By Barb Arland-Fye
During the closing song at Mass last Saturday night, my son Colin made eye contact with me and smiled, pointing to the lyrics of “Glory and Praise to Our God” as he sang. I returned the smile. People with autism struggle to make eye contact, so this was a gift. Then Colin did something unexpected by placing his arm protectively around my shoulder. I wasn’t sure why this hymn moved him so deeply but I savored the moment.
After Mass, I learned that Colin is practicing “Glory and Praise to Our God” during lessons with his piano teacher, Don Estes, who is also teaching my husband Steve to play the hymn on his guitar. The composer, Dan Schutte, performed in concert several years ago at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Steve and I attended the performance, which captivated both of us.
The memory of the concert and the love of Dan’s songs inspired Steve to eventually ask Don to teach Colin and himself how to play some of the songs. Steve took a hymnal to Don’s home studio for Colin to use during practice. Steve, whose music lesson follows our son’s, has been trying to arrive a little earlier so that the two can practice together.
“I wanted to see if I could try to play with Colin,” Steve said. Hopefully, that would encourage greater involvement in the church and in concerts that Don organizes to showcase the progress of all of his students. Steve tends to get cold feet at concert time, unlike our son who loves to perform!
So far, Colin has learned “Table of Plenty” and is now working on “Glory and Praise to Our God.” “He’s got ‘Table of Plenty’ down pretty good,” Steve said. “The other hymn remains a work in progress. Steve’s mastery of the songs on his guitar is also a work in progress, he admits. “Colin plays much better than I do.”
The website of OCP (Oregon Catholic Press) shares a brief biography of Dan that describes him as “one of the best-known writers of Catholic liturgical music in the English-speaking world.”
In an OCP blog article that Dan wrote April 12, 2017, he said that he often finds the voice of God in the beauty of music. “Much of my passion for good liturgy grows out of my experience of watching God touch people through music.”
Dan noted that people are moved by different things in music. “But there is a universal human experience of beauty” that takes us to a place “where one experiences goodness, rightness, peace and consolation.”
His observation resonates with most of our family (our younger son Patrick doesn’t seem as uplifted by liturgical music as the rest of us). Music has always been the best way for us to reach Colin, from infancy to adulthood.
Dan also said in his blog that when people come to his concerts, he reminds them that “the evening is about them and the God of their hearts.” He says he suggests “that as they sing the music and listen to the reflections they pay attention to the moments when they feel God consoling them and offering them words of hope.”
Last Saturday night at Mass, I felt God’s presence in the Eucharist and in the warmth of my son’s arm wrapped around my shoulder as we sang “Glory and Praise to Our God.”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com)