Reflections by Rev. Michael Driscoll at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Sacred Music Program at Notre Dame

Rev. Michael Driscoll for Notre Dame Magazine Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Rev. Michael Driscoll for Notre Dame Magazine
Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Last Sunday, September 27, 2015,  the Sacred Music Program at the University of Notre Dame celebrated its tenth anniversary by honoring its founding director Rev. Michael Driscoll, a researcher of the relationship between sacramental theology, liturgy and the arts. Father Driscoll created the program through heroic efforts and with the support of the Theology Department, laying  the foundation for the new initiatives being carried today by its new director, Professor Margot Fassler. He was able to mark a change in the fabric of Notre Dame, as he promoted the formation of thoroughly trained liturgical musicians in our campus. As a recent member of the program’s faculty, I found the celebration very meaningful, and I requested Father Driscoll to share his address to the large group of faculty, alumni and students who joined the event.


“I have a dream”

Preparing Musicians for Ministry

Rev. Michael S. Driscoll

September 27, 2015


Let me begin by saying that this is my “I have a dream” talk. I was inspired by a posting on Erin Donegan’s Facebook page announcing, “I dreamed in sonata form with an example of medial caesura declined and a trimodular block with a successful V.” I cannot say that my dream is so sophisticated as hers. My dream maybe resembles a sonata rondo form constantly returning to an A section, or maybe it is simply a variations on a theme. But it is a dream nonetheless that I would like to share with you this evening in the brief amount of time that we have. I recognize that I am the only one standing between you and cocktails and dinner, so like Henry VIII said to his many wives, “I won’t keep you long.”

As we come to the tenth anniversary since the foundation of the Master in Sacred Music (MSM), it is good to see whence we have come so that we can assess wither we may go. For a long time I have been particularly interested in how liturgical musicians exercise a role as leaders of prayer and function as pastoral ministers. As I travel around the country speaking about liturgical matters, the two biggest complaints or concerns I hear concern liturgical music and homilies. It demonstrates to me that there are high expectations for both. In some ways I see the musical as equally important to preaching since music has a way of helping people celebrate and at the same time internalize the message. Often the scriptural texts, especially the psalms that people have committed to memory is largely due to music. Like I often say, “No one goes home humming the homily!” So, let me tell you about my dream.

In 1972 I had just returned from a year-long study abroad program in Florence, Italy, that changed my life in many ways. One of the decisions that I made in the course of that year was to approach my bishop in Montana (Raymond G. Hunthausen) and talk to him about the possibility of going to seminary to study for the diocese of western Montana. He welcomed me warmly and encouraged me to participate in that was called the Borromeo pre-seminary program. This included regular meetings for prayer and study with a little socialization on the side. That year our diocese had just finished a sociological study of the diocese, which was the basis for our study. I remember that after many study sessions, I heard very little about the worship life of the diocese, and virtually nothing about the role of music in the liturgy. I knew that a new document penned by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy had just come out under the title Music in Catholic Worship (MCW). But nobody seemed to be paying too much attention to it back home. I was told that what I had expressed as my concern really wasn’t a priority of the diocese, or of the church at large for that matter. The next year I went off to Rome to study for four years and during that time I kept searching for the answer to my question about the role and function of liturgical music. In my third year I was named choir director of the North American College and in my last year was asked by my diocese to go to San Anselmo and begin the licentiate in sacred liturgy.

But the answer that I sought in 1972 came ten years later in 1982, when the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy issued a document entitled Liturgical Music Today that dealt with the use of music in the Eucharistic liturgy, the other sacramental rites and the office. The following year the committee issued a revision of Music in Catholic Worship (MCW). Eagerly I read these documents knowing that they would serve me very well in pastoral ministry, especially during my years in Helena where I directed the choir of the Helena Cathedral while teaching full-time at Carroll College, our diocesan school. One of the areas touched by the document Music in Catholic Worship was in the section “The Place of Music in the Celebration.” To determine the value of a given musical element in a liturgical celebration one had to submit the music to a three-fold judgment: musical, liturgical and pastoral. At first there was the thought that these were three separate judgments made by three separate persons. So the musical judgment was made the musician, who would then vet the piece with the liturgist. But it was the pastor who exercised what seemed to be the veto power when he would judge whether the music was pastoral or not. This interpretation set church personnel at odds with one another and led to a lot of strife. It was clear that there needed to be one judgment with these three aspects. What this told me is that church musicians need to be trained in these three areas since this judgment would largely fall on their shoulders.

Thus when I came to Notre Dame in 1994 I hoped that someday I would be a part of rebuilding a program of sacred music here. There had been an earlier masters program in Liturgy and Music, but it seemed that the inclitic “and” was meant to separate the two (liturgy and music) rather than join them together and this program died an unfortunate death more than a decade before I arrived. It seems that the students were never quite musical enough for the music faculty and never quite theological enough for the liturgical faculty. Thus, this tug-of-war program met a tragic end.

So at the dawn of the new millenium (this sounds so apocalyptic) several of us from theology and music gathered to discuss a new program in Sacred Music. Even the title was disputed at times. Some suggested that the degree be in liturgical music, specifying the course of studies be narrowly liturgical. Others suggested a broader term – “church music” – since this could cover more than simply liturgical celebrations. Finally we settled on “sacred music” – this term seemingly broad enough to embrace all kinds of religious music. Craig Cramer, Calvin Bower, and Alex Blachly from the music department originally met with Max Johnson, John Melloh and me, to which we invited Michael Jonas from St. Thomas University in St. Paul to help guide the conversation and offer his counsel. Later we were joined by Mary Frandsen (once she achieved tenure) and Charlotte Kroeker who was working in the Institute on Church Life on an initiative in sacred music. John Cavadini as chair of the theology department offered safe harbor for our fledgling program. Finally we reached across to Campus Ministry to converse with Gayle Walton in her role as director of music at the basilica. And of course, we were very happy to have the participation of Nancy Menk who would come across the street from Saint Mary College to train our students in conducting. Again we relied upon Music in Catholic Worship for guidance, along with the standards for accreditation offered by the Association of Theological Schools. But since the latter had little provision for liturgical formation, we privileged Music in Catholic Worship. This document helped us shape our curriculum. Like Gaul that is divided into three parts, so too was our curriculum. One third of the courses were in applied music, either organ or choral-vocal initially. (Later we developed three distinct specializations: organ, conducting and voice.) We knew that the category choral-vocal was too vast and vague but we had to start somewhere. The organ side was quite easy to develop since there was already a Master in Organ (MM). Another third of the curriculum was dedicated to sacred music – mostly courses in music history. Here we could take advantage of the strengths of our music faculty. The final third was liturgical formation. Here we were building upon one of the oldest and most respected liturgical programs in the country. We thought that this would give to the Notre Dame degree something truly distinctive that other schools could not offer. To insure the pastoral formation, all the students were assigned to placements on campus, either in the basilica or in the residence halls, while others went into local churches where they could learn from on-the-job hands-on experience. To insure that the same thing would not occur with the new program that had occurred thirty years ago, we planned regular colloquia to which the students and faculty from both music and theology would attend. The aim was to build and maintain a common vision. These gatherings were intended to build cohesion in the program.

At this point let me mention two silent partners, at least for me. From my days at Carroll College, my long time friend, mentor and music teacher, Joe Munzenrider, always provided wonderful instruction and counsel. I would say that he taught me “via positiva” and “via negativa.” The “via positiva” were all the music courses that I took with him as an undergraduate and the collaboration I had with him later as a faculty member at Carroll. The “via negativa” consisted in the counsel he would give me. Any time I had a project in mind, I would pitch it to him. He would then launch into 150 reasons why it wouldn’t work. He would give me the fruit of his experience and relate all the horror stories from the past. I found this terribly important, not that it ever dissuaded me, but at least now I knew where the mines were hidden in the field and knew where not to trip up the wires. The second silent person was the late Notre Dame music professor Gene Leahy. During the process of putting the Notre Dame program together, I would meet with him regularly for lunch and tell him about our progress. He always had sage advice drawing from his experience and expertise but he too would alert me to where the mines were in the field. I owe both of these men a great amount of gratitude and to all who worked on drafting our proposal and getting through all the different levels of administrative red tape, beginning at the departmental level, moving through the college counsel to the graduate counsel and finally to the university counsel. Craig Cramer was of special assistance in all this as we jumped through all the administrative hoops together like a finely trained circus act. Thus the program was finally approved in April 2005 and without missing a beat we opened the doors for business that next fall. There were the usual growing pains of learning how to dance with people of other academic disciplines, but there was enough good will there to help us over the humps.

Then in 2007 impending disaster seemed to strike. The U.S. Bishops decided to revise the document Music in Catholic Worship. I worried that this document would suffer the same fate as their document on Environement and Art that was revised out of existence. I let out an audible groan fearing that this music document that had served the American Church so well for over thirty years could suffer a similar fate. Music in Catholic Worship had played an important role in the formation of pastoral musicians and some might argue that is it was the Magna Carta for liturgical music ministry. When the new document Sing to the Lord (STL) appeared in 2008, my fears were allayed. The new document repeats the general principles of Music in Catholic Worship but went further to strengthen and develop aspects that were weak or missing in Music in Catholic Worship. I was particularly concerned that the principle of the three-fold judgment be maintained and clarified. Although the idea of a three-fold judgment concerns the role of music to serve the needs of the Liturgy, it also provides guidance about the formation of pastoral musicians. Whether one is a professional or an amateur pastoral musician, it is clear that church musicians needs on-going musical, liturgical and pastoral formation. The newly revised document dealt very well in not opposing these three dimensions. In fact it overcomes any false dichotomy by addressing that there are three judgments but one evaluation. In the same way, those serving the liturgy as pastoral musicians need to avoid any false opposition among these three dimensions and recognize that they need to develop all three aspects.

Learning about the liturgy and honing musical skills seems obvious in the formation of pastoral musicians. But how is one to develop the pastoral dimension? Here again the American Bishops have come to our aid. In 2005 the USCCB approved a document entitled Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (CVL) that addresses the question of formation. If liturgical music is really to be a ministry, then the question of pastoral formation needs to be addressed head on. I think that over the past four decades those musicians leading their communities in prayer have moved beyond thinking of this as simply a gig. Liturgical music is really a ministry! Sing to the Lord goes even farther to identify liturgical musicians first of all as disciples and only then as ministers whose ministry flows from baptism. Therefore, “musicians who serve the Church at prayer are not merely employees or volunteers. They are ministers who share the faith, serve the community, and express the love of God and neighbor through music” (par 49).

In the past the word ministry was falsely associated to volunteerism. If a person was not receiving payment, then it must be a ministry. Thankfully we have moved beyond this idea and recognize that all pastoral musicians whether professional or volunteer, full-time or part-time, are all involved in genuine liturgical ministry. But when Sing to the Lord uses the language of ministry it also raises the question of ministerial formation. Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord supplements Sing to the Lord and identifies four areas that need attention, namely: human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation and pastoral formation. Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord (page 34) spells out that pastoral musicians like all lay ecclesial ministers need the following formation:

  • Human qualities critical to form wholesome relationships and necessary to be apt instruments of God’s love and compassion.
  • A spirituality and practice of prayer that root them in God’s Trinitarian life, grounding and animating all they do in ministry.
  • Adequate knowledge in theological and pastoral studies, along with the intellectual skill to use it among the people and cultures our country.
  • The practical pastoral abilities called for in their particular ministry.

Probably we should add a fifth pillar, namely musical formation. But possibly musical formation is the overarching category that subsumes the other four. Like I have already mentioned, musical formation assumes the intellectual both at applied lessons and formal music study, along with liturgical and theological studies. Furthermore, the musical formation embraces the pastoral dimension. But music can also be deeply grounded in spirituality. For many church musicians, music is the basis for their spiritual life and this is good. Finally musical ministry assumes that human formation is vitally important, as church musicians need to know how to work well with others in making music and living the ecclesial mystery of Christ. Since the sexual abuse crisis, it is clear that church musicians will be obliged along with clerics, religious and other lay ecclesial ministers to undergo programs like Virtus for the protection of childred, since they will be given access to children in their ministry. The church needs to have confidence that they are formed sufficiently to undertake such responsibilities.

But how is this tall task to be accomplished? Obviously ministerial formation opportunities need to be offered. But where and how? Sing to the Lord points to universities, colleges, seminaries, ministry formation programs, dioceses and national ministry associations such as National Pastoral Musicians (NPM) and the American Guild of Organists (AGO), just to mention and few. Further if this formation is to take place it needs to be financed by parishes and dioceses. I welcome this statement as a wonderful challenge. Let me speak about it from my vantage at a place like the University of Notre Dame. These documents I have detailed were invaluable as we organized the new Masters in Sacred Music (MSM) program and the undergraduate interdisciplinary minor in Liturgical Music Ministry which are both now in their tenth year. The MSM has the goal of developing the professional church musician while the undergraduate minor aims at developing the learned amateur who will hopefully function as a skilled volunteer in his or her parish. But what can we do for those already working in the field who cannot return to school full-time? It is fair to say that many people working in music ministry have arrived their accidentally and without adequate formation. But let me point to one initiative that endured for six years until funding ran out and one pipe dream that takes these documents to heart. The first was called SummerSong and it consisted of a two-week intensive summer experience for liturgical music ministers for renewal. The emphasis of SummerSong was fourfold:

1) to offer a graduate level course in the study of liturgy, specifically geared to the church musician;

2) to offer a continuous, two-week series of clinics for organists, pianists, guitarists, vocalists and choir directors;

3) to offer chances for communal prayer and retreat conference experience;

4) to bring together church musicians from a variety of places and backgrounds, affording them the chance for dialogue and continued growth.

Over the years, many different workshop venues have been created to help train and inform the church musician. But these opportunities tend to be brief, hour-long general sessions, held at conference centers in cities throughout the United States. These are important but can they fulfill the dream held by our bishops for the deeper formation of pastoral music ministers? The chance for sustained study and better musical technique usually cannot be conveyed in these short workshops. I was joined by a large number of people to make this program possible for six years while it was funded by World Library of Sacred Music. Steve Warner played a key role in the hatching and development of this program and in its implementation. We were joined by his wife Michele, and other clinicians. To mention just a few, I am grateful to Nancy Menk and two graduates of our master program, Jane Bergeron O’Keefe and Michelle Rego who worked tiredlessly summer after summer as clinicians. We think that programs such as this have something to contribute to the on-going development of pastoral liturgical music. More programs such as this need to be developed all over the country to meet the challenge posed by the bishops. And in fact the foundations laid by SummerSong have been furthered by two of our students, Mark Purcell in southern California and Chris Ferraro in the New York area. At Notre Dame, Carolyn Pirtle working with Tim O’Malley in the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy offered this past summer for the first time a series of conferences for pastoral musicians. I applaud all these efforts since there is so much remaining to be done.

But since I am dreaming, let me tell you about one part of my dream that still needs realization. This dream targets pastoral musicians in rural settings. Coming from a diocese that is largely rural, I am particularly concerned about this need. Rural pastoral ministers tend to be some of the most overlooked people in the country, especially in the realm of liturgical music. Largely volunteer working with scanty formation they minister in our farm lands and wooded areas. The dream is to organize on-going formation that takes seriously the three dimensions articulated in Sing to the Lord. For the liturgical formation, distance learning can serve well. All the farmers and ranchers I know are very computer savvy using information technology to manage their farms and ranches. Distance learning can reach into the rural areas and help educate rural pastoral musicians especially on liturgical and theological matters. Notre Dame has such a program (STEP) and with a little tweaking, the courses offered in liturgy could be offered at a distance for a modest cost. For the on-going musical formation, this requires person to person contact. The pipe dream would require using local chapters of NPM (or organizing them where they do not yet exist) to work with rural pastoral musicians. The clinics and workshops already organized and sponsored by NPM are invaluable, but how do you get ministers living in rural areas to attend? Probably pilot programs need to be established in rural dioceses where the local bishop is clearly on board and is committed to the on-going formation of pastoral musicians. But here is also an opportunity for our MSM graduates and soon our doctoral students. They have been privileged by a wonderful education and could serve as leaven in the dough. I would encourage them that beyond their church jobs they get involved in their dioceses to work with rural musicians and those serving underfunded churches by offering workshops regularly with hands-on opportunities for musical training. Finally the pastoral dimension (this is possibly the most difficult area to address), list-serves and on-line groups could help to network those who feel isolated and ill-formed. Rural participants seeking solutions to the pastoral problems they all face could assist one another. Even eavesdroppers stand to learn something valuable by listening into the discussions.

The bishops have been clear about the on-going and holistic formation of pastoral musicians. Now the task is to find ways and means so that this might continue to happen. Of course, such formation will take funding and resources and those with these skills will need adequate compensation. But at least these documents spell out the directions that we need to take.

At this ten year junction, there is much to be thankful for. The program continues to grow and flourish under the leadership of Margot Fassler flanked by her husband Peter Jeffrey, Carmen-Helena Tellez in conducting, Craig Cramer in organ, and Stephen Lancaster in voice who all form the executive committee. They are joined by Paul Walker in charge of student formation in the areas of human, spiritual and pastoral growth and Mark Dorhies who leads the newly formed Children’s Choir. The dimension of ethnomusicology is being addressed as we face the fact that the fastest growing area of Christianity is in the global south. We look for ways to move beyond a Eurocentric model to embrace the international nature of Christianity. Since two years ago, we have added a doctorate in musical arts (DMA) for the high level training of musicians. The program is served well by our administrative assistant Janet Rudasics, along with Chris Trail and Matt Haines. For all these things, may the good work continue and may God be praised.

I am particularly thankful this afternoon for the presence and participation of Nancy Menk and the South Bend Chamber Singers, an ensemble with which I have sung for over 15 years. It is also significant to me that a newly composed piece by Carolyne Pirtle was sung since she is one of the first graduates of the MSM program. I am also grateful that this event is taking place in Loretto Church, a place where I worship regularly with the Sisters of the Holy Cross. This church holds a special place in my heart having worshiped and sang here on many occasions over the past 20 some years. And for the presence of friends who are here, let me express my heartfelt thanks. For our many graduates who wanted to be here but who are working in the vineyard today, thank you for your best wishes that you have sent and may your ministry continue to develop and grow. And for all this “laudato si il Signore!”