Catholic composer gives performance of music, reflection
Concert part of Hendersonville parish's 100th anniversary
HENDERSONVILLE — Music lovers packed Immaculate Conception Church in Hendersonville Aug. 10 to hear famed Catholic composer Dan Schutte perform some of his best-known works as well as new hymns, intermingled with spiritual reflections.
The performance was part of the parish's year-long centennial celebration, which will culminate on Aug. 25 with a special anniversary Mass. Schutte came at the invitation of the parish's music director, Steve Aldridge, who with the parish choir has performed many of Schutte's hymns over the years.
Pictured: Catholic composer Dan Schutte leads the audience in singing "City of God" during a special concert at Immaculate Conception Church in Hendersonville Aug. 10. (Photo by Patricia L. Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)
Two generations of Catholics have grown to love Schutte's hymns, which include "You Are Near," "City of God," "Table of Plenty," and "Here I Am, Lord." He has been writing worship music for more than 40 years, and he just released a new album, "To Praise You."
"It's music for us to pray and give thanks to God. It's not just my music. It's our music," Schutte said during the start of the evening's two-hour performance, during which the audience was encouraged to sing along. His compositions are meant to help encourage us on our personal journey of faith, he noted:
"It's about you and me, and our God."
Schutte's performance opened with him sitting on a stool, acoustic guitar in hand, strumming a beloved favorite of so many Catholics – "Sing a New Song":
"Sing a new song unto the Lord; let your song be sung from mountains high. Sing a new song unto the Lord, singing alleluia."
Schutte composed that hymn in 1970, during a time when post-Vatican II reforms were encouraging musicians to create new works for liturgical use, using contemporary music in English to renew and inspire the laity. Formerly a Jesuit priest, Schutte was among a group of song writers called the St. Louis Jesuits that included Father Bob Dufford ("Be Not Afraid"), Tim Manion ("This Alone"), Father John Foley ("One Bread, One Body") and Father Roc O'Connor ("O Beauty Ever Ancient"). The Grammy-nominated group created so many Catholic classics that have been part of our worship experience for the past 40 years.
Schutte said his compositions have always been inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and Ignatian spiritual exercises.
"We're called to be good, holy people," Schutte reflected in his talks between hymns. Just as the Apostles were drawn to Jesus because of His Love and the comfort He brought, and His Truth and the freedom that meant, so too are we designed to seek Jesus as "the Way, the Truth and the Life."
"We're created for heaven, for God," Schutte said, and our souls hunger for God and His unconditional love.
"We're made for eternal happiness, for eternal joy," he emphasized, before launching into a poignant piano performance of "Beyond the Moon and Stars":
"Beyond the moon and stars, as deep as night, so great our hunger, Lord, to see Your light. The sparrow finds her home beneath Your wing. So may we come to rest where angels sing."
... and then a foot-tapping rendition of the classic "Though the Mountains May Fall":
"Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, yet the love of the Lord will stand as a shelter for all who will call on His name. Sing the praise and the glory of God."
Visitors and parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church were enthusiastic about Schutte's performance and the prayerful reflections he gave between hymns.
"It's wonderful, it's beautiful," said Inga Shealy, a long-time parishioner at Immaculate Conception.
Added fellow parishioner Catherine Baker, "It's music you grew up with. It's music that tugs at your heart."
Schutte's performance in Hendersonville was especially memorable for three women from Spartanburg, S.C., who worked with Schutte in the early 1970s.
Susan Baker, Brenda Brennan and Pansy Harris recalled that they had sought out the St. Louis Jesuits to commission hymns they could sing and play at Mass. Before the St. Louis Jesuits came along, they said, there was no contemporary worship music available, so they fell back on pop and folk tunes they knew at the time – such as "Blowin' in the Wind," "Let It Be" and "500 Miles."
When Schutte and the St. Louis Jesuits began writing hymns such as "Here I Am, Lord" and "Blest Be the Lord," they finally could sing contemporary worship music appropriate to a Catholic liturgical setting.
Hearing Schutte perform 40 years later, they said, was thrilling.
"His voice sounds better than it ever did," said Harris.
Schutte closed out the performance with everyone standing on their feet, singing joyfully:
"Let us build the city of God. May our tears be turned into dancing! For the Lord, our light and our love, has turned the night into day!"
To learn more about Dan Schutte and his music, go online to www.danschutte.com.
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor