Thursday, July 24, 2008


Let Us Go to the Altar

Some reflections upon statements made by Dan Schutte recently.
His statements are in black italics, mine in blue.

*The following is an examination of some statements made by the composer, songwriter and performer Dan Schutte in an interview published in GRAPEVINE, a magazine that profiles the musicians and music of contemporary (nee pop style) Catholic artists.

While there are elements of performance in both, at liturgy the focus of the music is directed toward giving praise to God rather than directed toward the performer. The musician at worship is just a vehicle. During the years that I collaborated with the St. Louis Jesuits, we worked hard to keep the focus on God rather than on us.

*There really isn’t much in the above to quibble over save, perhaps, for the dubbing of “the musician at worship is just a vehicle.” Say, for example, that vehicle is a sailing ship. Is this schooner subject to the happenstance of wind and weather and, thus, prone to wander astray from its goal of reaching homeport? Musicians at worship function more as officers and crew under the vessel's captain, trustees of the cargo, mission and success of the voyage.

Much of my music is directed first toward those who gather as community to give thanks and praise to God at Eucharist.

*I think there is a continuation of extremely casual thought and semantics in these sorts of statements. In this era in which, later in the interview, Mr. Schutte acknowledges must contend with “style wars” he seems to accidentally create a dichotomy in the above statement. What does it actually mean that much of his music is directed at the gathered community? Couldn’t such a statement be easily used to abet the contention that there is too much contemporary hymn lyrical emphasis on praising worshippers as a community of gathered believers, rather than just having that “community” sing texts of thanks and praise to God, period? Has he not read Thom Day 101?

The “regal” images of Mary in the original text are ones that do not resonate with people as well as they probably once did. Most of us, unless we live in England, have no living experience of such images. And, as you imply by the question, many non-Catholics have difficulty with images that seem to make Mary god-like. For example, the line from the original text “You reign now in heaven with Jesus our king.” would make this hymn unusable in many non-Catholic communities.

*This paragraph is so self-damning that it shouldn’t require examination of its statements. First of all and most ironically it is published in a summer where there is a virtual cultural coronation from many quarters of AMERICAN culture of a politician whose persona is celebrated unabashedly as messianic. And if that’s not indicative of a people’s desire to invest all trust and authority with that en-fleshed singularity of power, polish and popularity, then I don’t know what a monarch is. One has to wonder if, whether in Berkeley or in St. Louis, Mr. Schutte and his SJ confreres had access to both ends of the Diana saga that had hundreds of millions of Americans and other folk glued to their televisions in the dead of night when she was married, died and buried. Even from a benign cultural perspective, I believe we in the colonies still have an abiding fondness and longing for the benevolent monarch. And again, when he cites non-Catholic resistance (as if that matters in our schema of things) to the doctrinally sound imagery of Mary, Queen of Heaven via her unique, monarchial status as Theotokos, his revisionist qualifications are quite repugnant to mainstream, much less Conservative Catholicism. If God is “Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”- what theological damage is perpetrated upon Catholics and denominational Christians by deigning Mary Queen of Heaven. Does Mr. Schutte celebrate the Assumption and Christ the King?
My question: to what end does Mr. Schutte desire to dilute these allegorical images? Easy digestion, a common denominator that all consumers can buy into? I think the real answer to that last question is found in the following:

I took the story of the Annunciation, where Mary is visited by God’s angel, and wrote lyrics that express what I felt is the heart of that story for all of us. I tried to be true to the Scripture text and authentic in the way I wrote about this holy woman.

*The story of the Annunciation. The “story” of the Annunciation? “I tried to be true to the Scripture text and authentic in the way I wrote about this holy woman.” Am I alone in thinking Mr. Schutte is all over the map, equivocating as all get out, and vacillating regarding the inconvenience of precise language as regards our cherished doctrinal beliefs? Coming from someone with a Jesuit environment, this is paradoxically unbelievable and quite believable. But it’s also insulting.

It is simply not appropriate to say that the only kind of music should be used for worship, or even more, to impose the style that I prefer for prayer on everyone.

*It is likely very important to remember that Mr. Schutte is responding to questions from a correspondent of a periodical devoted to Contemporary Catholic Music, namely GRAPEVINE. So one could reasonably excuse his definitive statement about whether there is a rationale to debate the appropriateness of “kinds” of music used for worship. But as Dr. Mike O’Connor has pointed out in other forums, the statement conveniently skirts the gorilla in the room: is there reason to systematically exclude the two forms (styles) of music specifically and uniquely identified in the Vatican II documents from the liturgical reforms that, essentially, spawned an industry with which he and all of us have had commerce over the succeeding years?
If I should go to Dan’s workshop retreat in the mountains to the east, I might just ask him: “What factors do you, Dan Schutte, believe determines the meaning of “pride of place” in the marketplace of liturgical and sacred music practices?”

3 comments:

Gavin said...

Nice fisking, although I think context would have been helpful. For example, when he goes on about "regal" images of Mary, he isn't condemning them in the context of Mass, but rather explaining how he intends to give an ecumenically-friendly treatment of her. I find this laudable, although some may disagree.

What I find the most disturbing about writings by him and "his ilk" is that he doesn't differentiate between music for the liturgy and music outside the liturgy. The only Gregorian chant I want to hear outside of a church is a CD my friend made me of jazz interpretations of chant tunes. And yet the SLJs, Haugen, Haas, etc. have all sold music which is WONDERFUL for private devotion or enjoyment AS music for Mass. What rational do they have that their music should be used at Mass? Because it's good for private devotion or entertainment! In fact his "helps me pray" critique is predicated on a preconcilliar view of the Mass - that all one needs to do is go to Mass, kneel (or stand) a lot, and pray by yourself. No, let's NOT go to Mass to pray Schutte's music, let's go to Mass to PRAY THE MASS!

moconnor09 said...

Thanks for the plug, Charles. Nicely parsed too. Perhaps we should not be as troubled by Mr. Schutte's statements, which are certainly sincere, as we are that the Church allows music that skirts theological questions in the name of ecumenism. We have his statement on the usability of his works, now we must make decisions on that usability at Mass. If this were done, he would lose his primary market in an attempt to gain a greater one.

Charles said...

Gavin said I fisked. Mike said I parced.
Sounds like I went fishing and then had to gut the fish caught!
But what about my drunken kitty?