Dom Alan Rees
Dom Alan Rees made a major contribution to the music of the Catholic Church following the reforming Second Vatican Council of the 1960's after which vernacular languages replaced Latin in public worship.
Although brought up in Welsh Non-conformism and always ready to share his love of that country's great hymnody, his own compositions were firmly rooted in the modes of the Gregorian Chant he loved and sang every day as a monk of Belmont Abbey whose novitate he joined in 1968.
Modality was Alan's terra firma. "I tend to write more strongly in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th modes, possibly because of my Non-conformist background. 'Folkiness' appears with the 6th mode and I haven't yet captured the grandeur of the 8th mode," he wrote in a 1978 essay on composing music for the liturgy.
He was insistent that the new music of the Church should be "easy to sing, generally tuneful, easy to learn – music that will cause as little preoccupation with the notes as possible and the greatest attention to the texts and resulting prayer."
Alan Rees was a founder-member in 1971 of the Panel of Monastic Musicians (PMM) and continued to play a leading role in it until shortly before he died. The PMM's purpose was to encourage those communities, both male and female involved with the choral offices'.
Their 1996 publication Hymns for Prayer and Praise, of which he was one of the editors, was used in monastic communities throughout the world.
Alan contributed a good number of tunes to this book. One of his co-editors, Father Mark Hurley of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Coalville, Leicestershire, remembers several occasions when the editorial panel found itself short of a tune for a particular hymn text: "Alan would be sent out to write one, returning in ten minutes with a finely crafted composition".
Over the years Alan produced a large amount of music for the Catholic liturgy. Besides his Congress Mass for the hugely influential gathering of Catholics clerical and lay in Liverpool in 1980 and the Cardiff Mass written for the visit of Pope John Paul II to that city in 1982, there were many more simple settings written, it seemed, for anyone who asked him.
His Belmont Psalm Tones and Responses and choral and organ music are performed widely in both Anglican and Catholic churches. Although a superb organist and improviser on that instrument, he much preferred setting words.
His Music for Evening Prayer was an attempt to re-establish the ancient office of Vespers in parish churches.
Although a prolific retreat-giver much in demand, especially among religious orders, he wrote only one small book, Prayers from the Cloisters, based on the age-old monastic practice of Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), a meditative approach to Scripture.
A number of his own prayers appeared in To Speak in His Presence, published in 1995. Re-reading them after his tragic death gives an insight into the inner turmoil of this gentle, holy man with a special gift for friendship.
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