Sunday, March 09, 2008

The St. Louis Jesuits

The musicians at my parish, St. Margaret of Scotland, are so amazing, and fun to listen to, that they've actually made me rather fond of church music. Of course, if you go to church regularly, and you're a fan of music, you're going to eventually have some favorites, and I have several, but I've never gone out to actually purchase church music.

OK, so I guess you've figured out by now that I have recently purchased some church music. Yes, I actually bought a bunch of MP3s off of Amazon. I can pick and choose the songs I want that way, and don't have to buy a whole album. I credit St. Margaret's excellent Music Ministry. I walk home after mass singing the songs to myself, like We are Called, and We Remember.

For my family, growing up, it was songs like "Though the Mountains May Fall," "All the Ends of the Earth," "Sing a New Song," and "Lift Up Your Hearts." And now comes the reason I write this blog entry. It turns out all these songs I have just mentioned, and many others we liked, have a common set of authors. They are called the St. Louis Jesuits, and I just learned this today while surfing through Wikipedia.

Additionally interesting to note is that I now live about two miles away from SLU's campus. The music has gone full circle with me.

All those songs were brought to our parish when I was growing up in St. John Bosco parish in West Virginia. They were brought by a group of three guitar-strumming women who would vigorously belt out these great tunes with their 70s guitar straps and their capos. Their arms would swing fast and hard, interposing an extra strum here and there, and you could really feel the energy coursing through the pews. You always walked out of church with an extra kick in your step on those days. They would come during the summer weeks when Deanery Camp (church camp) was happening... or was it Camp Tygart? One of those.

So as I'm looking up all those old favorites online, and discovering that they're all written by the St. Louis Jesuits, I'm also finding that there is apparently a significant portion of conservative Catholics who feel that their music is "liberal" and inappropriate for mass. Ha! Their popularity has suppressed "the authentic sound of Catholicism." Are you kidding me? No, I am not. These people believe that Catholic mass should be accompanied by latin polyphones and Gregorian chants. I guess that's what they believe is the "authentic" sound of Catholicsm. Mmmkay.

You know, I think those guitar women were wearing sandals. Oh my gosh, were they... liberals!? Gasp! What would Jesus think!?

So, obviously I'm going to speak against that kind of draconian approach to liturgical music. Especially given that I have so many fond memories invested in the "liberal," "inappropriate" music of the St. Louis Jesuits. So here it is: why can't you have both? It's not like you can only have chants, or only have guitar pickin'. Shouldn't the music for each mass be chosen to suit the message of that mass? So if it's a meditative message, use meditative music. If it's a message of being called to service, sing We are Called. If it's a message of joyous celebration, then get to strumming that guit-fiddle!

One last thing before I wrap up this rant. I like to find out who composed each song that's being sung in church. It's just something I do. I notice that we sing a lot of music by Marty Haugens and David Haas. It turns out they are probably the two most prolific liturgical music composers for Catholic and Lutheran service in the past 50 years. The thing is, there are again some people who believe there should be a moratorium on their music. What!?

On the website for the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, they quote a priest saying "What a shame for a young person to grow up thinking that Marty Haugen is the traditional music of the Catholic church!"

What young person grows up not knowing about historical Catholic music? That sounds like a failing in his education, not Marty Haugen's or David Haas's music. If you dislike a piece of church music that much, don't sing. It's just a song, dude. I don't like them all either, but I mean get a life.

One final thing... of all the songs I purchased today, one recording stands head and shoulders above all the others: Hosea (Come Back to Me) by Steve and Sarah Bell. It is outstanding. All other recordings I purchased were lacking in quality, musicianship, or just sounded too... um safe, I guess. There seems to be a pretty significant need for quality production in this genre. I like a more contemporary sound. I would love to hear Clannad cover some of these tunes. Could you imagine? Or Alison Krauss with Union Station. That kind of thing.


Susan Bailey said...

There is a podcast that was just posted this week featuring an interview with Dan Schutte of the St. Louis Jesuits. If you go to, there is a player on that page where you can hear it. Listen to episode #81. I produce the podcast and also publish a magazine about Catholic performing artists called GrapeVine. We just put out our Winter 2008 issue - you might want to look at it. In our reviews section, we reviewed the newest release from Dan Schutte. Dan wrote "Here I Am, Lord," and "You Are Near" along with many others. He was a delight to talk to!

Seminarian Matthew said...

I'm still selling a CD of "Morning Light" for around $10. Let me know if you are interested.

I do believe it is inappropriate for Mass because it is not in accord with the guidelines set forth in the Second Vatican Council, which uphold the unique place of Gregorian Chant and Polyphony in the Liturgy. Check on Sacrosanctum Concilium.