Minnesota musicians behind Church’s liturgical shift featured in documentary

| February 20, 2015 | 0 Comments
Father J. Michael Joncas

Father J. Michael Joncas

When the Catholic Church needed new liturgical music to fulfill the Second Vatican Council’s call for “full, conscious and active participation” by laity at Mass, composers, lyricists and Minnesota musicians heeded the call.

KSMQ, the public television station in Austin, Minn., has captured the story in words and pictures in a documentary, “On Eagle’s Wings: Minnesota’s Sacred Music.”

In it, Marty Haugen, David Haas, Sister Delores Dufner, Daniel Kantor, Lynn Trapp and Father Jan Michael Joncas explain the background that brought about the  post-Vatican II liturgical music and the collaborations among Minnesotans that forged music that continues to be popular.

The hourlong documentary aired Feb. 18.

It features Father Joncas recalling his inspiration for “On Eagle’s Wings.” After 40 years, it’s still one of the most popular hymns for a variety of Christian traditions and sung around the world, translated into languages as diverse as Polish and Vietnamese.

Haas, composer of many popular religious songs including “You Are Mine,” and Haugen, composer of “Mass of Creation,” “Gather Us In,” “Eye Has Not Seen” and many others, join Father Joncas in the documentary to explain their collaboration.

Their agreement that songs could “help the people of God transform their lives,” as Haugen put it, bonded them.

Friendship and collaboration

The Twin Cities trio, who often played concerts together, “found a love of the work” in creating music that helps a community express its faith, said Father Joncas, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The video captures them working together at the piano, playing and singing together and nodding in agreement with one another during an interview.

“We’ve been able to critique each other very honestly,” Father Joncas said. “The friendship helped us to create something more than the individual talents.”

The documentary also includes Benedictine Sister Delores Dufner, a prolific hymn writer from St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., and Daniel Kantor, a composer from the Twin Cities, talking about how their specific gifts were combined to produce “Gift of Life.”

Lynn Trapp, director of worship and music at St. Olaf Church in downtown Minneapolis, provides insight into why the sung parts of the Mass developed as songs after Vatican II.

The importance of music at Mass was “baked into me,” he said, adding, “The music that I experienced made the Mass.”

Similar heartfelt admissions are woven throughout.

Trumpeting talent

Father Joncas said he thought the crew from KSMQ did a great job with a complex subject, particularly since funding was provided from a legacy grant from the State of Minnesota.

“I was also pretty amazed at how willing they were, as a publicly funded program, to allow us participants to speak so much about our faith,” he told The Catholic Spirit.

Matthew Bluhm, senior legacy producer at KSMQ, said he didn’t have any qualms about making a documentary on a religious topic.

Religion, he said, “represents a certain cultural background in Minnesota,” and documenting that is one of the station’s goals.

“The topic is important to Minnesota because those writers are here and giving their talent here,” Bluhm said. “It was a way to trumpet the talent Minnesota has.”

Father Joncas noted that others, living and dead, could have been included, such as Tony Alonso, Lori True (who both are shown singing), Donna Pena, Rob Glover, Msgr. Richard Schuler, Msgr. John Sweeney, Richard Proulx and Bruce Larsen, as well as Lutheran composers.

“But,” he said, “I think the documentary caught the reason why composers responded to the liturgical changes in the light of Vatican II and how it isn’t just a job or career, but really is a vocation.”

The documentary includes shots of the Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, at St. Olaf and Pax Christi in Eden Prairie.

Pieces of various songs from the Minnesota composers find their way into the documentary, and lovers of “On Eagle’s Wings” won’t be disappointed. The hymn plays in its entirety the last three-and-a-half minutes as the closing credits scroll, led by none other than its composer.

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