Mass in Middle Earth

I love my parish. Among other things, the liturgy is reverent and its music is truly beautiful. But I don’t usually appreciate these local blessings until I travel.

Last weekend I visited Colorado. Since I needed to fly back home early Sunday morning, my friend and I caught a Saturday vigil Mass. The priest was quite nice, and I had already braced myself for standard-fare folksy music. But when it came time for the offertory song, I admit I wasn’t prepared for a trip to Hobbiton:

To my ear, this apparently popular song (entitled “These Alone Are Enough”) is unquestionably a riff on the theme music of the Shire, “Concerning Hobbits,” from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Compare 45 seconds of the previous clip, to this:

As I sat in that Colorado church I thought, surely this song’s similarity to Jackson’s movie soundtrack is an anachronism–the offertory song probably dates from the 1970s folk-Mass golden era. But, lo and behold, Dan Schutte wrote this ditty in 2004, three years after Howard Shore released his score for The Fellowship. I’m no copyright attorney, but Howard Shore might want to call his office.

bilboFor lyrics, Schutte adapted St. Ignatius’ “Suscipe” prayer to this Shire-like melody. Perhaps Schutte imagined the two brave little hobbits, exhausting their last ounce of strength and will on their ascent of Mount Doom, while remembering the orchards and strawberries that they could never hope to experience again.

J.R.R. Tolkien was, of course, a devout son of the Church, and he called the Lord of the Rings a “fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” But somehow I don’t think this form of flattery is exactly what J.R.R. had in mind.

Schutte’s borrowed tune calls to mind one of the other most famous folk Mass imitations of pop music: Marty Haugen’s “Gather Us In,” mirroring Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

My unexpected musical journey in Colorado has led me to conclude that the beginning of liturgical restoration by Pope Benedict came not a moment too soon. And it has renewed my immense gratitude to the pastor and choir at my parish, for following Pope Benedict’s lead.

 

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32 thoughts on “Mass in Middle Earth

  1. Casey says:

    Why would you ruin “.The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for me by comparing it to that dreadful song!!

  2. Bob says:

    Those highly-memorable first seven notes are from Franklin Sheppard’s 1915/16 setting of M. D. Babcock’s 1901 poem “This is my Father’s World.” The hymn became one of the most popular of the 20th century. Howard Shore used the opening phrase in his Shire theme for the LOTR films, of course. The tremendous reach of the films has ensured that this is the connection most people think of when they hear the phrase. Sheppard himself may have borrowed the theme from an English folk tune that his mother taught him.

  3. Grace says:

    I too am confused about why you repeatedly emphasized that this “awful” mass you attended was in Colorado, as though the problem is especially bad in Colorado.

    I live in Colorado and attend a church (not even the cathedral) with incredible music, a large choir, classical mass settings, organ, and at some masses, string quartet.

    Your repeated emphasis on this having occurred in Colorado belied a prejudice that was quite unnecessary.

    Also, the only similarity between the hymn that you mentioned and Howard Shore’s Shire theme is the first three notes. Since there are only 12 notes in western music and only 7 in any given key, there aren’t that many combinations. Just because you recognized a motif of three similar notes does not mean copying/plagiarism/copyright infringement has occurred.

    And now this post has received far too much of my attention.

  4. Jessica says:

    I’m sad that you didn’t attend one of the beautiful and reverent Masses said in our lovely state of Colorado. There are many of them. I attend a New Order Latin Mass with Gregorian chant and beautiful, classical Mass settings. I’m sorry you missed it.

  5. scragsma says:

    ???

    What’s the problem? The melodies are similar, but if ASCAP doesn’t have a problem, I don’t see why we should. Music inherently reflects different moods. That’s one reason we enjoy it and incorporate it into worship. Just because it is used to convey a particular mood in a film is no reason to take offense at it being used or adapted or something similar made use of to convey a similar spirit in worship.

  6. Avis Cawley says:

    Ok – I listened. Which parts are the same? I hear two different tunes. The only similarity is that there is a solo flute in the beginning and the end of the Hobbit piece.
    “These Alone Are Enough” is a beautiful hymn with powerful, prayerful words, and gently singable tune.

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