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Catherine Benskin, You Are Child

Listen 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

The 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.

Q: Please 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.

Q:  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 certification?

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 music leaders.

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 hooked.

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 this CD?

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 visit www.catherinebenskin.com.

Lisa M. Hendey is webmaster of 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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