I'm a big fan of Natalie Merchant.  I already was a fan, and then her very public support for local public radio stations was another reason to love her. 
I would have missed the NY Times article (been traveling), so I appreciate your link to it.


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