Composer Dan Schutte urged music ministers not to forget traditional  Catholics who need to hear liturgical music that meets their tastes.


Composer Dan Schutte urged music ministers not to forget traditional Catholics who need to hear liturgical music that meets their tastes.

September 30, 2013

Hospitality is the core of music ministry, says Dan Schutte, the renowned American composer of Catholic liturgical music. "It's all about paying attention to the people and what they need."

Schutte, the composer of Here I Am Lord, City of God, Sing a New Song and more than 100 other hymns and liturgical pieces in contemporary guitar and piano arrangements, gave a concert at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church Sept. 20 and a workshop for music ministers the following day.

Steeped in Sacred Scripture and Ignatian spirituality, Schutte's music has anchored people of faith for generations. He is one of the best-known and most influential composers of Catholic music for liturgy in the English-speaking world.

His compositions have also found wide use in Protestant communities and have been translated into many other languages.

Speaking at the workshop, Schutte said Church musicians have to try to satisfy the needs of five groups of people who come to church every Sunday hoping for something special to happen.

The first group of people is the picnic people. What's important to these people is having fun. "It's all about having a good time, playing with each other," the composer said.


"They don't want a lot of structure. It's all about interaction. At a picnic you don't have one of the people get up and sing a solo piece or a piece that nobody knows because everyone would disperse. At a picnic is when you do something that everybody sings."

The second group is what Schutte described as "the classroom folks." In the classroom the primary thing that happens is giving and receiving knowledge.

"The people in this group come hoping to learn something new about the faith, something that would help them in their journey; perhaps something about Scripture that they didn't know before, a new kind of understanding," Schutte said.

"They aren't so concerned about the communal aspect; they are concerned about structure only in terms of how it helps or hinders the passing on and the reception of the knowledge. (In terms of music) what they want are songs that spark their imagination, (songs) that helps them to look on their faith."


The third group is the gas station group. "Gas stations are all about efficiency. It's about getting in and getting out as quickly as you can; getting filled up," Schutte noted.

"At a gas station you may not even aware that the music is there. You don't go to a gas station to interact with the people filling up their cars. It's all about getting in and getting out, but you need to and you want to come because you need something to be filled up."

The gas station people are the people "you drive absolutely crazy when you sing all five verses in a psalm or when the homily goes for 25 minutes or when Communion takes forever," Schutte said to laughter from his audience.

The fourth group is what Schutte calls "the theatre people" - people who come to Mass mainly to be entertained. These people, he said, want to be taken into a different world, a world of light and drama and rhythm, good words and action.

Theatre is about watching a performance, so people in this category "don't come to Mass necessarily to participate, except in terms of paying attention," explained Schutte.

"They don't want to be asked, 'Would you be able to bring the gifts this week?' But they are very sensitive. They come into a place, a church like this, and they are very sensitive to things like lighting, the ambience, the colours and the quality of the music, how it is played and sang."


The last group in Schutte's list is the holy ritual folk. These people hold dear the pieces of the way we celebrate Eucharist, including the songs that tie us to tradition. Their preferred music is Gregorian chant.

Many aboriginal people can be placed in the holy ritual category, he said.

"They play their drums and they dance, they have all kinds of rituals and it's all done in a very precise way. It's the sense that this is the music and the rituals and the way of dancing that they learned from their ancestors."

Native people know what they have to do when they are asking for rain, noted Schutte. "When they are giving thanks for a fruitful harvest or praying for healing, the music and the dancing and the rituals are different."

The challenge for music ministers is to cater to the needs of all these groups, Schutte said. Music directors who pretend to know the kind of music their congregation should be singing are not being servants of the people, he said.

"If we go weeks and weeks and weeks having Sunday Mass and the holy ritual people never hear a piece of music that comes from our tradition, how do you think that makes them feel? Left out, right?"

A similar problem exists in some parishes with teens and young adults, Schutte noted.

"Imagine if you are a young person and you love to listen to Christian music and you have your favourite songs. Imagine how it feels like to come to church Sunday after Sunday and never hear a piece of music that connects with you?"