By Sue Stanton
AMES — Catholic singer and songwriter Ben Walther gave a song writing workshop recently to a group of St. Cecilia’s and greater Ames area musicians as part of the parish’s St. Cecilia feast day celebration and the Klingseis Celebration Series. The series is the result of a bequest of more than $1 million received from two longtime members of the parish, Paul and Irene Klingseis. After discernment with the parish, it was decided to embark on a series of events to be held as “a journey of faith to help invigorate our discipleship, discern our gifts, enrich our parish, and reach out to others who need to hear the message of Jesus.”
Beginning on Friday evening Nov. 12, St. Cecilia Parish celebrated 20 years of eucharistic adoration participation. On Saturday, Nov. 13, a talk on songwriting was given by Walther who related the experience of faith and music in his own life. Husband and father of six, Walther began in music at the age of 15 after picking up a guitar in his home that belonged to his sister. He began exploring music as a way to work through the trials of teenage life and with three other friends formed a group called the Sons of Santa playing for the Texas area parties and small gatherings where they grew up.
Eventually, they played for a youth group after writing a song titled “Dear Father,” and it was during one concert where the response to this song convinced Walther that music was to be in his life in a fuller way since it could be one way of bringing God’s healing love to people.
“There was a group of girls,” he remembered, “and they were crying, wiping tears from their eyes. They came over to us and said that one of their boyfriends had just died in a car accident two weeks before and that the song had reminded them of him.” As a student at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Walther began writing songs to use in worship services there. Once his songwriting career began to take shape, he went on to collaborate with Robbie Seay, Matt Maher and Oregon Catholic Press producer Tom Booth.
Today, Walther travels throughout the country leading worship services in Catholic churches almost every weekend. He and his wife have six children and live in Ohio. “But all the people who write music are in Nashville,” he joked. “There are just not enough Catholic music producers and the Christian music pool is huge. It’s really difficult for young Catholic writers to break into that. So if any of you want to start a Catholic music company, I want to encourage you to do that!”
Walther currently has music with Oregon Catholic Press and his songs can be found in editions of the Breaking Bread hymnal.
His latest album, “ABLAZE,” has a song called, “Jesus, Meek and Humble,” done in collaboration with Sarah Hart. The CD is available for purchase at the OCP website, (www.ocp.org). For inspiration, he used a quote of St. Catherine of Siena, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze.”
For inspiring future Catholic songwriters, Walther gave sage advice.
“First, know thyself,” he said. “Where does your inspiration come from? Also silence, spending time in nature, exercising like running or riding a bike and read as much as you can. The more we read, the better we write and improve our vocabulary and command of the language.”
At the conclusion of the workshop, St. Cecilia parishioner Judy Brown felt enthused. “It’s always helpful to have personal life stories that are then shared in song,” she said.
While a few Presbyterians present enjoyed the music, they still stated they “liked the old stuff.”
Finishing out the weekend of celebration, the parish held a dinner, tables of information of the many ministries in the parish and a musical extravaganza.
Musicians of the parish shared a wide variety of instrumental and vocal talents; dulcimers from Appalachia, a harp, guitars, flute music and the St. Cecilia choir performed. The evening concluded with an XLT Adoration service given by Ben Walther.
Ben Walther speaks to a group of musicians in Ames at the recent workshop. (Photo by Sue Stanton)