Interview with Luke Mayernik: The Five Graces Psalter

Luke Mayernik

Luke Mayernik’s Five Graces Psalter is a collection of Responsorial Psalms for the entire three-year Lectionary cycle, and a welcome and worthy addition to the repertoire of Lectionary Psalms. The award-winning composer and organist has crafted memorable settings infused with harmonic freshness and melodic appeal—settings that bear the weight of the emotion and liturgical importance of the psalms.

When did you start composing?

Luke and Kassidy Mayernik

As a child, I started taking piano lessons around the age of 8.  In just a few short years, I was already re-arranging and discovering chord substitutions for all of the piano music Beryl Flemming (my piano teacher) would assign to me.  Every Wednesday evening I would to her house for my weekly lesson, excited to share my “improvements” of classical/contemporary staples – oh, she was quite furious and flustered by my musical changes, but I was never discouraged by her anger.  Beryl lived to be 105 years old, teaching many people over 80+ years to play the piano.  I will always be thankful for her guidance, support, and her patience (which was tested every week by yours truly!).

What do you know about composing now that you wish you had known earlier?

To be completely honest, what has been instilled in me during graduate school is the power of the rest and rhythmic gesture.  Before coming to, and ultimately graduating from, The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, much of my musical elements within any given composition began right on the downbeat, and often remained that way throughout!  A rest at the beginning of a phrase can provide so much movement, beauty, and clarity to phrases.  Like a great orator, a pause or breath in the right place can strengthen the composer’s rhetoric and support the overall musical narrative. When in doubt, put in a rest!

What first made you interested in setting the entire lectionary psalm cycle?

Two words:  Michel Guimont.  Michel’s sincere musical language profoundly impacted me as a young liturgical composer and musician; his gift of melody, harmony, and clarity truly shaped my own musical voice over the years. Published by GIA, Michel’s Lectionary Psalms is a significant and highly celebrated resource that I continually use as a guidepost, teacher, and spring of musical inspiration to this day.  At an early age, I knew that a comprehensive lectionary psalter was the one (and main) contribution I wanted to make as a liturgical composer.  Back in 2007, I started to pen the first few psalm settings at the age of 26. Michel came to West Virginia in 2009 to lead a workshop regarding the psalms, where I was in my second year of serving as Cathedral Organist at St. Joseph’s in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.   Reviewing the few settings I had already completed (and are now included in the publication of The Five Graces Psalter), Michel genuinely encouraged my compositional efforts to continue; ten years later (and after many revisions and rewrites), The Five Graces Psalter was finished.

What is your method for writing a refrain melody?

It is extremely important to me to first understand what type of psalm it is (A Royal psalm, a lament, Song of Ascent, etc.) before I begin to musically set the text. Secondly, I speak the text aloud, memorizing the text in its entirety.  This method illumines the natural prosody of the psalm.  Then comes the actual musical crafting, which usually begins with improvised singing first.  The harmony is worked out at the piano in the final stages of musical crafting.

How do you know when something is “finished”?

Funny you should ask that!  There are actually two psalm refrain settings within The Five Graces Psalter that could have been set slightly differently, in my opinion.  The other day my wife and I sang these respective psalms as they are presented in The Five Graces Psalter, and with the changes.  When we voted, the results proffered an even tie!  Finished?  How I wrestle with these thoughts, even to this day.

Five Graces Psalter

What are the three most important things you want liturgical musicians to know about this volume of psalms?

1) The Five Graces Psalter has been specifically crafted to suit traditional and contemporary parish music programs, equally.
2) These settings can be used during the Liturgy of the Word, at the Communion Procession, and many of them include the Alleluia refrain option, which could make a nice Gospel Acclamation!
3) With accompaniments tailored for organ, piano, guitar, and instrumentalists, the memorable refrains and melodic psalm tones are designed to inspire and encourage a singing assembly!

What would you say to liturgical musicians who have never tried having a choir sing verses of a responsorial psalm?

First, have your choir speak each respective phrase of a verse, underlining the emphasized words of each phrase with a pencil. Then, have your choral ensemble chant that verse together in unison with a natural speech pattern; you may even want to do this by part or section as well, either in unison or in parts.  Pretty soon, your choir will be excited to sing the harmonies of these psalm tones week after week!

Click here to learn more about The Five Graces Psalter.

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