Life and music have taken them to many parts of NSW, but since 2001 this is where they are grounded.
Basil was in formation at Mittagong to be a Marist Brother at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Latin Gregorian liturgies were giving way to contemporary English. While treasuring the beauty of the past, Basil was even more affected by the changes which facilitated “full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations”. It set a course for life and ministry to come.
I asked Basil to tell me about himself first, before we ventured into his music. He went straight into music. He continued to talk about music and self throughout our conversation in such a seamless way that I was left with the impression that “you can’t have one without the other”.
Basil’s Marist training, and especially some exemplary Marist Brothers, fortified his faith and dedication to mission. Of one – Les Brogan, now directing liturgical ministry at St Patrick’s, Wallsend – Basil composed a song with the words, “You’re a legend in our time for those you moulded in your prime.” Les moulded a young Basil Morrow to traverse the aisle in his home parish church at Granville, strumming his guitar and encouraging the assembly to join in wholeheartedly with the celebration.
At that time in the Church it had virtually been ingrained in congregations not to sing. Pre-Vatican II congregations had been accustomed to an individualistic, passive and quiet celebration of the Mass. Some lamented the change, while others were delighted. If the passive were to participate they needed music that was approachable and contemporary, thought Basil. This is what he set himself to seek out and also to compose.
Basil had left the Novitiate in May 1969. On his first day of training as a public servant in Sydney, on 1 September, he “saw a stranger across a crowded room”. (The “crowd” consisted of two others, Basil admits.) Annette was to share his life and music from that moment. Annette was a convert from Presbyterianism who was currently singing in a church band. Basil poached her. Together they sang the parts of the Mass composed by Basil for their wedding.
The couple has lived and ministered at many locations, including St Mary’s in Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Goulburn, Moree and Jindabyne. They have produced four sons and two daughters while providing music to engage congregations in celebrating the liturgy. Since 2001 the Hunter has been home.
While Mayfield West, Kotara, Wallsend, the Cathedral and others have experienced Morrow-led music, it is in St Brigid’s, Raymond Terrace, their home parish, where they chiefly worship. Especially for home Basil has composed a “Mass of St Brigid of The Terrace”.
Though not obvious, there is “a sense of Gregorian” in Basil’s compositions. He avoids “hymnising” by making his music fresh and lyrical with an easily recognised beat, simplicity, beauty and “a bit of passion”. In order to invite and encourage all to join in, Basil sees his role “not as a performance, but you need to use all the qualities of a performance” to serve the celebration.
Basil and Annette have conducted numerous workshops far and wide and produced four albums of liturgical song. Among Basil’s compositions is a commission from the Sisters of St Joseph lauding Fr Julian Tenison Woods, called “Celebrating the Memory”. Our diocese’s commemoration of 150 years in 2016 brought forth a song entitled “Take Heart, God is Among Us”.
What are his future goals? Basil has composed, and routinely sings, responses to the psalms used after the first scripture reading every Sunday. He intends to record and publish these responses for broader use. He is happy and grateful for the opportunities life has afforded him to create, share, and inspire – and for the joy of experiencing with Annette “our voices blending beautifully”. With her, Basil intends “to continue until we can’t”.