Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 1, 1999
Music reflects images of God
Composer Schutte's songs special for large numbers of people
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Dan Schutte hits it straight on when he says "God uses us and gives power to our lives, power to our words, touch, gives power to everything we do. Sometimes I think we never realize until we get to heaven the influence we have on people around us."
Schutte hasn't quite made it to heaven yet, but his influence is apparent in every Catholic church in North America.
His name may not be familiar to churchgoers, but everyone who picks up the Catholic Book of Worship or Glory and Praise hymnal or a similar music text at Sunday Mass is familiar with Schutte's songs - City of God, You are Near and Though the Mountains May Fall.
These are songs sung, not just in praise, but as a way by which we see God.
God the giver.
God the dancer.
God the father.
"We have so many images of God," said Schutte. "We reflect many of these images in the songs we sing."
Schutte, once one of the well-known St. Louis Jesuits who had a major effect on liturgical music in the 1970s and early '80s, led the archdiocesan music conference Oct. 22-23 at Good Shepherd Church.
The first evening of the conference was spent in song and reflecting how the music we sing shapes our image of God.
"An image of God that we have is that our God is a God of abundance," said Schutte to the more than 300 people in attendance. "All through the Old Testament, we have wonderful images of God providing for people with abundance."
And it was only appropriate that Schutte concluded his talk on God the provider by singing Table of Plenty.
He also offered the image of God as a God of surprises, appropriately characterized by the composition of his well-known piece, Here I Am Lord. Schutte wrote the piece on a short deadline many years ago for a special Mass.
"I talk about my songs as my children," Schutte said. "You nurture them and you build them and then send them out into the world and you hope the world treats them well.
"I didn't think I did anything different or special to this song (Here I Am Lord) than I did for any other song, but somehow God has taken this child of mine and made it special for a great deal of people."
Schutte is a native of Milwaukee, Wisc., who is leaving the harsh Midwest winters for the balmier shores of San Francisco. He holds two master's degrees from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., was the associate director of campus ministry at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and has directed various musical and vocal ensembles.
Along with leading music performances during the conference, Schutte also led participants in planning music liturgy and understanding music rituals.
Though the vast majority of his songs are uplifting and joyous, Schutte said musical liturgy should not only focus on the good times.
Many of these songs, said Schutte, have been inspired by the Psalms.
"Jesus was a man who knew how to receive everything as a gift from God, the good things and the not so great things.
"There's a collection of prayers that we sing called Psalms. In these we recall all the different ways we can find in relating to God. Prayer of thanksgiving and joy. There are prayers of gladness and terrible, terrible fear."
The conference was attended by Catholics from all over Alberta. While many of the local and out-of-town parishes sent one or two representatives, St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary sent 24 choir members to the conference.
"Something like this really gives you a new boost," said Dawn Fox, who organized the trip. "It gives us like a big spiritual hug.
"(Schutte) really brought the stuff right down to the ground for us. He really made it simple."
Not only did the conference give St. Patrick parishioners a chance to meet Schutte, but it also gave them some ideas on how to better plan their Sunday music liturgy.
Schutte's suggestions on a more effective planning session included not struggling to find a common theme to fit the Mass readings.
"He says to do the readings, then start shooting off words that come to mind," Fox said. "And not be so worried about finding a theme right away."
Fox said the choirs at St. Patrick's will put Schutte's suggestion to work soon. And if all goes well, it will cut their planning time to half an hour from the regular three hours.