By Barb Arland-Fye
Last Friday night, while trying to finish a story for the paper, I thought about skipping a concert for which I’d purchased a ticket. Torn between the desire to finish writing or to listen to a favorite liturgical music composer, David Haas, I finally set aside my work and headed for the concert.
Ample parking was available when I pulled into the parking lot at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, where the concert was being held as a benefit for Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland. It turns out I was a half-hour early! Dwelling on the things I could have accomplished during that half-hour – and the fact that I hadn’t had anything to eat since early afternoon – made it tempting to consider an early exit.
But then the Prairie’s director, Sister Kathleen Storms, SSND, introduced her dear friend David Haas and he began to sing, and all thoughts of leaving early vanished.
David’s music sends my heart soaring, but this was the first time I’d heard him in person. I didn’t realize he encourages his audience to sing along with him. He didn’t need to do much encouraging because everyone eagerly awaited his cues. Our voices singing in unison – and on key – seemed to move David.
The composer, who lives and works in the Twin Cities (my hometown), had a story for just about every song he performed; some were hilarious, others touching and still others, bittersweet. He spoke of a near-death experience after open-heart surgery five years ago, which included a hilarious story about the “Sound of Music” movie and the Von Trapp family singing “So Long, Farewell.” He choked up talking about his late father, who had loved David with all his heart. Although his father has been dead for four years, “I still miss him very much,” the son said. A grandmotherly woman got up from her seat, slowly walked over to David who was seated at the piano, and gave him a hug. Startled at first, he expressed appreciation for her gesture.
He kept us guessing about which songs he’d perform from our “Music for Prayer and Celebration” program. “Oh, this is my favorite one!” I exclaimed, pointing out “You Are Mine” to Joan, who sat next to me in the church pew. Actually, I had several other favorites, and we had the privilege of singing them. I felt rewarded for staying for the entire concert when we sang “Blest Are They.”
David is just a year older than me; I enjoyed thinking about us being in high school at the same time. Could one of my classmates have developed into a gifted musician, like David, and with such a deep love for the Church?
He continues his creative pursuits and is described as an international advocate for the role of young people in the life of the Church. GIA Publications in Chicago has just released one of David’s most recent projects, “We Are Not Alone” (a four-volume resource of music for the Liturgy of the Word with fellow composers Lori True, Sister Kathleen Harmon, Paul Tate and Stephen Pishner.)
At the end of his concert in Bettendorf, our audience gave David a standing ovation. He returned the favor by performing an African-American Spiritual titled “Steal Away,” a piece he arranged. In a poetic touch, he left the stage and the sanctuary as we sang the song’s refrain.
I left the church with a song in my heart, grateful that I had stepped away from my work.