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Alliance Publications

Composer Cecil Steffen, OP was born on March 21, 1919 in Chicago, the daughter of German immigrant parents whose lineage gave her a heritage of music appreciation and performance. She began her piano study at the age of 9, a study which continued through high school (St. Clara Academy, Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, class of 1937) and six years of college (Dominican College, San Rafael, California and University of California, Berkeley).


Graduating with a B.A. in music from UC-Berkeley in 1941, she immediately began teaching piano and school music in grade schools. With her wit and humor, twinkling eye and quick laugh, Cecil often delighted the students with her improvisations. This gift is reflected in a number of compositions she created for the piano, particularly, “Heard Across the Hall” and “With a Hook and a Whirl.”


Cecil followed a call to religious community life and became a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister in 1944. After her profession of vows in 1946, she continued to minister through her musical gifts in each grade and high school to which she was sent teaching piano and music appreciation, beginning in Oklahoma City. There she composed her well-known “Quam Dilecta Tabernacula Tua” for three-part women’s voices in 1947.


Graduate study was undertaken at Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland where she received both a B.M. and M.M. in theory and composition in 1958 and 1959. She was awarded the Howard Thatcher prize for composition. Her classical vocal, piano, and orchestral writing took place at Peabody. In 1960, she joined the Music Faculty of Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois for three years. Cecil returned to high school music teaching in 1963.


Back to Rosary College in 1976, Cecil continued to teach piano and music theory up to the present time. She was also chapel musician for the Rosary Convent Sisters.


Sister Cecil’s creative muse responds to needs at the time. In 1963, she was very effected by the students’ participation in the civil rights movement which inspired the musical setting of “I Have a Dream.” Occasionally, however, a poem speaks so strongly that music emerges. This was true for “i thank You God for most this amazing.” Spring’’s energies of new life and Easter combined to call forth this musical setting.


The liturgical renewal, promulgated by Vatican Council II in 1965, urged Cecil to write music for Sunday liturgies at Queen of Peace Convent in Burbank, Illinois where she was then living and working. She loved to write music for singers she knew. For her, it was a privilege to do so, and besides, there was a great need for new vernacular (English) settings of the Mass Ordinary, Psalms and Canticles. At other times, graduations and community celebrations,— social and liturgical, —called forth other compositions from her, eg. “Golden Bells,””Songs from the Mazzuchelli Suite,” “Pioneer Priest,” and “My Lover Belongs to Me and I to Him.”


Her personal philosophy of composition was this: “I choose a text and then pray ahead of time that God will help me. I think of the words and begin working with a rhythm that fits. I look for the high point or climax of the text and develop the melody accordingly. Then I try to have the melody and harmony enhance the words. Keeping in mind the abilities and limitations of the people who will sing the songs, I determine the range of the musical line. I write out a melody and rewrite it until I am satisfied with it. Then I leave it alone and if, after returning to it, I am satisfied with it, I make copies and we sing it.” And sing it, the community of Sisters to which she belongs, surely did so with pride and gratitude for the unique experience of having a resident composer in their midst.


The editors of Alliance Publications, Inc. recognized gems among her repertoire of over 150 compositions. Having personally experienced learning and using many of her compositions for liturgical use and piano and vocal study over the years, we are now proud to publish those which have stood the test of time and serve many musical purposes, not the least of which is to contribute beauty to our world.

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