Three Questions

And answers, too, I hope. Francine asked me what actually very, very few people have asked me. I’m happy to reply.

As a musician do you think that the music of the St. Louis Jesuits will live on, thereby becoming a permanent part of the Church’s musical patrimony, say, for example, as the “Immaculate Mary” that derives from Our Blessed Lady’s appearances at Lourdes nearly 150 years ago?

I do. Unlike classical music, the liturgical hymn format may be somewhat more forgiving for composers with no conservatory training. In other words, talented and creative musicians often come up with something of genius. I think of the song “California Dreamin'” as an example. Aside from the excellent pop arrangement of the tune, it’s a heck of a good song. But I don’t think anything remotely close to it ever came out of the Mamas and the Papas afterward.

Likewise, prayerful twenty-something church musicians, put in a crucible of energy and excitement over the new liturgy, are occasionally capable of producing songs of lasting value. Look at the composers of many liturgical tunes of the past few centuries. Some are well-known, but many do not have any stature in the realm of art music.

Again as a musician, how do you compare the music of the St. Louis Jesuits with the triumvirate of Fr. Joncas, Haugen and Haas?

The Jesuits were the precursors, obviously. They brought a high level of craft to liturgical music in the early 70’s. Joncas is clearly a more gifted composer and arranger than any of the Jesuits (only Foley is close), and has handled every medium from singer-guitarist to choir with chamber orchestra pretty well. I think Haugen brings a solid craft to his writing and his best stands shoulder to shoulder with the best from the SLJ’s. I think much of the spirit of Haas’ music is in the performance of it. Lacking David at the center, some of what he’s written comes off as pretty flat when he’s not singing and playing. That said, I expect a handful of Haas songs will still be with us in 2100.

In your opinion, what is the lasting value of the music of:
Ray Repp?

He wrote music for catechesis, and at first, he never thought of his music as being for worship. Honored memory, but I don’t see any of his songs lasting.

Joe Wise?

He wrote for kids, mainly. And his adult liturgical music shows a folk-pop influence. Great performer, and great person, a deeply prayerful and spiritual man and musician. But I don’t see his songs as surviving either.

Fr. Lucien Deiss?

Most faithful to the need of writing music for liturgy rather than just music at liturgy. A few pieces will survive.

The Dameans?

Probably getting good right around the time of their “break-up.” Gary Daigle works with Rory Cooney now. I think the Dameans’ last two albums (for RCIA and the Hours) approached the craft one saw in their early 80’s contemporaries, but I think the shark had been jumped already.

Jack Miffleton?

See Joe Wise.

Carey Landry?


Sr. Suzanne Toolan?

Still doing good work, derivative of Taize though it may be. “I Am The Bread Of Life,” for all its faults, seems to be a keeper. I didn’t used to get that, but I have to say I really like that song now.

Fr. Michael Joncas?

Keeper. I’d say five to a dozen of his songs will survive to the next century. They probably should.

Marty Haugen?


David Haas?

Hard to tell. Of all the current composers, David is sometimes tough to figure. He puts out a huge quantity of music. A fraction is good, but much of that fraction is openly derivative–of either his friends or styles he adopts. In some ways, he seems like a chameleon, and he and GIA market this to their economic advantage. Haas has tried to carve out a market in the sub-genre of LifeTeen. Despite all that, I’d say five to ten of his songs might survive the century.

I hope this analysis hasn’t come off as too snarky. I’ve met many of these people and my full opinions are colored by my sense of them as persons.

The Church will always have inspiration wafting up from unexpected sources. In the future, we’ll see output from the LifeTeen young lions, many of whom are conservatory-trained. And we’ll see all the other styles, traditional and otherwise. And sometimes, it will be a complete and total unknown musician giving the Church something of great value.

Let me also add another thought: for almost everybody, there is no replacing the value of being a parish music director as the backdrop for liturgical composing. From what I see on the consumer’s end of things, liturgical composers who work in the trenches usually bring a special quality to their music that doesn’t get captured by the composer-in-residence gigs. I’ll blog more on that another day.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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