Keepsake — Women’s Voices Blending in Song

words and music by M. T. Winter; sung by Quanta, the Women’s Leadership
Institute Choir at Hartford Seminary; audio CD, ©2003. Ordering information is
available through the Miriam Therese Winter website, or by mail:
Medical Mission Sisters, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105.

A Review Essay by Linda Bieze

Keepsake is a collection of songs old and new written by Miriam Therese Winter, a Medical Mission Sister and director of the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. Sung by a choir of WLI alumnae with keyboard, guitar, dulcimer, and percussion accompaniment, the songs speak to women’s (and men’s) spirits through beautiful harmonies, lively rhythms, and vivid, poetic words.

Biblical images and texts abound in the songs. And what better source of texts and poetry can there be for our spirituality? Job and Moses (“In a Whirlwind”), the Virgin Mary (“Christmas Ballad”), and the ten wise and foolish women (“Ballad of the Women”) figure in these songs. The comforting words of Jesus weave through them. M. T. Winter knows and demonstrates in her hymns that God’s Word speaks to us today with as much significance as it did when Miriam and David and Paul first composed the words of biblical psalms and hymns.

This is not New Age music, nor is it a compilation of “praise choruses” (sometimes called “seven-eleven choruses” for their seven words sung eleven times, ad nauseam). This is singable, listenable hymnody that would be appropriate in traditional or contemporary worship services as much as in women’s spirituality gatherings. The language and images are inclusive; the melodies are delightful, and the harmonies rich.

Having been a member of one choir or another since I was in grade school, I enjoy all choral music. My “pet peeve” about some ensembles is that although they have beautiful timbre and harmonization, their enunciation of the text is incomprehensible. I am happy to say that every word of Keepsake is clear and crisp. The singers breathe and pronounce words as one voice. M. T. Winter performs two solos, “Lovesong” and “Lament,” with heartfelt tenderness. Her voice is the voice my mother, who “couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket,” always wished she had.

Old Songs 

Long before I was a feminist (or before M. T. Winter was one), I learned her delightful song “Joy Is Like the Rain” when I taught Vacation Bible School in an inner-city neighborhood of Chicago one summer. The kids loved that song (almost as much as “I Cannot Come [to the Banquet],” which is not on this album). To this day, even when the sky is dark with menacing clouds or when the hurts of life sting intensely, I feel happy and find myself smiling just by thinking of the flowing melody and words:

I saw raindrops on my window,
Joy is like the rain;
Laughter runs across my pain,
Slips away and comes again,
Joy is like the rain.

Here the song is enhanced with a modulating, contrapuntal piano interlude.

New Songs

New songs like “Don’t Be Afraid” speak to 21st-century fears:

Bombs are falling on a world we love,
Hawks outnumber the nesting dove.
Are these the signs You warned us of?
“Don’t be afraid . . .
I am prepared to protect
and will not be swayed . . .
I’m with you always
And with all I have made.”

The samba-like rhythm of this song seems to be at odds with the grim realities of its words until you remember that the point of the song is to reassure — don’t be afraid. We can face even the perils of this new century with confidence and even joy in our step, knowing that God is with us always.

“Peace Prayer” offers new words set to a centuries-old hymn, “Nun danket alle Gott” (“Now Thank We All Our God,”),F a favorite chorale tune of J. S. Bach. I believe that if Bach were alive today, he could do no better than to write words like these to that tune:

Peace is the prayer we pray
for this new world emerging,
For hastening the day
of consciousness converging,
Peace flowing from within
will alter the way we live
Repairing what has been
whenever we forgive.

These truly are, as the album cover states, “songs that sing of our deepest longings for our world and ourselves.”

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