March 3, 2021

A reflection on The Glory of These Forty Days

A reflection on The Glory of These Forty Days

In the fifty years that I have been a pastoral musician, I have been privileged to play with many fine instrumentalists. These include violinists, oboists, flautists, cellists and saxophonists. In fact, one of these instrumentalists (I’m looking at you Meg Matuska) has become a parish music director and has a prominent role within the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM). I find that playing with talented musicians like these raises my own performance level and vice versa. In fact, one of my greatest joys is when an instrumentalist and I are in perfect sync and the music gets lifted to another level.

I have enjoyed featuring these talented musicians before and during Mass, as well as during Christmas Concerts. Nothing is a bigger gift to the singers during a concert than letting them sit down and enjoy someone else’s performance. It’s easy to draw music from the classical or contemporary repertoire, but I especially enjoy composing something just for my parish (yes, I’m a full time parish music director) and for the special skills of my instrumentalists.

Parishioners often tell me that, even though they love to sing, they really enjoy the instrumentals pieces. They tell me that it can set the mood for prayer before Mass starts or help them to meditate on the Gospel and homily during the offertory.

One of the cool things about composing instrumental arrangements is being able to mess around with the melodies I’m arranging. I can’t do that too much with songs, but all bets are off with instrumentalists. I can create variations on the melody, try a variety of time signatures and rhythms, and even take the piece in some crazy harmonic directions. I used most of these techniques in my new collection, The Glory of the Forty Days, which draws from the sacred melodies of Lent and Holy Week. For example, in the piece “A Lenten Reflection,” I’ve created a medley of three hymns: ST. FLAVIAN, LONESOME VALLEY and WERE YOU THERE, playing around with decorating the melodies. They still sound familiar but not always, so the listener has to pay attention.

In “All Glory Laud and Honor,” I have created a quodlibet or ‘mash-up’ of the familiar Palm Sunday hymn and Bach’s Minuet in G Major. This is only possible because I have changed the hymns’ time signatures from 4/4 to 3/4. What a fun and lively piece to use as a prelude on Psalm Sunday, which starts with a joyful “Hosanna to the King of David!”

One of the songs in this collection that I am especially proud of is “The Way of Suffering.” I’ve had this melody knocking around in my head for a while, but because of the interesting twists it takes, I’ve never come up with lyrics that would be suitable for it. In fact, I don’t even think it would be singable by a congregation. But as a ‘song without lyrics,’ I can describe the varied emotions associated with the Stations of the Cross.

One of my favorite pieces is “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Greatly contrasting with the styles of the rest of the collection, this one is in a slow, jazzy gospel swing. I encouraged the performers on the recording to add grace notes and play with the rhythm so that sometimes it switched from swing to straight and back again. It’s so much fun to play and listen to that we even added light percussion and bass. If you really want to get the entire effect, your soloist could perform to the accompaniment tracks, which use piano only. This provides an opportunity to practice the music at home, as well as perform it even when you don’t have a keyboard player available. How cool is that?


Lent is a time of profound self-reflection and preparation for the amazing passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. I hope that these pieces will enable those who play them, and those who listen to them to be drawn deeply into to the riches that the season of Lent offers us.

Go here to listen to sound samples of Kevin’s collection of instrumental music, The Glory of These Forty Days.

Kevin Keil
Kevin Keil

Kevin Keil brings more than 40 years of experience to his sacred music ministry. A talented organist, pianist, guitarist, cantor and music director, he is also a prolific composer of instrumental and vocal pieces. Kevin is an excellent choice for workshops on composing and arranging liturgical music and teaching repertoire to the choir and assembly.