What were your influences?
I was influenced by Broadway musicals: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Camelot and Oliver. I was also influenced by classical music: Tchaikovsky, Bach, Beethoven and Handel. When I got into the novitiate, three or four of us, on the first Christmas, listened to the complete Messiah. We did it once a year. I just fell in love with Handel. A lot of the early songs I did were influenced by him. For example, in “Every Valley,” Handel’s “He shall feed his flock, like a shepherd” becomes “Like a shepherd, he feeds his flock.” I just wanted people to listen to Handel, and I thought this was one way to do it. I knew pop music, but I wasn’t trying to imitate it.
What was it like hitting it big?
I was sitting in my room, working on this little chord pattern, and I was singing a melody against it. This was in St. Louis, about nine months after I had gotten a guitar. I had just learned to play a couple months before that. I had just started to notate this little song when a guy from New York Province came in and said, “What are you doing?” He asked me to sing the song, so I did. Then he said, “We gotta use that for Good Friday.” I said, “What?” I had no idea it was going to touch other people. I just wrote music for myself. When I found out other people liked it, I was amazed.