Raise Every Voice

The Roches discover that music is a form of prayer

| January / February 2003

THE ROCHES, SISTERS Suzzy, Terre, and Maggie, have long been acclaimed for the captivating harmonies of their singing. But now they realize what music really is: a form of prayer.

Suzzy and Maggie’s new CD, a compilation of sung prayers called Zero Church (Red House Records), was scheduled to be released the day airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania countryside. Instead of lining up promotional gigs, Suzzy found herself writing a song to perform at a benefit concert for a Brooklyn firehouse that had lost 12 men. “I didn’t have a clue what I was going to sing,” Suzzy tells Kathleen Warnock in the music zine ROCKRGIRL (Spring/Summer 2002). “None of the prayers on Zero Church were right for it, and I actually prayed for a prayer. It had to be something soothing. ‘New York City’ was the gentlest, most open thing I’ve ever written. In a way it is the first folk song I ever wrote. . . . People need that music.”

So they added it to the album, capping an emotional journey that began nearly two years earlier with an invitation to Suzzy from playwright/scholar Anna Deveare Smith to study at Harvard. They put together a six-week residency with a number of artists and scholars to explore the idea of prayer.

“We had very concentrated, highly intellectual discussions about art, race, diversity, tolerance, and rage,” Roche recalls. “The people were from all different backgrounds.” And they came with all sorts of prayers—about [gay-bashing victim] Matthew Shepard, about Vietnam, about slavery in the Sudan—which Suzzy collected and, with Maggie’s help, put to music. “We were like midwives,” Suzzy says. “We ushered it into the world.”

The result is a recording of remarkable power and emotion, a work that Suzzy says has taken her out of isolation: “It’s leading me to unexpected places…. It’s been a lesson on how to really tap into other people and what their concerns are.”

Craig Cox is executive editor of Utne.

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