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. Slats says:

    As far as contemporary Church music appropriating contemporary secular music, it would be remiss not to mention the rather dynamically-obnoxious resemblance of “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” Except of course, that the latter is charming and the former is odious.

    The biggest problem with “Gather Us In,” and the reason I’m waiting for the U.S.C.C.B. to get it together and ban it, is not its musical banality or appropriation, but its doctrinal inaccuracy. “Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light-years away…” Sorry, mega-fail. The holy sacrifice makes the heavenly liturgy present, according to Catholic faith. Not to mention that that line deprecates the site of the Beatific Vision (vomit – at the deprecation, not heaven, of course), as well as (less importantly, but still annoyingly) brick-and-mortar buildings that both house the Real Presence of God the Son and serve as sacramentals for the assembled people of God in the area. Not to mention that the rest of the lyrics are banal and mushy. Come on, bishops, get rid of the wretched thing.

  2. Mark Polo says:

    @Christopher Hale: There is certainly a little echo in the first few notes (four actually), both of the accompaniament and the flute, once it starts. I don’t know that this is enough to say that the whole song is “ripped off” from “Concerning Hobbits”. However, if one has heard a lot of “Concerning Hobbits” (and indeed the rest of the score of _Lord of the Rings_, since this theme repeats fairly often), it is pretty likely that a connection would be made in the mind.

    In the same way, the relationship between “Gather Us In” and Gordon Lightfoot seems to be primarily that both are text-heavy and in 6/8 time.

  3. Ben Yanke says:

    Christopher,

    Youth rally, not youth Mass. That being said, you speak more truth than you probably know.

    Your seemingly offhand comment perfectly illustrates much of what is so wrong with the types of music that is often used in the liturgy. The liturgy IS different. We shouldn’t be using just any music that we think sounds nice.

    The church is fairly specific on what is suitable and what is not.

    But even if it was played at a Mass with B-XVI, don’t assume it had his approval. I’ve assisted “behind the scenes” in the role of MC (and others) at many a liturgy with hierarchy, and trust me, just because something happens, it most certainly does not mean they necessarily approve.

  4. Joe says:

    (nerd alert) As a fan who has listened to the LOTR soundtrack at least a collective 300 hours, I really don’t see how that flute song sounded anything like Concerning Hobbits. Except that there was a flute in both.

    And honestly, I thought it was a nice offertory song that would have helped draw me deeper into the mystery of the Mass. I know it didn’t’ for you, personally, but who are you to judge they way that they pray?

    I understand the need to place some kind of controls on music used in the Liturgy, but what if the people at this parish truly pray better with “folksy ditties” as you call it (I disagree with the label), rather than with Gregorian Chant? Should we force diverse cultures all over the world to conform to a single style of music that (while beautiful) originated in just a handful of countries? What would St. Paul do? (1 Cor 9)

    So while I respect the sentiment of this blog post, and the care the author has for the sacredness of the Liturgy to remain intact…. In my opinion, we need to worry less about how other people are praying the Mass, and worry more about how we ourselves are personally praying the Mass. At the very least, there are more important issues to worry about.

  5. Daniel Devine says:

    Mr. Hale is correct. The melodies are similar but not the same.
    I was going to add some smart judgmental remarks but decided it was uncharitable.

  6. matt kay says:

    Actually Gather Us In is also very similar to the Chimney Sweep song from Mary Poppins!! Y’know the chin-chimminy part? ugh!

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