Mom Music Spotlight
You Are Child
to a sample from You Are Child
Catholic Mom and
Cantor Lights Up the World with Her Music
Catholic Music Spotlight Interview with Catherine Benskin
by Lisa M. Hendey
first time I sat and listened to
You Are Child
by Catherine Benskin and Alan Marcinek, I found myself wishing I was a
parishioner at her church. This talented wife and mother of two, who
recently earned professional certification as a Cantor, has the type of
voice that fills the room with light and spirit. What a joy it must be to
sit in Mass on Sunday and listen to Catherine lead a congregation in song!
You Are Child
is a compilation of fourteen
standards, told in a new and compelling fashion. The combination of these
two voices seems heaven-made and the original arrangements of so many old
favorites give them new life. This is Benskin’s debut CD, but given her
talent and enthusiasm I am hoping to hear from her again in the future.
Indeed, when queried about future projects, Catherine shared with me, “I
have been harboring a collection of original songs that I yearn to see
transcribed, arranged and recorded. These are songs that have to do with my
own journey of spiritual growth, overcoming our pasts and claiming our
futures. Many of them may not fit the Catholic or Christian mold per-se, but
they are my spiritual journey nonetheless. Like the artists that I admire,
I want people to hear my story and know that there is more to me.”
If you have the
opportunity to hear
You Are Child
I know you’ll agree with me that you’ll want to hear Catherine Benskin’s
story too. I’m happy to share the following interview with Catherine
Benskin as she shares about her family, her faith and her music.
tell us a little about yourself and your family.
A: I am mostly a stay at
home mom. At least that is my main vocation at present. Singing for the
church and singing weddings and funerals allows me to be available to my
kids, volunteer in their classrooms and for church programs. Over the last
two years I have filled in with several odd jobs to help fund my project. I
felt it was so important for my kids to see me working hard to foster my
dreams. Both of my children Madeline, 10 and Keoki (George in Hawaiian), 6
are musically inclined and I can’t wait to see where God chooses to use them
as they grow. The three of us are energetic, extroverted personalities. We
are blessed to have my husband, their dad, George to round out our household
and bring peace. Introverted and always steady, he keeps us balanced. George
has been magnificent in helping me accomplish my dreams. Ever patient and
supportive, he did the photography for my CD when my “professional”
photographer bailed out on me on a 75 degree day in the peak of fall
foliage. George has a way of smoothing out the rough patches.
Q: How did your own
faith journey in the Catholic Church bring you to your music ministry? How
has your won faith formation impacted your music?
A: I was brought up
Catholic, but like a lot of teenagers and early 20-somethings, became
uninvolved mostly due to lack of stimulating programs in the churches near
me. I was very lucky as an adult to find St. Rose of Lima in Gaithersburg,
MD as a church home in which to raise my family. Having been interested in
music for most my life, I joined the choir as a creative outlet. Choir
member led to cantor and I eventually gained the skills necessary to sing
for weddings and funerals. Returning to music, especially in the church,
really helped me to find myself and grow in ways beyond being a wife and
mother. Learning to nurture your own interests is an extremely important
part of filling those wife and mother roles well.
As my music partner,
Alan, came into my life, I was challenged with what being a servant leader
meant to me and began to expand my pastoral growth. This project was the
next step of a journey for me. People in our community began asking for
recorded music from us. In addition to a diverse base of all ages in my
community, I have gotten great feedback from people who are homebound, aging
and with mental disabilities. It has helped to comfort and encourage them.
It is great to hear that kind of feedback when you take a leap of faith. I
think to myself, “For the love of God, I AM doing something right!”
Both my faith and music
became very important to me as I went through a diagnosis of bipolar.
Through subsequent therapy and retreats like Jeannie Cotter’s Coming Home
and NPM conventions, I discerned my call to use my musical gifts as a
healing and life affirming gift for both myself and others.
I am very open to
discussing my diagnosis and healing path at my church coffeehouses and
concerts. I have been able to help others who are struggling themselves or
with family members in the midst of mental illness. I tell them and show
them that bipolar can be a wonderful blessing of creativity if focused and
treated properly; that there is great possibility of “normal” and successful
life after a diagnosis.
I read that you received your certification as a cantor this year. What
went into earning this certificate? Why did you feel compelled to earn your
A: The National
Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) Cantor Certification process is
fairly new. The only level of certificate available presently is the Basic
Certificate. As of our July 2005 convention, only 13 certificates had been
conferred. The NPM Standing Committee for Cantors hopes and plans to roll
out 2 more levels to complete the certification process. As more cantors
seek certificates, we will bring a higher regard and sense of credibility to
our craft and ministry.
As this process is
completely optional, one would ask, “Why did you want to do it?”
There are several reasons that led me to pursue the Basic Cantor
Certificate. With no formal education or degree higher than a High School
diploma, I realized I had some inner demons to dispel. Since I consider
myself a “cantor for hire” and often go to other churches to do my work, I
wanted pastors and music directors to know that I wasn’t just some
“fly-by-night” wedding singer. Earning my certificate shows how much respect
for Liturgy and my role in it. Although I find a lot of joy in music
ministry and admit to having fun, I know that there is a great impact I can
have on the participation of the assembly. When I see a church full of
mourners who may not go to the Catholic Church or any church at all
participating, healing and having a sense of welcome in our faith, I am made
aware of the sacredness of my call.
Q: Can you say a few
words about your partnership with Alan Marcinek? How did the two of you come
together and why does your partnership work so well?
A: There have been a
handful of people who have come into my life in ways that I can only
attribute to divine intervention. In each of these relationships there has
been an instantaneous (though not fully revealed) sense of connection and
purpose about their arrivals. Alan came to work at my home church, St. Rose
of Lima in Gaithersburg, MD four years ago. Our meeting, for me, was a
thunderclap moment. I knew God had plans to use our partnership to work with
and through us to foster growth in each other and the communities we serve.
The musical connection between us was as if we had been practicing together
for years. God has used our spiritual energy to facilitate full
participation to the liturgies where we lead music.
You ask why our
partnership works so well. Honestly, it doesn’t always. Whenever you have
two artist types working together, pride and sensitivities get in the way.
When we are lucky, it fuels our creativity; when we are not, it brings
truthfulness about the human condition to our music. I believe whichever the
case, there is a great honesty in our spirituality that makes us successful
Q: What are some of
your favorite musicians, both Catholic and secular?
A: Lately, I have not
spent much time in the secular world as I am usually preparing music for
liturgy, sacraments, or concerts. But, Sarah McLachlan is one secular artist
I make time for. My husband and I have followed and enjoyed her music almost
from the very beginning. I enjoy her original arrangements. Her honest and
personal lyrics that make you feel as though you know her story. In my
family we enjoy all types of music. Most of our listening happens in the
car. We chill out to classical when we are stressed, sing along to show
tunes, and sometimes we party to the local Spanish stations where we can
have a fabulous beat and energy, but are none of us is fluent enough to
worry about whether the lyrics are offensive or not. The kids get a treat
when I work on the weekends because they get to hear some of the more rockin’
tunes in my husband’s car.
As far as Catholic
artists, my current favorite is Danielle Rose. Her lyrics are so intimate
and thought provoking. You can almost reach out and hold them. Sarah Hart
inspires me because she manages to weave her music career and family
together and makes it work. And Jeanne Cotter is such a generous, honest,
strong woman. She has made an important impact on where I have been able to
take my music and follow my heart. People can be talented musicians, but
there’s got to be a tangible spirituality that sets them apart and gets me
Q: How would you
describe your music?
A: This CD contains and
eclectic mix of different music that is out there from hymns like “How Can I
Keep from Singing” to Spirituals like “Wade in the Water and good old
stand-bys like “I Am the Bread of Life” cranked up a notch. We also have a
couple ballads that seek to comfort or inspire prayer and meditation. A lot
of people think it’s great for driving in the car because it is comforting
and entertaining without being too loud or boring. My brother says it
should be a requirement for “Road Rage Recovery” since you can’t possibly
stay mad while listening to it.
Q: My personal favorite
on your CD is “How Can I Keep From Singing?”, which brings back great
memories from my childhood with my parents. Which is your favorite song on
A: I love that one too.
I joke that I made the CD because my son requested it for a lullaby every
night and I just got tired of singing it. So many times in church you here
it done at a faster tempo. The first time Alan played it this way, the only
word I could think of to describe it was “sultry”. Alan loves to play
familiar songs in a way that shakes them up, surprises people, or breathes a
new life into them. When people would comment about his arrangement of this
or that hymn, I say, “Alan plays songs such that the composer didn’t know
how good it could be…” He plays a “Loves Divine, All Loves Excelling” that
makes them sing the roof off the Elementary school where we meet.
The one I am most proud
of is “Wade in the Water.” The evolution of how the arrangement came about
was so day by day. Each instrumentalist or layer we added changed the
concept and feel of the song. It shows a side of my voice and personality
that I rarely get to show in my everyday liturgical world. Sometimes at the
Easter Vigil as the assembly is processing up to bless each other in the
Easter waters, we sing this and I get to let go a little…
Lyric and meaning-wise,
my favorite is the title track,
You Are Child.
Alan gave me a recording of himself singing this song from a previous
concert of his. When I was in the midst of my terrible depressions in my pre
and early diagnosis days, I would drive down to his country church, St.
Stephen the Martyr in Middleburg, VA (which is about an hour from my house)
and listen to it all the way. The comforting lyrics of God reassuring me
that each one of us is made for a special purpose and that we are all
important and loved in God’s eyes probably saved me countless times. During
the rehearsal stage of our project as Alan would go through rough patches on
his path, I would sing it and pray it for him.
Each of the songs is a
baby to me and was chosen for its own special purpose or memory for us.
Q: Are there any
closing comments you’d like to make?
A: What I tell people
at my coffeehouses and concerts is that it is never too soon or too late to
start working towards your God given passion and dreams. Some people wait a
lifetime for “perfect timing”. The truth is that there is no such thing.
Unless you are lucky, the time won’t find you; you have to find the time.
And once you do, it’ll all be worth it.
For more information
about Catherine Benskin and her CD
You Are Child
Lisa M. Hendey is
www.CatholicMom.com , a wife and mother of two and a Catholic music fan
and supporter. Visit her at
www.LisaHendey.com for more information
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