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Beth Nielsen Chapman: Hymns


Beth Nielsen Chapman "Hymns" new album has been released November 2 (on Emergent / 92e) in The States. When Beth Nielsen Chapman went looking for an album containing the Latin hymns she remembered from her childhood, she was surprised to find there wasn't one.

That realization led to Hymns, a collection that recreates the majesty and spirituality that once echoed through Catholic cathedrals all over the world.

"I grew up with these Latin songs," the acclaimed singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman recalls. "When I was a child, this was the songbook for Mass every week and I always loved the mystery and sacred tone of them. I felt it was important to put a collection of these beautiful hymns out into the world. I think the experience of the sound and vibrations of these songs will resonate with people regardless of their spiritual path."

The Catholic Mass is generally no longer sung in Latin. In an effort to modernize, the Church revamped its liturgy in the 1960s, often substituting newly written "folk" songs of praise for "Adoramus Te," "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," "Dona Nobis Pachem" and the other ancient Latin hymns. Beth Nielsen Chapman believes something was lost then.

"As I began to record this record so many things just fell into place and I started to feel that this was not really about me as an artist doing my renditions of these songs. In fact, when I sang them, I wanted nothing to get in the way of the inherent eloquence of these hymns. I tried to let them speak for themselves, downplaying the character of my voice and singing as purely as possible, almost anonymously."

But her name resonates powerfully with music lovers. Beth Nielsen Chapman was a regular on the Adult-Contemporary popularity charts in the 1990s with such tunes as "The Moment You Were Mine," "Walk My Way" and "I Keep Coming Back to You." In 2000, she appeared on the soundtrack of the Ashley Judd film "Where the Heart Is" with "Shake My Soul," which became yet another A/C hit. In the summer of 2004, her single "Free" went to No. 1 on the BBC-Radio 2 chart, leading to her third U.K. concert tour of the year. She also has a large following in Japan, Ireland and elsewhere.

Stateside, her CDs "Beth Nielsen Chapman" (1990), "You Hold the Key" (1993), "Sand and Water" (1997), "Greatest Hits" (1997), "Deeper Still" (2002) and "Look" (2004) have earned her wide acclaim and a devoted following. Such stars as Bonnie Raitt, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Michael McDonald, Bette Midler, Anne Murray, Amy Grant, Keb Mo, Roberta Flack and Brenda Lee have recorded Beth Nielsen Chapman songs. Her cowritten, "This Kiss," as recorded by Faith Hill, won ASCAP's 1999 Song of the Year award and was nominated for a Grammy.

"There is only one song on Hymns that I wrote, "Hymn to Mary." I wrote that when I was right in the middle of chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2000. As horrible as I felt, I would make myself go to the piano every day, turn on the tape recorder and plunk around for 10 minutes. Then I'd go back to lying on the couch, moaning. I did it because I had to keep my foot in the water: I was more afraid of losing my ability to write songs than anything. When I got my strength back, I listened to all those days of plunking and clinking. And there was this melody that was very special to me. A month or so later when my body was cleared of the chemotherapy I wrote the words, a prayer that came from the deepest place of reaching to Mary for faith in the midst of feeling abandoned."

When she listens to "Hymns," Beth Nielsen Chapman doesn't hear her soprano leads or her alto and tenor harmonies. She says she hears the tenor voice of her son, Ernest Chapman III, and the bass vocals of her father, Robert Nielsen. She hears the harmonies of songwriter friends Mike Reid and Pam Rose, the voice of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Ysaye Barnwell and the rumbling tones of famed Music City session vocalist Louis Nunley. She hears the echo of hundreds of years of worship.

"When I put this on and hear my son and my father the experience is magical and very powerful for me, personally, because I've missed these songs since I was a little girl and I have wanted to hear them again for a long time."

In 2002, Beth Nielsen Chapman performed at a special anniversary commemoration of 9/11 that took place at the Washington Cathedral, where she had the opportunity to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his keynote address, speak profoundly about all of us being one human family. He was addressing leaders of several religions that were all present. The eloquence of his talk so moved Beth Nielsen Chapman that it caused her to re-commit to finishing a larger project that had been occupying her, on and off, for nearly a decade. The songwriter had been slowly assembling World Hymns, a collection that will be devotionals from Buddhist, Jewish, Sufi, Muslim, Shaker, Hindu, Protestant and other religious traditions. Through a personal friend Beth met with the Archbishop, presenting him with the Latin Hymns as well as a sampling of World Hymns, both of which he referred to as "a glorious, melodious testimony."

Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Hymns" CD arrives at a time when interest in its themes is surging. Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" and the hit novel The DaVinci Code (also soon to be a movie) are two manifestations of this. There are 72 million Catholics in the United States, many of whom still miss the Latin Mass. Every city in the country has a Catholic bookstore. Worldwide, more than one billion Catholics will recognize the melodies she has collected here.

"But I really think that Hymns could have a pretty broad appeal," says Beth Nielsen Chapman, "the landscape of sound is very meditative and the pull of this music like that of all forms of sacred music, reaches through to the heart and soul."

Beth Nielsen Chapman "Hymns" album tracklisting:
1. Ave Verum Corpus
2. Veni Veni Emmanuel
3. Tantum Ergo
4. O Salutaris Hostia
5. Adoramus Te
6. O Sanctissima
7. Panis Angelicus
8. Salve Regina
9. Hymn To Mary
10. Oh God Of Loveliness
11. Dona Nobis Pacem
12. Ave Maria

Beth Nielsen Chapman "Hymns" CD: ORDER IT NOW.