CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Pick up a hymnal in almost any Roman Catholic church, or many other Christian congregations, in the United States or beyond and one of Dan Schutte’s songs is likely to be among the pages.
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 is still crafting musical inspirations after more than 30 years.
And he’s not discouraged by the Catholic’s church’s new emphasis on Gregorian chant and more traditional forms of music in the Pope Benedict era. It represents a natural swing of the pendulum and not a cause for pessimism, he told Reuters in an interview from his home in San Francisco.
“I have my days, when you struggle to find the inspiration and so forth, as you go farther along your journey of faith, the challenges of the journey and the wonderful blessed things that change along the years,” he said.
“But one of the nice things about writing for my own soul and my own prayer is that I kind of move along with the community of people (who know his music) and I can write things that are meaningful for those same people.”
His latest effort is a 15-song anthology “Table of Plenty” produced by Oregon Catholic Press due to be released in September and covering 15 of his songs from 1985 to 2000.
Schutte says his approach to composing sometimes starts by sitting down at a piano or picking up a guitar and improvising to see if something develops, and then seeking spiritual inspiration.
Other times the process begins with a piece of scripture from prayer or Sunday worship, he said, adding that “both of those (approaches) work for me. It’s not that one is more common than the other.”
In addition to composing, Schutte travels about 25 or 30 weekends a year, typically for a Friday evening concert followed by a Saturday morning workshop. The latter sessions are sometimes attended mainly by those involved in church music, and sometimes open to all in a community.
“Here I Am Lord” has had the widest distribution of his songs.
“And it opened the door for other pieces to enter non-Catholic denominations. I know that ‘City of God’ and maybe ‘Sing a New Song’ are sung especially in Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian communities,” he said.
Those songs date from his days with the “St. Louis Jesuits,” a group of fellow seminarians who were at the forefront of a new wave of church music in the 1970s.
“We had a huge shift that came with the Second Vatican Council and a call to adapt our liturgy to this modern world rather than living and worshiping in a way that was somewhat disconnected from our daily and weekly experience. It was a shifting of the ground beneath many people’s feet,” he said of those days.
The Pope has authorized wider use of the Latin Mass, and U.S. Catholic bishops last year published a document called “Sing to the Lord” which was designed to provide guidelines on the role of music in worship. It praises the virtues of centuries-old Gregorian chant and the primacy of the organ.
Schutte sees that as “a shift of the pendulum in the other way, sort of a balancing ... We’re being reminded not to lose some of the pieces of music and rituals that have been part of our long Roman Catholic tradition.”
He said the bishops’ music document makes it clear that “over the centuries the church has not adopted any one form of music as the way people should pray. They (the bishops) legitimize contemporary music and other styles” even as they put their stamp of approval on Gregorian chant, he said.
Editing by Patricia Reaney