This album comes from a deeply personal place. Many of these songs were written in the wake of the sudden tragic loss of my dad and our family home. But now I've lived with the music, been healed by it, and taken my time with it. I'm ready to release the songs without a feeling of heaviness.
What was the reaction of your family when they first heard "Home to Stay"?
Well, to this day, anyone close to my family can't listen to this song without it being an emotional experience. My lyricist, Sara Hunter, captured the scene exactly of our old upright piano, my dad in the rocking chair where he rocked ten kids and multiple grandkids, and rested after a long day's work. I was floored when I read Sara's lyrics for the first time because it was our first collaboration. She took three pages of notes as I poured out my heart, and then, somehow, came back with verses that fit the music and exactly described my emotions. That felt magical to me.
You talk about your music being cathartic for you but how important is it that your music has also been cathartic for others?
Nothing moves me more than hearing how my music has inspired others.
It's my ministry in a way. Just recently, a father and his young son approached me after mass and shared that the boy was inspired to take piano lessons after listening daily to The First Morning. The dad choked up because the boy is the first member of the family to ever play an instrument.
A choir member shared how she was soothed by my Peace Be With Youduring the labor and delivery of her first child. What an honor to accompany someone's journey into the world!
And I imagine in your role as music director in several parishes, you've helped those on the other end of the human journey.
Yes, actually, the most moving example of this for me was a dear elderly family member in New Orleans who requested my music to keep her company before she passed. I can't think of a higher purpose than being asked to accompany someone in transition.
I'm also honored that my songs are featured at Tributes.com, a new website for memorial tributes posted by friends and families.
How did your childhood nurture your love for music?
I grew up in a household full of music since my mom, Beverly Cotter, was a Theatre and English teacher who taught us kids piano. One of my first poems was about the piano being like a best friend who's always there for you. I remember drawing a picture of my piano next to the poem.
We had an enormous organ with the big Leslie speakers and a grand piano in the living room, an upright in the kitchen and I had a banjo-playing brother. We didn't really listen to radio and watched little TV, but music was a big part of every day life. We'd sing together as we did the dishes to make the chores more fun, and I'd even get out of helping if I sat and played the piano, which was much more fun. In the morning, as we'd get ready for school, someone would be practicing, or my mom would play classical records. Mom was the cantor at our local church for 16 years, and one of us kids always accompanied her. Three of us continued on the musical path she forged for us.
Another thing that helped foster creativity was the freedom of being outdoors. Playing in the woods and fields surrounding our home was a great source of inspiration and influence in my early life. That's why the piece "Sacred Land" was important to include on this album. It's about the land my Irish great-grandfather settled in Minnesota - the land I grew up on, the fields my father, uncle, and grandfather farmed. The lyrics of "Missing You" refer to the Christmas trees my father cultivated on this land and plaintively asks the question of who in the next generation will continue the work.
Could you describe your partnership with your husband, who is also a gifted musician, JoJo David?
JoJo and I met through music. We were in a songwriters' group at Berklee School of Music and became great friends. At that time, I was playing Sunday night Masses at Boston College. When B.C. needed another music minister, I knew just the person. JoJo was a guitarist and a cantor for me. Everyone in our choir seemed to know we were falling in love even before we did! We've been making music together ever since. JoJo has his own career and ministry, as I have mine, but we support each other in every way. Although we each have our own websites, we have a joint record label Arrhae Press, named after the Filipino coins we exchanged as part of our wedding ceremony.