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  PETER KEARNEY

  • Peter Kearney has been called a pioneer in contemporary religious song. His earliest hymns 'Fill My House' and 'The Beatitudes' published in 1966 became internationally known. From 1982 Peter made music his work. As well as writing and publishing he has toured in all Australian states and overseas in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the USA to present his workshops and concerts.
  • To date, fifteen albums of his songs and hymns have been published. His compositions have been included in many hymnals. Several of his titles including Where Is Your Song, my Lord? are included in the 'As One Voice' hymnal. His 'This Is Our School' has been adopted as a school song by hundreds of Australian schools.
  • Peter's earthy songs of justice and compassion have been recognised as a distinctive contribution to the modern Church. Many of his songs were inspired through a forty-year friendship with Fr. Ted Kennedy. Ted became well known as a great friend and fierce advocate for Aboriginal people in St. Vincent's Parish, Redfern in Sydney.
  • The 'big work' of Peter's creative life 'Good Morning Good People', a musical-narrative on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, has been presented all over Australia. There have also been over forty concerts in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

BIOGRAPHICAL OUTLINE
Peter Kearney was born in 1947 in Sydney, the eldest of seven children. His parents Peter and Marie Kearney traced their family origins back to Ireland. Peter grew up in Sans Souci, a southern suburb of Sydney on the shores of Botany Bay. He was educated by the Mercy Sisters in Sans Souci and later by the Marist Brothers at Kogarah and Darlinghurst.

 

Peter completed an Arts Degree and Diploma of Education at Sydney University. It was there in 1966 that he met the Fr. Ted Kennedy, University Chaplain at that time, who, after hearing a couple of Peter's earliest songs, encouraged him to write some folk hymns. Fourteen songs were written over the next six weeks. The new compositions were sung at University Masses and as word spread, Peter was invited to teach his new songs to students at several schools and colleges. Later that year, publishers J. Albert & Son published the songs in a music book 'Songs of Brotherhood' - probably the first of its kind by an Australian writer. There was no recording, but by recommendation and word-of-mouth the songs spread throughout Australia and became popular in the USA and the UK within four years. Forty years later, 'Fill My House' and 'The Beatitudes' are among the enduring songs from that period.

 

In 1969, Peter travelled left Australia, travelled 'overland' through Asia, the Middle East and Europe eventually arriving in England where he lived for the next thirteen years, developing his musical skills and teaching in Secondary Schools and Special-Education.

 

In 1970, he wrote 'Songs of the Lord's Travellers', eventually recorded in 1985 under the title 'Where Is Your Song, My Lord?'. That year, 1970, was also the year when Peter read a book on St. Francis of Assisi. He was inspired to write, first one song then, over the years, many other songs to tell the life of St. Francis. This 'journey in song' - Good Morning Good People would become the major work of his creative life.

 

Peter returned to live in Australia in 1982, with an Irish wife, Madge and two children Jason and Niamh. They settled in Mittagong NSW and at this stage Peter began to make music his full-time work. Inspired again by his association with Fr. Ted Kenned, now at the Redfern Parish in Sydney, he set about writing new songs which gave expression to the Gospel message of liberation and social justice. These songs were published in 1984 as 'Turn It All Around'.

 

Then, having equipped himself with van and PA system, Peter became the troubadour and started regular tours to various regions of Australia, city and bush, giving community based concerts for and with schools, parishes, peace and justice groups. New song collections followed 'Signs of Hope' (1986) and 'Celebration' (1987) 'his first album of songs for children. The latter collection soon became widely used in Australian Catholic schools, with many adopting 'This Is Our School' as their school song.

 

In 1988, with his family, Peter undertook a 13,000km tour through outback Australia and in the same year released an album of reflections on Australian history and identity- 'The Year Of God's Favour?' One of these songs 'The Deaths Go On' about Aboriginal deaths in custody received the Declan Affley Memorial Award as the best new song at the Australian National Folk Festival.

 

Peter and Madge undertook another journey in 1989, this time to the northern hemisphere. Peter presented 17 concerts in Ireland and the United Kingdom including one in which he sang with Sydney Carter, composer of 'Lord of the Dance'.

 

On return to Australia in 1990, a series of concerts at major venues with his group 'Crossover' led to the release of an 'in concert' album 'Live . . . in the Land of Australia'. A studio-made album 'The Common Good' followed in 1993.

 

Peter's 'major work' on St. Francis had continued to unfold over 24 years. In 1994, with the help of grants from various individuals and organisations including the Mercy Foundation, Peter was able to take a year off from touring to complete choir and instrumental scores for 'Good Morning Good People!'. This two hour 'journey in song', involving over sixty singers and musicians from his own area premiered with great success in November 1994 and was then performed by large groups in Newcastle, in Sydney at the Riverside Theatre and in Canberra at the National Folk Festival. 

 

In 2004-5 and again in 2007-8, Peter and Madge lived and worked in Ireland - Madge's homeland. It was in this period that Peter started presenting a smaller scale version of Good Morning Good People. In that period there were more than forty presentations in Ireland and Scotland, including concerts as part of 'Lentfest' sponsored by the Glasgow Archdiocese. In September 2008, with Australian flautist Roma Dix, Peter travelled to England for a nine concert tour, presenting Good Morning Good People at Franciscan venues in London, Chilworth Surrey, Canterbury, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford Greyfriars and Preston.

 

In addition to these adult concerts, Peter enjoyed conducting workshops and concerts in over one hundred Irish National Primary Schools.

 

Peter has recorded in his own studio 'The Little Portion' since 1996. Albums produced there have included two collections for children 'All The World Is Sacred' (1996) and 'Growing in God' (2003), a Christmas/ Advent collection 'How Far to Bethlehem?' (1999). Adult collections 'Islands of the Heart ' (2001) and 'A Gift of Song' (2008) featured contributions on keyboard and accordion the highly respected Australian jazz musician, Kevin Hunt.

 

Since returning from Ireland in late 2008, Peter has been invited to present Good Morning Good People in over seventy venues, in all states and territories except the Northern Territory. A new CD 'Easter Carols' was released in 2009. As well as Good Morning Good People, Peter presented other adult concert programs including, 'Signs of Hope-People of Faith' and 'Fr Ted Kennedy-Australian Prophet'.

 

In late November-early December 2013 he will be leading ten Christmas concerts with the children of Catholic primary schools in Melbourne and Sydney. To be continued ...

 


 

ARTICLE by Marilyn Kerjean - The Catholic Weekly, Sydney. 2001
Inspired to be a Ďminstrel of Godí - Peter Kearney, singer and songwriter
Peter Kearney found his true vocation when he began strumming and singing his message in towns around Australia. Marilyn Kerjean reports:

Catholic singer and songwriter Peter Kearney never had any illusions that it would be big time sort of music when he decided in 1982 to pursue music as a full-time career. Rather, he thought, it would be just going around linking communities. Even though Iíve been doing it for nearly 20 years I get a lot of satisfaction out of it,Ē he says. ďI get a feeling that itís a good thing Iím doing.

He says his inner life must be nourished for all to be well on the outside. And he believes this truth extends to the country as a whole. I have this awful vision of Australia, of people living along the rim, on the coast and leaving this large internal area empty, he says.

Peter, born in Sans Souci, and now living in Mittagong, says he is as much at home performing in quiet country towns as he is in big cities. His musical ministry has seen him take his brand of heartfelt folk music to many country and regional towns. He has a special fondness for these communities. And he is always amazed by the strength of the social networks he finds there. When Iím in the Blue Mountains, he says, for example, I might be in Oberon and mention someone in Gulgong and people say: Oh, yeah we know him.

Peter sees his place in the world as using stories and song to help support such community life, that while strong, is becoming more fragile. People living in small towns get a sense of despondency when they see young people leaving for the cities, and thereís no life coming in, says Peter. I hope we can find some way to not neglect the rural areas. So many decisions get made by people in the cities.

Peterís songs reflect his concerns. While most are written for adults, with the themes of justice and reconciliation featuring strongly, many songs are for children. In fact Peter performs most of his concerts in schools. He encourages the children to explore their own talents, sending tapes in advance so the students can learn the songs before they perform together before parents and the wider community.

It makes for a long day but I like to work with the children and present family concerts, he says. The number one thing I want is for people to be engaged with the stories and songs and have a good time. It sends lots of good little ripples out when people enjoy themselves at these concerts. Hopefully, the Spirit is present in those gatherings. I have a really good feeling about what Iím doing there.

Each of Peterís song has a message, whether itís about the joys of life Ė like finding a life partner, or the issue of reconciliation. Peterís great inspiration in life is St Francis of Assisi and, like that saint, he likes to think of himself as a Ďminstrel for Godí. St Francis would pick up some sticks and pretend to play with them and when people came over he would speak to them, he says.

Peterís identification with Francis goes far deeper than his intention and approach. He had that big tension in his life between the mountain and the valley, Peter says. He wanted to care for people but he also felt drawn to spending time alone in contemplation, on the mountain. He consulted St Clare and she said: Your gift is for the world, you have to go out to the valley and work with the people. But he always felt that need for solitude and prayer. He would go up to the mount of La Verna and spend long hours there.

Likewise, Peter says, if he neglects the contemplative side of his nature he can get ďall tied up and depressed. Where I can I try to give some priority to nourishing the inner life in stillness and prayer, he says. It took 25 years and much prayerful reflection to complete the major creative work of Peterís life, inspired by St Francisí greeting: Good morning, good people. May the peace of God be with you. Good Morning Good People! is Peterís two-hour long musical of the saintís life, which was always centred on the figure of Christ. It premiered in a triumphant concert in Mittagong in 1994 when a cast of about 100 performed before an audience of 2,000 people.

Today, the echo of St Francisí unique spirituality rings through in Peterís just-released CD Islands of the Heart. One song, The Water of Life, about the founder of the LíArche Community, is about the contemplative mode of life that must always balance the active.
Peter sees his lifeís work as connected to his baptism, although not the way it was first thought. He was the first of seven children born to staunch Catholic parents; a prayer was said at his baptism for him to become a priest. He was an altar boy at Sans Souci parish when his parents sent him to Marist Brothersí Darlinghurst, where he learnt Latin. But I dropped Latin after a time, mainly because I didnít want to become a priest, he says with a smile.

But the religious and spiritual dimension of life has always been important to Peter. I didnít want to find a job to work in just for a jobís sake. I wanted something with a sense of vocation to it, he says. But it took a brief stint as a secondary teacher in England, then a guitar teacher, before Peter found his true vocation as a minstrel for God.

Peter Kearneyís first collection of religious songs was published in 1966. Best known are probably Fill My House and The Beatitudes. He says his latest album is for those people who have a heart for the pain of the world, including songs inspired by Sr Irene McCormack and Edmund Rice.


 

PETER KEARNEY'S INTRODUCTION
to 'All Aboard the Ark'

(a booklet of song lyrics 1966-1988).
I can still recall my excitement when I wrote my first song. I was about seventeen years old and the song was a melancholy little thing called 'The Sea and I'.
"By the sea, on the shore
Here I sit, I'm all alone
The wind is low, the moon is high
Yes here we are, the sea and I . . ."

That's about all I can remember of it now. But from that day, the excitement of writing songs stayed with me. I've spent a lot of time playing around on the guitar, singing any words that come into my head (must sound crazy from outside the room!), trying to arrive at that moment of inspiration when a new song-idea hits.

While I was at Sydney University , I met Fr. Ted Kennedy who was the Catholic chaplain there at the time. He told me there was a great need for contemporary religious songs (this was only two years after Vatican II) and he encouraged me to have a go. So, inspired by his "commission" and also by the fresh ideas on spirituality I was hearing then, I wrote fourteen songs in the next six weeks. Needless to say, the songs were far from perfect in their craft, but people liked them and before long they were published as Songs of Brotherhood ( 1966) by J. Albert & Son. Of those songs, 'Fill My House' and The Beatitudes' are still going strong.
A couple of years later, I travelled to England and worked there, not too happily, as a teacher. But music was my consuming interest. I taught myself to read music, learned the recorder, bought a Revox tape-recorder which enabled me to work out song arrangements through sound-on-sound recording and wrote lots and lots of songs. People ask me if I've ever written anything apart from religious songs. Well, over the years, I must have written more than three hundred songs and, of these, probably two hundred would be non-religious. There are love songs, kid songs, mad songs and sad songs, protest songs, songs on all sorts of topics including myself. But somehow , in my case, it has turned out that most of my effective songs are the ones that tap into a dimension of images and meanings which transcend yet include me. By this I mean our tradition of faith which goes back over three thousand years. It is our 'dreamtime", our approach to God. In it we can discover the great themes of life, the seeds of our potential, a rock on which to stand and view modern developments.

In the early seventies, with another burst of energy, I wrote 'Songs of the Lord's Travellers' which included 'Where is your Song, my Lord?'. Unlike 'Songs of Brotherhood', these songs took a long time to find their way into the wide world. It wasn't until 1985 that they started to become well known. They are now published in tape and book form under the title 'Where is your Song, my Lord?' As time went by , I took more care with my songs and learned to live with incompletion - until the song was right. Sometimes years went by. This was especially the case with a series of songs (a 'musical-drama') covering the life of St. Francis of Assisi called 'Good Morning, Good People!'

Since returning to live in Australia in 1982 with my Irish wife, Madge and children, Jason and Niamh, music has become my work. I've come out of my room and started giving concerts wherever I have a welcome. In new collections of songs, I have tried to link our tradition of faith with contemporary issues and concerns. I am as excited as ever by the songwriting process, more aware of it as a gift, and have no further need to be convinced of the power of song to communicate. Songs, small as they are, can mean a lot.

Thanks to all who have helped and encouraged me in my work.
Peter Kearney
May, 1989

 

 

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