Hymn composer for World Meeting of Families honored, humbled

Normandy Gouin (photo courtesy of Holy Cross College)

Normand Gouin (Photo courtesy of Holy Cross College)

When the Philadelphia Orchestra plays the official hymn for World Meeting of Families during the closing Mass later today in Philadelphia, the song’s composer, who will be singing with the choir, said he might have a hard time singing.

“I’ll likely be overcome by emotion,” said Normand Gouin, less than a week before the Mass, when he was still going back and forth for rehearsals.

Gouin, director of liturgy and music at the chaplain’s office at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, composed the music for the hymn “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom” and the text was written by Norbertine Father Andrew Ciferni, director for the Center of Norbertine Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.

He said he wanted the hymn, which will be sung three times during major events at the World Meeting of Families, to be simple and accessible to people, along the lines of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

He and Father Ciferni worked together for about a month on the song before submitting it as a contender for the event’s official hymn.

“The word I keep using is humble,” Gouin said of the piece being chosen. He has composed other pieces but never something performed in such a large setting and also before a pope.

The hymn’s bell theme was something he and Father Ciferni felt would not only convey the symbolic Liberty Bell in Philadelphia but also how bells are used in monasteries to mark time, “calling us to be mindful of God’s presence.”

Once the hymn was selected, which Gouin composed for brass, organ and choir, the arrangement was sent to the Philadelphia Orchestra to be elaborated on for their performance.

The hymn also was also used in the opening Mass for the World Meeting of Families and in the Sept. 26 Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

The hymn will not just have its big moment during the World Meeting of Families, but will be used in other liturgical celebrations with an alternate text that expresses the role of the Holy Spirit in peoples’ lives.

Gouin’s hope is that the hymn, like Pope Francis, will bring encourage and inspire people and lead them “to raise their hearts and voices in a spirit of unity, peace, and renewed hope.”

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