Dave Brubeck, RIP

The jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, who died yesterday, was intensely interested in spiritual things.  He said once that “something should be done musically to strengthen man’s knowledge of God.”  He became a Catholic in 1980 shortly after composing a Mass To Hope, commissioned by the Catholic publishing company Our Sunday Visitor (a place where I used to work).  He wrote other sacred music too.  About ten years ago I saw him perform the choral pageant La Fiesta de la Posada, based on a Latin American Christmas tradition.  Brubeck was best-known as a jazz performer and composer. Listening to Brubeck, playing songs like “In Your Own Sweet Way,” caused me to fall in love with jazz.


  1. I remember saying to Dave after TO HOPE had its second performance in the Cathedral in Providence, RI: “I don’t really need to do anything else after this.” It was my somewhat clumsey way of telling him how grateful I was that he had agreed to bring his consumate artistic gifts to the project of writing a new musical setting, in a thoroughly American musical idiom, to the then-very-new liturgical language that had emerged after Vat II. Dave and Iola and Dianne (my wife) and I became long-time friends. Our Sunday Visitor (under Jack Fink’s leadership) made a bold and wonderfully fruitful decision to allow me to undertake the the challenge of comissioning the piece and guiding it through the nearly two-year creative process. Dianne and I have been able to hear it performed in many places (from Candlestick Park to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows near St. Louis, to St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Viena). TO HOPE is a great gift to the church because it combines both the faith and the talent of a singularly gifted American composer with liturgical texts that proclaim the power that faith releases into the world. The lyrics of the hymn during the communion say it very well: “All my hope is in you, O Lord; you are my rock and my strength – hope in darkness, my hope in light; you are my rock and my strength…” The music encourages movement toward the altar, toward the Eucharistic table. It is a hymn of confident reliance on the God who is with us always, a God who is our rock and our strength. TO HOPE is now more than 25 years old. A wonderful performance of it at the Washington National Cathedral is still available. It’s Dave’s legacy to the Church. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to work with him (and Iola). We loved him and will always be grateful for all he has been (and continues to be) in our lives.


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