National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Hooked On Beads

Meet the Lennon & McCartney Of the Rosary

BY Stephen Mirarchi

Dec. 23, 2007 - Jan. 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 12/18/07 at 1:49 PM


Uncanny, isn’t it, how radio and television jingles pushing everything from cars to fast food stay with us for decades? We struggle to recall the gist of the message in last Sunday’s homily, but we can still sing every word of our favorite songs — no matter how old.

Why not use the art of the pop “hook” to persuade people to pray the Rosary? That’s what longtime friends John Giaier and Bill Gildenstern (left to right in photo above) asked themselves several years ago. Then they set out to produce The Rosary Tapes, a set of CDs dedicated to each of the four sets of mysteries. Gildenstern is a former rock-radio disc jockey; Giaier, a writer of commercial jingles.

Fresh from the recent release of their latest production, “The Luminous Mysteries,” the two spoke with Register correspondent Stephen Mirarchi.

So how did a successful salesman and a popular musician get together on a project like this?

Giaier: We’ve been friends for a long time and, about 15 years ago, Bill said he wanted to put the Catholic Rosary to music. I’ve done music all my life, since I was 12, and my company had done work for everyone from Ford Motors to Burger King.

Gildenstern: I’d sold my advertising agency when I got sick; I didn’t know yet I had major thyroid troubles. I was very frustrated and started to pray, “I’ve always done what I want, but God, what do you want me to do?” I had a sense of being drawn to my audio studio and then I remembered the rosary beads stuck in my car seat. I thought, “There has to be a better way.”

Giaier: I told him right off: “You’re out of your mind! We’re a nationally known music company. We can’t let people know we’re doing that; that’s religion.”

Gildenstern: Perseverance. I kept working on him.

Giaier: He and his wife Kelly made a sample and brought it over. As my wife Debbie and I were listening she started crying and I thought, “Maybe there’s something to this. She’s moved by this; think what we can do.”

It seems like the Holy Spirit invited each of you to contribute his gifts.

Gildenstern: I’m convinced of that. For the lyrics we stuck with the Scripture based on the particular mystery, and we used other areas of Scripture to fill the meditation. The lyrics for the songs serve as our prayer of response to this mystery, which we all sing to God.

Giaier: I told Bill we’re not doing this half-heartedly. I’m not going to make it garden variety to compete with the church organ; I want to compete with the Beatles and Steely Dan. So I hired the best in the industry and recorded 90 tracks.

Gildenstern: We want to compete with what’s on the radio and on the iPod. You could say a Rosary in 10 minutes, but prayer is about relationship, about talking as you would to a friend. This is about taking time from things we do outside of church and turning that to God.

And it’s working — so well, in fact, that the Pope wrote you personally, I hear.

Giaier: We got a Grammy nomination for the Joyful Mysteries, and then somehow John Paul II got his hands on it and sent us a blessing and a thank-you. Know what’s funny? Just after that, another letter arrives from the papal nuncio. We were amazed because they never endorse things like this.

Gildenstern: I have boxes of letters people have written us. That’s what this is about. Scripture is very clear that we need to pray for each other and have others pray for us. We’re here to lift each other up. That’s what heaven’s like: being lifted up by God. But we have to practice it now, and that’s where the Rosary comes in.

How did you implement your know-how in composing the music?

Giaier: Our company made headlines for its technology that determines “memorability.” With computers we can pre-determine tastes and styles, even in specific regions. We’ve adapted that technology so the prayers will have that memorability.

Gildenstern: A lot of what I did was in the mixing of the song. I could keep you through songs that you didn’t love with rotation of styles, which is common in the industry.

Giaier: Music is very subjective. We may hear ZZ Top and they’re thinking Bill Haley and the Comets. That’s why there’s variety.

Gildenstern: I remember when Roy Orbison came out with “Oh Pretty Woman” and I wore out that 45. We stick with what we love.

Giaier: It’s about nurturing psychological hooks. Everything on the tapes is original, with styles from Nat King Cole to the Eagles. There are even some guitar riffs on there for the guitar heroes. Maybe 30 years ago some folks might have found this disrespectful, but not now. You wouldn’t have heard minor-seventh chords in Catholic music before, either, but you do now.

Ecumenism can be a tough sell to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Yet you stress this aspect, especially on the new production. How did you approach the challenge?

Giaier: It was a mutual thing on both our parts. When we agreed to do the Luminous Mysteries, Bill said we should make it fit all Christians. Now some people are going to ask, “How can you change the Rosary?” Well, we didn’t; we explained what every word means on the website.

Gildenstern: We would get letters saying, “Please change ‘Our Father’ to ‘Our Maker.’” We didn’t do that; instead we explained why we call God our Father. John and I agreed: “Let’s do everything we can to explain this to everyone possible,” but we will remain committed to the Truth.

Giaier: We ran it by experts, and hey, the Pope liked it. Personally that sounds pretty Catholic to me.

Gildenstern: And catholic with a small ‘c’ means universal. Christians believe Jesus is God and Mary is his mother. What would you do for your mom? She had to undergo a lot of tears for that “Yes.” She’s praying with us in the same way that I’ll ask my sister to pray for us.

Giaier: Catholics used to be very territorial. The Rosary Tapes are a step in the direction of getting people to pray together.

Gildenstern: There’s something special there with Mary, the lever of prayer. She wants the same thing that we do: to bring us closer to her Son.

Stephen Mirarchi

writes from St. Louis.


The Rosary Tapes