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Feature Articles

Sharing the Gift of Music
By Megan Simmermeyer, Communications co-op

Autumn

In the 1980s, S. Terry Thorman found herself displeased by the compositions of contemporary liturgical musicians, and when she voiced her opinions to her housemate S. Judith Metz, her friend challenged her to create something she did like. Despite having played the piano since she was 7 years old and enjoying a lifetime of music, S. Terry had never thought of composing her own work, but S. Judy’s comment inspired her. Since their conversation, S. Terry has composed hundreds of her own works.

Many of S. Terry’s compositions are simple ones that she composes for “opportunities in [her] personal life,” such as birthdays or retirements. She enjoys celebrating these special occasions with music, especially because she gets to share her passion with family, fellow Sisters, co-workers, and parishioners.

On a larger scale, S. Terry has created three major pieces. The first, titled “The Arabic Our Father,” involves a three-part harmony, which took a long time to compose. When it was finished, the Sisters’ choir performed the composition, and it was additionally featured during the Sisters’ 2002 concert celebrating musical works created by Community members.

Another extensive composition, which S. Terry dubbed “Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Prayer for Peace,” was a response to the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Despite there being many musical responses to 9/11, S. Terry was inspired to create her own as well. Based on a Eucharistic prayer, S. Terry’s composition was rendered in both three-part and four-part versions, and she says she intended the theme of the composition to encompass more than just Christians, as the travesty of 9/11 affected people of all religions and backgrounds.

Her third piece—“A Responsorial Gloria to God”—was composed in 2011. She wrote it as a call and response and included instruments beyond just the piano. This past summer, in July 2017, S. Terry presented her composition at the National Pastoral Music Conference to be reviewed by a panel of published composers. S. Terry said the reviewers enjoyed her piece and referred to it as “a new idea,” an interpretation of the Gloria they had not heard before.

When she began composing her own work, S. Terry says she had tired of playing merely what others had written, and “wanted something of me to play.” She explained that visual artists, like painters, don’t merely copy the works of others. They may try to mimic Van Gogh or da Vinci as an exercise, but eventually, artists create their own, original work. Using musical notes rather than brushstrokes, S. Terry also wanted to create new pieces she could call her own.

Creating these compositions, whether small melodies for family or larger responsorial hymns like the Gloria, requires a process. S. Terry likens hers to journaling, but rather than composing lines of a poem or paragraphs in an essay, one marks down musical notes. For her, winter is a good time for composing, as it is a “contemplative time,” unlike the bustle of summer.

When S. Terry does commence composing, her inspiration often comes from God, and she notes, “You can’t predict when it will happen.” Her composition process is not technical or analytical either. She recalls a music therapy teacher who told her creativity is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. When he told her this, she shook her head and said, “Nope!” For S. Terry, it is 90 percent inspiration and 10 percent perspiration.

Once inspiration has struck, S. Terry takes her time to compose her piece. “I have to give myself time,” she says. “[And] I have to have a piano. My fingers tell me where to go.” With time and a piano, S. Terry composes each piece carefully. But not every day is the same—she says some days are non-stop writing, while others are void of a single note. Still, S. Terry plays the piano daily and trusts God to inspire her throughout the process. For her, a composition is finished when it still sounds good the next day.

With the support of S. Caroljean Willie, S. Terry has been published with the Columban Fathers, who included her musical compositions in their education packets for schools. These packets include an original song to match the social justice issues studied by each grade level (1-8). S. Terry occasionally submits one of her compositions to larger publishers in the hope that one day she might share her work with a wider audience.

Currently, S. Terry serves as liturgical music coordinator for the Sisters at the Motherhouse, working with choir, instrumentalists, and cantors for daily Mass, and for special events such as funerals, jubilees, and religious professional ceremonies. She also teaches piano students at both the Motherhouse and Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine (Cincinnati). In addition, S. Terry spends time at Mother Margaret Hall working with residents and staff, using music as therapy and as a healthy social activity.