VIDEO: “On Eagle’s Wings: Minnesota’s Sacred Music”

Earlier this month, contributor Michael Joncas shared news of an upcoming documentary on Minnesota Public Television station KSMQ. The film, “On Eagle’s Wings: Minnesota’s Sacred Music” debuted on the evening of February 18, Ash Wednesday. It has since been made available on YouTube, and is embedded below.

From the producers:

This one-hour documentary explores the dramatic shift in sacred music beginning in the 1960’s when major religions attempted to reach out to engage congregations. Minnesota is home to a significant number of highly accomplished songwriters and musicians who have helped bring new music to many faiths. A KSMQ production.

The film features Joncas, David Haas, Marty Haugen, Delores Dufner, OSB and others.

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22 comments

  1. Very good indeed. I will probably use it with my students for a seminar on music in a couple of weeks time. Thanks to those concerned.

  2. This made my day. I rarely have a day (entire day) off. This was a wonderful way to spend one hour of that day. I was inspired to hear the composers speak so well of their music and their thoughts and to their craft. To hear them say that their base is prayer, and scripture, and praise. There is nothing trivial or trite here. There is only heart, and soul, and Spirit.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. It was very informative. To be honest, I grew up in the 80’s where most of this type of music didn’t really resonate with me when attending Mass. I seem more open to it now and really appreciate hearing from the musicians themselves. Very helpful!

  4. Very well done. Great to see and hear all of these musicians talking about their work. This kind of production would be a great model for other celebratory sacred music documentaries.

    A couple of things that struck me, the first just an observation, but the second something perhaps Fr. Joncas would care to comment on:

    1) I was happy to see images of the Cathedral of Saint Paul featured so prominently, but found it a little incongruous that these images were juxtaposed with audio track that gave the impression that the featured musical styles and instrumentation that would be successful or that were actually being used in that context (almost 16 million cubic feet and 12 seconds reverberation). Such large-scale liturgical spaces in Minnesota (as elsewhere) have there own musical traditions worthy of celebration. The use of their images to perhaps “glorify” this special chapter in regional ecclesiastical history seems a little “off,” and perhaps unnecessary.

    2) I was struck by Fr. Joncas’ musical taxonomy in which term “sacred music” is the broadest category of music to be considered. (I have to confess that it’s been a while since I’ve read either Fr. Joncas’ or Fr. Ed Foley’s writing on this topic, so I may just have to review that material.) Is Fr. Joncas thinking about “sacred music” in the phenomenological sense, i.e. music that might participate in a “numinous” experience? Or “sacred” in the sense of its “proximity to the density of the Holy?” I would have expected “sacred music” to be closer to the inner ring of specificity, music being the “more sacred the more it is integral to the sacred rites.”

    1. @Kevin Vogt – comment #5

      The first Universa Laus document (1980) and its subsequent commentary was the first time that the five categories of religious, church, sacred, liturgical and ritual music were distinguished and dissected. I give a brief resumé of these distinctions in a chapter in the first of three volumes of reflections (series title “The Heart of Our Music”) by members of the St Louis Liturgical Composers Forum, due to be published by Liturgical Press this summer. (For more details and pre-ordering, see this page: http://www.litpress.org/Search/Search.aspx?keywords=The+Heart+of+our+Music&refine=&Group= )

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #9:
        Thank you, Paul. I’m looking forward to reading these reflections and your account of the Universa Laus musical taxonomy. I’m particularly interested in its treatment of the term “musica sacra,” whether it is understood in a broad, phenomenological sense, or something more specific–and whether or not your discussion makes reference to its use in SC 112. I wonder what you think of Anthony Ruff’s consideration of this problematic term in his “Treasures an Transformations.”

        From a phenomenological perspective, I could accept the notion of “musica sacra” being any music that accompanies or participates in a numinous experience…and therefore, could be anything. Such a perspective is one that can be “entertained, but not occupied” (Stanley Fish on not being afraid of radical relativism, in his book “Is There a Text in This Class?”). From an “inside” perspective, the only position a religious person can truly “occupy,” I can assent to the notion in CS 112 that music is more holy (sic) in proportion to the degree to which it is integral to the sacred word-act of a very specific liturgy. In this sense, “musica sacra” could be understood as the most specific class of Catholic worship music (viewed from within the Catholic milieu). Perhaps this discussion should wait until the release of “The Heart of our Music.” I suspect that behind the questions of taxonomy is the root of the divide between the perspectives of the “conservative musicians” and the “liturgical reformers” described by Fr. Ruff (and their descendants), and I think the convergence of “musica sacra” with the other elements of rite in SC 112 highlights the tension “within the temple” as well as that between the uncontainability of the Holy and our reliable experience of it at the “totem.”

      2. @Kevin Vogt – comment #11:

        Mike Joncas in the video says that sacred is the broadest category, and that religious music is a subset. He uses sacred to mean transcendent.

        UL Doc I would say that religious is the broadest category, and that sacred is a subset of that, with a specific meaning for sacred. One of the issues is that SC 112 uses the adjective “sacred” “unthinkingly” as a general descriptor for music for the rites. The UL taxonomy starts from what it considers the broadest and gradually sharpens the definition.

        I think both viewpoints can actually feed each other.

  5. I really enjoyed watching this! I agree with Donna, definitely worth the time, and worth passing on to the music ministry.

  6. Re: Kevin Vogt #5

    1) The editors are the ones who chose to juxtapose the music and images. I think you can see and hear some parts of the Baccalaureate Mass from the University of St. Thomas held last year at the Cathedral of St. Paul with the Liturgical Choir singing with the assembly; that should give a better sense of what is appropriate for that acoustic.

    2) I tend to follow Ed Foley’s distinctions. I think they are fundamentally phenomenological. I suppose “sacred” vs. “profane” music as a core division with “sacred” connecting the listener with the Transcendent in the broadest sense (“numinous”). Some “sacred” music may also be “religious” music in which the experience of the Transcendent is directly connected to a particular religious heritage. Some “religious” music may be “church” music in the sense that it partakes of the Christian community’s use of music for the sake of the Gospel (e.g., evangelization/kerygma, catechesis/didache, fellowship/koinonia, witness/martyria, service/diakonia). I suspect that some “church” music is “denominational,” reflecting a particular denominational heritage within the Christian community. Some “denominational church music” is “liturgical’ or “Christian ritual music,” intended particularly for use by the Trinue God to encounter human beings in communal worship and by the Church to encounter God-through-Christ-in-the-Holy-Spirit in communal worship and it is the field of “liturgical/Christian ritual music” that the documentary tried to address.

  7. Ah, thank you, Michael. I’m following you now. Thanks for taking to time to respond.

    It was great to see Sr. Delores, Lynn, and Daniel Kantor in the video, but especially inspiring to see and hear you, Marty and David talking together. What a special thing it must be for all of you to enjoy such a long association and enduring friendship, and to have such colleagues with whom to share your creativity.

  8. Two more questions for Fr. Joncas: (1) Is that you singing “On Eagle’s Wings during the closing credits? And (2) at the beginning of verse 4 (“For to his angels HE’S given his command…”), should the pitch on “HE’S” be a C-sharp (as sung in the video…and as may be intuitive), or “D,” as published…and as I was retrained by a particularly careful cantor several years ago?

  9. We should always encourage new composition for the liturgy, becuase the church has a great record of this kind of patronage, and it breaths life into the liturgy….but i sometimes wonder if perhaps these categories of sacred music were invented to extinguish much of the great core sacred music from the mass forever. It’s rather depressing to think that the repertoire of great and beautiful sacred masses of Palestrina, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Poulenc etc. are probably the greatest art that the church has given the world, but now it is relegated to the dust bin because “the people can’t sing it”, it is not “ritual music” or “liturgical”, or worse, not in the venacular.
    Such a dumbed down utilitarian veiw of the value of music in the sacred liturgy is one of the great losses of our church. A Catholic has to go to a concert hall to hear any performances of this music. This is quite bizarre, because this repertoire was written for the actual liturgy, and was never intended to be for a secular concert hall, and we do not allow it in out churches. I recall from reading the battles during the council that the traditionalists were saying that we would lose this thousand-year repertoire if we banished Latin from the church. They were right, and nobody cares. It is strange to think that we are the last to appreciate our heritage.
    Perhaps as we regain our appreciation for chant, polyphony will be next.

    1. @Gregory Hamilton – comment #12:
      I don’t think these categories were part of a plot to eradicate musical artifacts, per se, but rather to deal with the existence of those artifacts and prescribe characteristics of new ones in response to the notion that sacred music is integral to the liturgy. The body of artifacts to which you refer were integral to very different liturgies, marked in part by a kind of ritual “polyphony:” the efficacious enactment of the sacred rites by the priest and the accompanying sonic expressions not being temporally synchronized at every moment. Some inherited musical expressions were shaped by earlier reforms (e.g. Trent, Josephinism). The reformed Mass of Pope Paul VI is a restoration/creation of a linear mode of celebration in which principal ritual events govern everything else.

      Don’t get me wrong; I too lament what I imagine to be the loss of musical treasures… not only the artifacts, but also the capacity to recreate them and to receive them as communicative of the Divine Word or prayers voiced by another to which one might unite heart and mind. We don’t really know, however, how widespread those capacities ever were, and so we can’t assume that if we were living in a different time and place that we would have had access to them anyway. My question about linking the notion of musica sacra as integral to the liturgy with some qualities of musica sacra that might open up into a numinous experience (in all of the ways Otto describes in “The Idea of the Holy,”) might lead us back to a vision of artistic intensity and preference for the natural order that was at the heart of the tradition you and I lament.

    2. @Gregory Hamilton – comment #12:

      It’s rather depressing to think that the repertoire of great and beautiful sacred masses of Palestrina, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Poulenc etc. are probably the greatest art that the church has given the world, but now it is relegated to the dust bin because “the people can’t sing it”, it is not “ritual music” or “liturgical”, or worse, not in the venacular.
      Such a dumbed down utilitarian veiw of the value of music in the sacred liturgy is one of the great losses of our church. A Catholic has to go to a concert hall to hear any performances of this music. This is quite bizarre, because It’s rather depressing to think that the repertoire of great and beautiful sacred masses of Palestrina, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Poulenc etc. are probably the greatest art that the church has given the world, but now it is relegated to the dust bin because “the people can’t sing it”, it is not “ritual music” or “liturgical”, or worse, not in the venacular.
      Such a dumbed down utilitarian veiw of the value of music in the sacred liturgy is one of the great losses of our church. A Catholic has to go to a concert hall to hear any performances of this music. This is quite bizarre, because this repertoire was written for the actual liturgy, and was never intended to be for a secular concert hall, and we do not allow it in out churches., and was never intended to be for a secular concert hall, and we do not allow it in out churches.

      The nub of this issue is that you say “this repertoire was written for the actual liturgy”. Wrong. This repertoire was written for an actual liturgy. That liturgy was a phenomenon in which the people were passive spectators of what transpired, and it has now been replaced. The postconciliar liturgy is something very different: a liturgy in which people participate actively. The fact that many great masterpieces were written for a liturgy that was dying over a period of centuries is unfortunate.

      The Council Fathers were quite clear that the passive, non-participatory liturgy was in need of reform, and so it was reformed. The issue we face today is how to make the best use of music written for a completely different liturgical context in a way that does not present it as a concert with incidental liturgy or as an antiquarian exercise but which actually gives value to it in an authentic participatory context. It can certainly be done, but it requires a great deal of discernment and sensitivity rather than bewailing times past. Unfortunately, many places just try to impose the music of the past on a liturgy within which it can no longer survive unaided. The result is, at best, incongruous, at worst, inviting ridicule.

      What we need is a different approach. It is also a fact that the best liturgical composers are quite capable of producing material that is worthy to be ranked alongside the music of the past. We need to be espousing them, rather than wringing our hands because masterpieces of a previous era no longer fit.

  10. I generally enjoyed the whole video! Good quality and very interesting! However, there were a couple of things that I found sort of lacking.

    1) Minnesota is so lucky to have the wonderful spaces of the Cathedral in St Paul and the Basilica in Minneapolis. Yet, not discussion of the more traditional organ based liturgy that occurs in these places.

    2) Why no mention at all of Minnesota native Richard Proulx? Is it because his career and work was not in Minnesota even though he’s from there. With such a refreshing ecumenical spirit in this documentary, I find it interesting that they didn’t even discuss the most ecumenical of all the Minnesota composers (and also editor and contributor or Worship III, the Hymnal 1982, Methodist hymnal, etc.)

    I really enjoyed this documentary! It reminded me of the many songs that I grew up with as a child. However, I wish there had been a bit more coverage of traditional music in the documentary. I know this is probably not the case, but I got the slight impression that more contemporary music is good and participatory, and organ music is more negative.

    P.S. The Kyrie that Fr. Joncas talks about not working in English is actually a setting in the 1982…not sure why he doesn’t think this work

  11. Re: Kevin Vogt at #10: 1) Yes, I’m singing “On Eagle’s Wings” at the end; 2) the pitch on “he’s” should be C#. Some day I will tell you privately about the initial printing of the “On Eagle’s Wings” book (and how I wasn’t allowed to do any proof-reading on it); the initial mis-prints have perpetuated themselves down the years.
    Re: Beau Baldwin at #14: 1) Remember again that the editors made the final decisions about what got into the documentary and what didn’t. I believe Dr. Lynn Trapp is an excellent representative of what you term “the more traditional organ based” liturgy at St. Olaf, even though what the editors emphasized was the African celebration there.
    2) Of course Richard Proulx is gratefully claimed as a Minnesota composer, but the editors wanted to interview living ones. The Kyrie I learned from Mass IX “Cum jubilo” does in fact appear as S92 in the service music volume of the Hymnal 1982. If anything, this editing strengthens my case that the transition from melismatic chant in Greek to English is problematic. The text in Greek is “Kyrie/Christe eleison,” lit. “Lord/Christ have mercy.” The adaptors chose to add “upon us” as a way to get extra syllables for the second part of the musical phrase rather than extending “Lord”/”Christ” into the second part of the musical phrase and assigning “have mercy” to the last six notes of the first “Lord have mercy.” And look at the melisma on the final “Lord”: singing this cascade of notes on “o” to my ear is not as sonically pleasing as to the “e” of “Kyrie” elided into the “e” of “eleison,” especially if untrained voices tend to anticipate the “r” of “Lord” into the melisma.

    1. @Gregg Smith – comment #18:
      Conversely, what Paul said appalls me. We don’t have to re-hash the ‘passive spectators’/’active participants’ argument again–clearly, many people disagree with this characterisation. But I would make 2 points:

      1. It’s deeply disturbing that anyone would want to impose their own view of what the liturgy should be on other Catholics. Perhaps I may think the NO mass was a marvelous implementation of SC, and perhaps I may think that the council fathers hit every nail on the head in SC. But if someone comes to be and tells me he hungers for the old liturgy, that the new mass leaves him sprirtually dead–well, then, who am I to judge?

      2. We hear about inculturation of the liturgy. I have to admit, I wonder how on earth the Tridentine Mass, or for that matter a vernacular NO mass, could work in Japan. Maybe because I don’t understand the culture. But here’s the thing–I know my culture. Palestrina, Mozart, Haydn–that is my culture. I live just a few miles from where St Augustine, at the behest of Pope Gregory, brought his mission to the Saxons. The Mass he offered when he arrived was remarkably similar as the Mass that was routinely offered in 1962. Certainly far closer than the Pauline mass. The old Mass is my culture; the Pauline mass is something strange and foreign.

      Back on track: I did like the programme, and thought they did a good job. I must say I find a lot of this music much better suited for stringed instruments with the occasional flute/oboe…there’s nothing weirder than ‘Here I Am, Lord’ on the organ. It’s like Purple Haze played as Muzak.

      1. @Tony Phillips – comment #19:
        1. Isn’t any liturgy going to be an imposition of someone’s views on someone else? Does everyone get the liturgy that he or she prefers?

        2. You’re falling into an equivocation with regard to “culture” here. Presumably when people talk about inculturation they are using “culture” in an anthropological sense (not something that one chooses), not in the sense of a cultural patrimony with which one identifies.

  12. Tony Phillips : @ – comment #19: there’s nothing weirder than ‘Here I Am, Lord’ on the organ. It’s like Purple Haze played as Muzak.

    First, my street creds: People who know me call me a “purist” (to which I always respond, “Last time I checked, purity is a virtue!”) Nonetheless, “Here I am, Lord” comes up on our parish music lists from time to time. It clearly has taken hold in the hearts of many people everywhere. For those for whom it’s just a little two sweet for their taste, it’s my job to make it a little more savory. I play it on the organ because I find that slow-moving harmonic rhythm with incessant arpeggiation doesn’t “read” well in large spaces, without resorting to the “factitious intimacy of the microphone” (credit to Erik Routley for that turn of phrase). I find the whole thing more palatable with good bass line and good voice leading in the inner parts (even a little “durezze e ligature” here and there to propel the rhythm). It’s starts to feel like early 17th-Century monody. I play the verses with the melody in the tenor register on a broad reed, accompanied by a “caged lion” full swell, which seems to capture the immensity of “I the Lord of earth and sky…” After whom shall I send, I usually just drop out and see if anyone steps up to the plate with “Here I am, Lord.” It’s a little weak musically as a stand alone melody, but the people discover their choral voice (and perhaps the sound of Christ present when they “pray and sing”). Doesn’t happen with any other piece. I’m such a purist about unamplified choral singing as the principal modality of the church’s worship that “Here I Am, Lord” is staying in the repertoire…and I’ll stick with the organ.

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