Friday, November 27, 2015

Prayer Songs

Post © 2015 by Joyce Mason

Before we wrap up the Third Annual Prayer and Thanksgiving Month on The Radical Virgo, it occurred to me that there are many sung prayers and many musical forms of thanksgiving—in houses of worship or via recordings loved in your car, home or anywhere you want. Singing your prayers is, in many ways, more potent for the synergy of words and music. Here are some of the ones I love best, both traditional and modern. They are Judeo-Christian, the songs I have mostly been exposed to. Enjoy!


Amazing Grace – Sung by Chelsea Robinson, first appeared in hymnals in 1779
The only thing I don’t like about this hymn is calling myself a “wretch.” I substitute soul. I recommend expanding and reading the liner notes on YouTube for this scripture-based, all-time fave.

Ave Maria  (Hail, Mary) – Franz Schubert, 1825
There are many versions on YouTube. This one is sung by Andrea Bocelli.

Czech Christmas Mass – Jakub Jan Ryba, 1796
When I was growing up Catholic, liturgical music was seldom as joyful as this upbeat favorite find, which I first heard 20 years ago on my local NPR radio station. It’s among my holiday musical treasures.

Hava Nagila – “Let’s rejoice …be happy … awake … with a happy heart.” Traditional Israeli folk song composed in the 1920’s. (More history here.) What's not to love about such dancing and singing? Here is Neil Diamond singing this Jewish joy song at Ben’s bar mitzvah in one of my favorite movies, Keeping Up with the Steins.
Messiah – George Frideric Handel, 1741
This version is sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge and accompanied by the Brandenburg Consort.

Theresienmesse (Mass in Bb Major) – Joseph Haydn, 1799
I was introduced to this gem while singing in the Unitarian Universalist choir in the early 1980s. Another heart chakra, joyous (and sometimes raucous) Mass. The end of the Credo always sounds like calliope music to me.


The 23rd Psalm (Dedicated to My Mother) – Written by Bobby McFerrin, 1990, sung by Cantus

Written by Irving Berlin, this song is featured in the movie “White Christmas”

He – Jerry Vale, 1973

I Believe – Perry Como, 1953

I Say a Little Prayer for You – Dionne Warwick, 1967

Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let It Begin with Me) - Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller, 1955, sung by the Harlem Boys’ Choir

My Prayer – The Platters, 1956

One Hand, One Heart – Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, West Side Story, 1961
The song Tony and Maria sing as they fantasize about their wedding.

Sabbath Prayer  – Chaim Topol and Norma Crane, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971

Turn, Turn, Turn – The Byrds, 1965.
This catchy popular tune written by Pete Seeger,  made a bible verse famous even among non-believers—Ecclesiastes 3:1-8—original author, Solomon.



Finally, there are genres of musical prayer that I love more for their type than singling out specific songs. It’s probably obvious by now that I have very eclectic tastes in music and spirituality. Here are some of my favorites categories with examples.


  •     Klezmer Music  Not all Klezmer music is expressly spiritual, but it is so spirited, even the more secular or non-vocal selections capture and/or ignite the Jewish spirit. Music that makes you happy and want to dance is the most spiritual of all in my book.

Keeping praying—and singing!


Photo Credit: © highwaystarz –

No comments: