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Interview with Delores Dufner, OSB

Introduction

This episode is with hymn text writer Sister Delores Dufner. Sister Delores is a member of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, a Benedictine women’s community of about 200 members. She holds Master’s Degrees in Liturgical Music and Liturgical Studies. She is currently a member of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, the National Pastoral Musicians (NPM), the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), and the Monastic Worship Forum.

Sister Delores was a school music teacher, private piano and organ instructor, and parish organist/choir director for twelve years. She served as liturgy coordinator for her religious community for six years, Director of the St. Cloud Diocesan Office of Worship for fifteen years, and a liturgical music consultant in the Diocese of Ballarat, Australia, for fifteen months. Since then, she has been writing liturgical, scripture-based hymn and song texts which are found in many Christian hymnals.  Her hymns have been published in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and China.

Sister Delores has received sixty-one commissions to write hymn texts for special occasions or needs, and her lyrics are the basis of over eighty choral octavos. She has four published hymn collections:

  • Sing a New Church (Oregon Catholic Press, 1994)
  • The Glimmer of Glory in Song (GIA Publications, 2004)
  • And Every Breath, a Song (GIA Publications, 2011)
  • Criers of Splendor (GIA Publications, 2016)

Sister Delores was named a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada in 2013. In 2014 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from NPM, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. In 2017 she received the Christus Rex award from Valparaiso University’s Institute of Liturgical Studies for her lifelong commitment to liturgical renewal.

 

Season 1 – Episode 4

An interview with hymn writer Delores Dufner, OSB, focusing on the craft and art of writing hymn texts.

 

 

Listening time: 32 minutes

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Highlights

Vatican II really motivated me and gave me materials with which to work.  That return to the sources was essentially a turning point in my faith life, especially the emphasis on Jesus’ ministry and his life…Seeing and paying attention to what Jesus taught gave me a whole new insight into what I wanted to teach and live.

 

I need to create space in order to write… When I actually sit down to write, I lock my office door, put the phone on automatic, and isolate myself until I have a first draft.

 

Pope John the XXIII was a huge influence.  He gave a new idea of what the church could be and should be.  There was a real freedom in that and a vocational call.

 

It has to be good news – not just true, but it has to be good news and it has to sound good!

 

My big goal right now is to try to connect science and faith, because so many of the prayers of the liturgy come from an antiquated view of the universe…I want to do more with writing about the cosmos.

 

The Context

While in the midst of the regular production of arrangements of songs for worship through The Worship Initiative, Shane & Shane have taken a break to record an album of re-arranged hymns under their own banner. Shane Barnard and Shane Everett are prolific songwriters in their own right, with over a dozen albums to their credit, but over the last several years they have focused their efforts on songs for the evangelical church by releasing rearranged songs and musician tutorial videos through The Worship Initiative. This “Hymns” album is released under their name, but with clear influence of their work in The Worship Initiative.

 

The Content

“Hymns Volume 1” contains five “classic” hymns from the 19th-20th centuries, and five hymns from the 21st century. Of the five classics, three of them have newly-written refrains or “choruses.” This is a common songwriting element for re-arranged or re-tuned hymns, and is certainly a debatable practice, especially when a hymn already contains a refrain. Three of the new hymns are penned by Keith Getty, illustrating the growing connections between songwriters in the conservative, evangelical network. All 10 of the recorded songs have a very similar dynamic range and instrumentation comprised of guitars, pianos, drums, and ambient sounds elicited from all of the above. No song is less than 4:40, with lots of instrumental space serving as connective tissue for the vocal parts. The songs flow into one another as if the whole album is a “worship set,” and each hymn is slowed down from its original tempo (some considerably so), which leads to a listening experience of contemplation and reflection.

 

The Conclusion

As a listening experience, this album leads those familiar with the hymns included to reflect on them differently and leads those unfamiliar with them to consider their lyrical value. The collection of songs chosen spans several generations of hymnody, unifying them with the acoustic-pop arrangements. Musically, the lack of dynamic diversity and the curious melodic choices may hinder this album from being more broadly useful for encouraging congregations to sing these hymns. Full disclosure: I am personally a fan of Shane & Shane’s music, and was a bit underwhelmed by this album from the perspective of a worship leader seeking new resources for encouraging singing in my local church.

 

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Review provided by David Calvert, who is the Creative Arts Director for Grace Community Church in rural North Carolina and a PhD graduate in Theology and Worship from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

At my church we do three patriotic songs a year: one on the Sunday nearest Memorial Day,  one nearest Independence Day, and one nearest Veterans Day. We had to have a conversation about it when I first got here because the newly-appointed rector and I both bristle at patriotic music sung in church. Our church is in a military-heavy part of the country, and the rector and I both come from non-military backgrounds.

 

I have to say, she and I learned a lot from talking with a few members of our congregation about the place of patriotism in worship. We noted, for instance, that there are few institutions in our country that require the amount of sacrifice, obedience, and loyalty that the military does. The rector and I also noted that the people asking for patriotic music were some of the most generous and selfless people we had ever known. There was a gap in understanding there, and the rector and I came away from these conversations feel less confident that we were absolutely in the right. As a compromise, we decided to maintain a place for patriotic hymns as long as they are chosen by the music minister. My job now is to try to choose hymns that put our love of the United States in the proper context, and that has been harder than I thought it would be.

 

As I sat down this year to choose hymns for another Sunday-before-Independence-Day, I began wondering how other worship planners deal with this issue. Perhaps many of you have read Kevin DeYoung’s article from The Gospel Coalition, written in 2011. DeYoung criticizes both sides of the issue– those who adopt too much patriotism in their worship services and those who are too rabidly against it. I know I get immediately turned off at any mention of country in worship, but DeYoung is correct when he writes that “the church is not the state and the state is not God, but this does not mean the church must always be against the state.” Certainly God does celebrate with the United States when it does as Jesus would do. This was a point I took to heart.

 

I decided this year to go for a new tactic with my patriotic hymns task. Instead of doing a traditional hymn, like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” I chose hymns that used American folk tunes, like “Let Us Break Bread Together” (an African-American spiritual), and “Simple Gifts” (a Shaker tune). I thought it could be a way of celebrating America on Sunday without worshiping America. Turns out some of my colleagues already had the same idea. The Rev. Stephen Stacks, who is associate pastor at Greenwood Forest Baptist Church outside Raleigh, says they frequently sing freedom songs from the Civil Rights Movement, such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” on Sundays that fall near big patriotic holidays. Martha Burford, music minister at Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, included spirituals, folk tunes, Shaker tunes, a Dakota Indian chant, and hymns by American-born composers for July 1st. “Today’s music also offers an opportunity to share in Christian musical narrative in these United States,” Burford wrote in the bulletin. So, it is possible to celebrate America without turning to the National Hymns section of your hymnal.

 

Some of us did national hymns on Independence day, some of us did American-born hymn writers or freedom songs. Another option is to include national hymns but try to put them in the proper context. My colleague Nellwyn Beamon, who works at a church just down the road from mine with similar worship style and demographics, made a more obvious compromise for July 1st. The readings and music focused on world peace and unity, but the final hymn was the Navy Hymn (“Eternal Father, strong to save.”) She feels that singing the Navy Hymn in a peace and unity context puts it in a new light.

 

Similarly, at my church, we put our patriotic song right after a collect for peace in God’s global kingdom, hoping that in doing so everyone present would know that our love of country is just part of our desire for peace and unity in the whole world. I chose a patriotic hymn with a familiar tune but with words that put the emphasis on God’s—rather than our country’s—power. “God Bless our Native Land,” is set to the tune of America but ends with these words:

 

For her our prayers shall rise to God, above the skies;

on him we wait;

Thou who art ever nigh, guarding with watchful eye,

to thee aloud we cry, God save the state!

 

But something Rev. Stacks said in our conversation made me think harder about my decision to do this hymn. People often think music is “innocuous,” Stacks said, “when, in actuality, it tends to grab your heart.” In other words, it’s difficult to sing any words to America without hearing the original words and feeling the more jingoistic contexts in which they are sung. That felt true to me when we sang it on July 1st, with or without the collect for peace and global unity. I still felt like we were about to break out the fireworks and tiny American flags.

 

The final hymn at my church on July 1st, “God of Our Fathers,” includes only a tiny mention of country (“in this free land”) so I programmed it without overthinking it. But because of the trumpet fanfare intro, and Sunday being only three days away from Independence Day, I felt like we were drumming up a military parade! This hymn definitely “grabbed at the heart,” and as such I think it made much more of an impression on the worshipers than the presence of American folk hymns and spirituals, which I put so much thought into!

 

Reflecting on our experiences this Independence Day with a few of my colleagues made me realize how important context is when it comes to patriotic music in worship. I got in touch with a seminary classmate, David Bjorlin, whose church context is much younger and more conservative than my own. Bjorlin, who is now pastor of worship and creative arts at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago, says that his congregational context is largely young, “recovering evangelicals,” and “as such, I would get way more pushback if I did include patriotic songs.” The fact that his church’s worship service on July 1st includes no mention of Independence Day makes a statement in itself. Bjorlin and I both have pastoral concerns for our congregation, and in terms of the music on July 1st, they ended up working themselves out in very different ways!

 

So it seems that there are a lot of options when it comes to patriotic music in worship, but each of them comes across differently depending on the song chosen, its place in the worship service, the setting, and a number of other factors. The songs you choose may even make a completely different impression on individual members of your congregation! It would be easy to say let’s just ignore the whole holiday, but I’m drawn again to the veterans in my congregation, who are as true as any true disciples and for whom a patriotic song on Sunday morning means so much. We’re all here because we love Christ and Christ’s insistence on justice and peacemaking. What is the best way to make that point on the Sunday closest to Independence Day? I’ll keep pondering it. What are your thoughts?

 

It’s my privilege to be joined in this special conversation with Dr. Markus Rathey, the Robert S. Tangeman Professor in the Practice of Music History at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, in New Haven, CT. It is a privilege not only for Markus’ expertise in this area but also because he was one of my own advisors and mentors during my time at Yale Divinity and the ISM. Markus joins our conversation here at Centered in Song—a blog of the Center for Congregational Song—to enlighten us on the experience of church music and musicians at the time of Luther’s Reformation as we mark this 500th Anniversary.

Author – Adam Perez is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at Duke Divinity School.

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Adam: Over the last year, many have been writing about the lasting influences of Luther and the Protestant Reformation, and many musically-inclined friends have reflected on the changes in music making that parallel changes in preaching, bible reading, etc. Let’s start there. Tell us about the Reformation in music. Is music as central as we like to believe when we sing “A Mighty Fortress” together? 

Markus: It is probably less essential than most musicians and those who do music and theology want to imagine. The reason for the Reformation was, of course, the question of Justification and the struggle over indulgences. The musical side of the Reformation came later. If you just look at the timeline, the Reformation starts on October 31, 1517, and Luther starts publishing his hymns in 1523—so there is already a gap of six years.

And if you look at Luther’s liturgical reforms, first in the Latin Mass and later with the German Mass, again the reform of the Latin Mass happens much earlier than the German Mass (in 1526), and only then does hymnody become an integral part of the liturgy.  A similar phenomenon happens when musicians talk about the Council of Trent and the Catholic Reformation. They talk about the myth of abolishing polyphonic music altogether, and the idea that Palestrina saved church music. First of all, it didn’t happen that way, but also the music-related session took place toward the end of the Council—and you have essentially two sentences that talk about music. So I think as musicians, our perspective is a little bit skewed, and music wasn’t actually as essential to the theological discourse as we want it to be, especially early on. I will add that in the popular discourse of ordinary people, however, music was more important because it is where they encountered the doctrine, internalizing it by singing and memorizing it. This would have been happening in 1524/5 with the publication of the larger collections such as Johann Walter’s Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.

 

Adam: You teach a class called Music and Theology in the 16th Century (which I had the privilege of taking, Fall 2013) and study Lutheran church music in the 17th and 18th centuries—what do you find is commonly misunderstood about music and the Reformation?

Markus: Two things in particular. First, one we talked about a little already: the idea that music was so central for the Reformation. The reformations don’t start with music—though music does become very important later on, once the theological ideas have been established. Second, we often forget that music in the Reformation was not so much about taste or personal preferences but the theology of music, and the broader theology of the different reformers were intimately connected. For Zwingli, influenced by Erasmus’ Neo-Platonism, rejecting music comes from broader rejection of the physical world. For Luther, music is pre-lapsarian, that is, part of the good, divinely created world that comes directly from God. Thus we can and should use music. Calvin is in-between. He definitely understands the power of music, but he also sees its dangerous potential (very similar to St. Augustine more than 1000 years before him). Therefore, music must be harnessed by asking composers to create new melodies for the Genevan Psalter—an attempt to exclude other musical references—while sticking to the pure, biblical texts. The other feature for Calvin is to not allow instruments in corporate worship.

 

Adam: The way we often think of Luther seems to me to be more similar to the Romantic-era musical titans than anything else—sort of one übermann against the powers of the world. Is Luther really the jack-of-all-trades instigator, preacher, translator, theologian, composer, grass-roots organizer, etc. that we make him out to be? 

Markus: Luther did have a lot of skills. As a preacher and rhetorician, a theologian, a poet, and author of some of the early hymn melodies—though it’s a bit unclear how many were written by Luther because he collaborated so much with Johann Walter. He’s not a Josquin-level composer, but they are good, beautiful melodies. But music was also an important part of his life. He played the lute, liked to sing; he sang with his family and friends, and music was an important part of his private life, and he appreciated the power of music.

 

Adam: Who is the typical church musician? How would musical changes of the Reformation have affected their lives and work? 

Markus: The job of a church musician in the 16th century is very different than it would be today. The cantor would be the main church musician responsible for church music and conducts the boy choir who provides vocal music for the service. The organist is often a musician with other duties, including some outside the church. The cantor is also part of the school system, where he would teach the choir boys to sing, preparing them for the Sunday service, so the school system and the liturgical duties on Sunday morning are closely connected. Essential to understanding the life of the church musician is that he was a music teacher at the school.

 

Adam: How does this system develop

Markus: Luther already talks about reforming the school systems in the 1520s and 30s, collaborating with Melanchthon—one of his other sidekicks. The reform of the schools was a very important part of the Reformation because in order to read and understand the Bible, to go back to the sources (ad fontes), you have to teach kids to read. You need an educational system.

 

Adam: What was the role of music in the educational system—how did it differ between contexts?

Markus: Luther once said he wouldn’t accept a teacher if he wasn’t able to sing; musical skill was a basic qualification for a teacher. So if you have smaller, poorer schools, the schoolteacher would teach everything, including music. The boys in that school might not be very skilled but would still be able to sing the hymns in unison on Sunday morning. In more affluent urban schools with more skilled singers, the school would have a Cantor who gives music lessons and conducts the choir, and the boys would be able to sing polyphony. The school system leads directly to congregational singing in the liturgy.

 

Adam: How long did it take for this vernacular singing to get established alongside the vernacular liturgy?

Markus: The common assumption is that Luther came and said, ‘Okay, now we have to celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular; let’s get rid of all this old Latin.’ This is not the case at all. Even after Luther develops the German Mass, the primary liturgy at the major churches is still in Latin (with the exception of the sermon, of course, and some other parts of the liturgy). The second type of service, for the lesser-educated people, was the service in the vernacular. Within the vernacular liturgy, the vernacular hymns played a large part. But we also have to remember that singing the hymns was something one also did at home. For domestic piety, vernacular hymns were even more important. The boys came back from school where they learned these hymns and taught their parents how to sing them. So to say, through the kids, the music teacher also had a strong impact on the families.

 

Adam: What are some lessons you think the church today can learn from studying and understanding music in the Reformation?

Markus:

  1. Start early—teach kids! You can’t have a functioning church choir if your people don’t know how to sing! You can’t expect to have a good worship band if you have kids who can barely play an instrument. For any kind of music, teach them how to sing and make music. This is especially important since our public school systems often don’t have good music programs or are being cut altogether. And even if you want to teach the parents, the best way to do it is to do it through the kids.
  2. Understand our task as church musicians is not only to be administrators of tradition, but teachers of all ages.
  3. When you make liturgical changes, consider your congregation. Like with Luther’s introduction of German Mass, there are some changes you might like to make, but you shouldn’t because it will confuse or upset your parishioners. Your ideas about any reform and change must be taken pastorally, with love for the congregation. If you can’t do it in a way that is acceptable to them, you should think twice whether the change is really necessary.

 

 

Adam: Now that we’re excited about this history, what books should we go read?

Markus:

Let me begin with a recommendation that doesn’t primarily deal with music but that gives a great overview of the Reformation(s) in general. It was written by my Yale colleague Carlos Eire, Reformations. The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 (Yale Univ. Press 2016). For readers who are interested in the history of congregational singing in Luther’s Wittenberg, I recommend Robin Leaver’s new book The Whole Church Sings. Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg (Eerdmans 2017); and for a broader overview of the theological and liturgical contexts of his musical ideas, Leaver’s Luther’s Liturgical Music. Principles and Implications (Eerdmans, 2007).