TRUMBULL—When Anna Bendiksen was a teenager growing up in Rochester, her dream was to be an opera singer, so she began formal voice training, along with her studies in Russian. As she tells the story, her voice instructor discreetly suggested she stick with Russian.
She did and eventually earned degrees from Bryn Mawr College and Yale University in Slavic languages and literature. “God had another plan,” she says. And while his plan may not have included a career in opera, it did include music … music that would give him glory.
Anna, who grew up singing and playing the piano, is a writer, poet, and author of hymn texts. A convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, she is a member of the Parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull. Since she was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the 2019 Easter Vigil, she has written several dozen hymns set to traditional melodies. One of her most recent is titled “We Stand With Christ,” in recognition of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s capital campaign.
“I was just taken with the phrase, ‘We stand with Christ,’ and it sounded to me like the title of a song,” she said. “Then, it occurred to me that it would fit a tune in the public domain, the old Welsh tune ‘Ar Hyd y Nos,’ or ‘All Through the Night.’ So I sat down and wrote it. Thank goodness for music writing software.” She later gave the hymn to We Stand With Christ campaign of the diocese.
“We are incredibly grateful to Anna for offering her hymn and reflection about our campaign. It highlights our central theme of standing with our neighbors,” Robert O’Brien, capital campaign director said. “We Stand With Christ is more than just a capital campaign. It’s been an opportunity to personally reflect on our roles as the hands and feet of Christ in our communities.”
Patricia Hansen, director of development operations, said, “We are encouraging parishes still running the campaign to play Anna’s hymn at Mass or at any future campaign receptions.”
Anna’s creativity blossomed when she entered the RCIA program. “I think what happened is that as a musician and Anglican, I needed to make sense of my experience coming into the Catholic Church,” she said. “The music at St. Catherine’s is lovely, and I wanted to add my own voice to the world of Catholic music.”
In a short time, she has achieved that goal. A member of the parish choir, she has written several hymns that she shared with Dr. William H. Atwood, Director of Music and Coordinator of Liturgical Ministries, and they have been used during church worship. The sung prayer, “Hear, Holy Mother,” set to the tune of “Christe Sanctorum,” asks for Our Lady’s intercession in ending the coronavirus pandemic. She is especially appreciative to Dr. Atwood and pastor, Fr. Joseph Marcello, for their support.
Since she began writing texts for hymns, she has compiled a notebook of more than two dozen compositions. The beauty of the faith has been a catalyst for her creative work, and she hopes her compositions express the joy she feels.
“To me, it is all about joy,” she said. “We are an Easter people and our song is ‘Alleluia.’ But we are also a Christmas people and our song is ‘Peace on Earth, good will to all.’ I want to bring Christmas to the lives of other people, and peace is not really peace if it is not combined with God’s justice.”
She doesn’t write the music to her compositions because by her own admission, “I am a horrible composer.” Instead, she borrows music from traditional sources, which she finds in her collection of hymnals.
“With certain hymns I loved, it seemed the music was happier than the words or vice versa,” she said. “They seemed mismatched, so I would write lyrics that fit them better. For example, ‘Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow’ sounded more like a Christmas carol when I sang it, so I wrote lyrics for it as a Christmas carol and gave it to my goddaughter as a present one year.”
She believes the skill of writing hymns can be taught and has offered to conduct a workshop for diocesan groups or people interested in learning the basic principles of the art.
Anna, who lives in Fairfield with her husband Aage and son Johan, recently submitted her hymn, “O, Queen of Sorrows, Weeping Rose,” to a music publisher. The piece, she says, “is about Our Lady’s sorrows, about where we are and where we should be.”
A published poet, Anna has also written humorous and satirical songs based on well-known melodies. Her son Johan plays trombone in the Norwalk Youth Symphony Brass Ensemble and when she offered to write a funny song for the group, he suggested using the melody of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Later, at a holiday party for the ensemble, she performed her rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Norwalk Youth Symphony Brass Ensemble.”
In the folder that contains her hymns, Anna keeps a copy of a 1999 “Letter to Artists” by St. John Paul II, which has inspired her writing. It says in part: “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable.”
Nestled among her creations, she also keeps “The Prayer of a Christian Writer,” which she wrote, and before starting a new project, she always remembers to pray it:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Incarnate Word,
I do not ask for influence, riches or fame.
I ask to be a vessel of Your grace,
to love as Your Sacred Heart loves,
and to be known by You, my truest friend.
Help me to proclaim Your truth courageously,
Your goodness kindly,
and Your beauty selflessly,
that bearing with cheer the taunts of the world,
I might serve as witness
to Your life, death and resurrection.
And what about Anna’s first love of opera? Even though she may not be singing in the Metropolitan Opera production of “Don Giovanni,” she is diligently at work on a Christmas libretto for the holiday season.