Dave Brubeck receives honorary doctorate in Theology

lundi 15 novembre 2004
par mss

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Barbara Hallensleben avec Dave Brubeck
photo par Alain Wicht (La Liberté)

Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck Receives Honorary Doctorate In Sacred Theology From University Of Fribourg, Switzerland

Degree Recognizes Brubeck As Prolific Composer Of Sacred Choral Music
Dave Brubeck is known by millions of people the world over as a legendary jazz pianist, composer, band leader and recording artist. Far fewer people, however, realize that for nearly 40 years the 84-year-old Brubeck has pursued a parallel career as a composer of extended works for orchestra and chorus — there are 16, all on socio-political or religious themes — and more than 30 hymns, Christmas songs, and Psalm settings. His wife of 62 years, Iola Whitlock Brubeck, a former radio actress and scriptwriter who Brubeck met during his undergraduate days at University of the Pacific, usually serves as his librettist.

On November 15, 2004, in recognition of his contributions to the canon of sacred choral music, the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, awarded Brubeck a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, honoris causa, during its annual Academic Day. Brubeck, who is presently on tour in Europe with his Quartet, will return to Fribourg to perform his Mass "To Hope — A Celebration" with the University’s chamber choir and orchestra on November 21. Brubeck choral works range from the 75-minute oratorio "The Light in the Wilderness" (1968) on the teachings of Christ, the seeds for which were planted during Brubeck’s service as an infantryman in General George S. Patton’s Third Army during World War II, to "Upon This Rock" (1987), a chorale and fugue for the entrance of Pope John Paul II into San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, to "Earth Is Our Mother" (1992) based on a speech by Native American Chief Seattle, to "Hold Fast to Dreams" (1998), a song cycle on the poems of Langston Hughes. Brubeck and his Quartet, or Brubeck as piano soloist, often supply improvisatory passages which are interspersed with the choral singing. (A complete list of Brubeck choral works is attached.)

While numerous performing artists including jazz masters have previously received honorary doctorates — Brubeck himself has received seven — it is quite likely that the University of Fribourg’s is the first ever awarded in the fields of religion or theology.

"To receive this honorary degree is a very humbling experience," commented Brubeck. "I am very aware of how little I know compared to the theologians of the world. When I have been asked to set certain sacred texts to music, I immediately study the history of the text and try to understand the words. Then, I plunge in to find the core and set it to music. To people who know me only as a jazz musician, this honor must seem very strange. However, there is a body of orchestral and choral work, going back to 1968 and my first oratorio ’The Light in the Wilderness’ which may help people understand the justification for this unexpected honor. I am both humbled and deeply grateful."

The citation for the honorary doctorate reads :
"From the experience of war you learned the lesson of the two great commandments to love God and neighbor, even to the point of loving your enemies and doing good to those who hate you (Luke 6, 27). Like the Levites of old who were appointed by God to sing his praises, you have for over forty years placed your considerable musical gifts in the service of strengthening people’s knowledge of God and of helping them to discover their vocation to love God and even their enemies. Both through your musical compositions and your inspired improvisational performances of them, you have tirelessly proclaimed freedom’s relationship to discipline and love’s relationship to truth, a truth revealed in Christ and made present in the sacraments. In short, you have become a real ambassador of God’s love. For this the faculty of theology at the University of Fribourg is pleased to grant you a doctorate in sacred theology, honoris causa."

American clergy who have collaborated with Brubeck in the past had these comments about the doctorate :

  • Rev. Ron Brassard, Pastor, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Cranston RI :
    • "What Dave has done is to explore the textures of religious experience in the Old and New Testaments from a musical perspective. His genius is that he’s able to touch the contemporary through the eyes of the Biblical. In The Gates of Justice, he explores prejudice from the point of view of the Book of Psalms. In Truth Is Fallen — a response to the events at Kent State University in 1970 — he quotes the words of the Prophet Isiaih. In "La Fiesta de la Posada" Dave explores the story of Christmas using the perspective of traditional Hispanic ritual. I think the genius of Dave’s religious work is that he touches the presence of God in the present by way of the past through the music he creates."
  • Rev. John M. Buchanan, Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, IL :
    • "Dave Brubeck has done a marvelous thing by bringing his jazz artistry into conversation with the traditional sacred music of the church. The results are lively, deeply moving, and utterly authentic. It has been a personal joy to experience Brubeck’s music and also to know enough about him to understand that it comes from the deep places in his own soul and out of his own remarkable spiritual journey. Thanks be to God for Dave Brubeck and for this wonderful recognition that has come his way."
  • Retired Rabbi Charles D. Mintz, former senior staff member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) which commissioned and premiered Brubeck’s cantata "The Gates of Justice" in 1969 :
    • "Dave Brubeck has enriched our heritage of faith through a unique eclectic style of musical composition which ranges from pure jazz to romantic classical expression and twelve-tone music. Thus he is able to speak to the hearts and minds of masses of people whose musical tastes are quite diverse. Brubeck speaks to our spirits, not only through his music, but through the very quality of his life, which is itself an expression of his religion. Through his generosity of spirit and his willingness to give unstintingly of himself, he has inspired young people of all faiths to go beyond themselves in expressing their own talent and creativity."

Further background on the honorary degree from Rev. Michael Sherwin, associate professor of moral theology, University of Fribourg :

"As a moral theologian, I am fascinated by the similarities between musical inspiration and the moral virtue of prudence, and the analogies between art and virtue," said Father Sherwin. "These analogies were recognized by the earliest fathers of the Catholic Church and by the medieval scholastics, but have never been explored to any degree. In addition, practically nothing has been written that explores the analogies between improvisation and the moral life.

"In the media, Christianity and faith in general are so often presented in the most bleak and controversial/political terms, so one can very easily lose sight of the deeper truths. Dave in his genius ability to express simplicity in complexity succeeds in conveying time and again the deeper truths : joy in the midst of sorrow ; hope in the midst of disappointment ; love and optimism in the midst of violence and hatred. On top of this, Brubeck’s irrepressible optimism and joyous improvisation are grounded in an incredible discipline, which points to another truth : freedom’s dependence on disciplined fidelity to the truth of things, whether it’s the truth of musical progression or of the moral life.

"For all of these reasons, I thought he would be a good candidate for our faculty of moral theology’s honorary doctorate. Fortunately, my colleagues universally agreed, as did the rector and the Vatican. Then we were able to get the support of the officials of the canton (state) of Fribourg, in particular Madame Isabelle Chassot, the Minister of education and culture. It did not hurt that the Secretary General of the ministry, Michel Perriard, is a jazz baritone sax player whose two favorite sax players are Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, both of whom played with Brubeck for so long."

About Dave Brubeck
Composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, born December 6, 1920 in Concord, CA, has been a major figure in contemporary jazz since his nightclub days in San Francisco in the late 1940s. He has been named an American Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and was awarded a National Medal for the Arts by President Bill Clinton. He holds a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Following graduation from University of the Pacific in 1942 and four years of Army service in World War II, Brubeck studied with the eminent French composer Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland. From 1950-1967 he led the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring the late Paul Desmond, became the first jazz musician on the cover of TIME Magazine (1954), and recorded the best-selling jazz single of all time, Desmond’s "Take Five." In 1968, having launched his "second career" as an orchestral and choral composer, he formed a second quartet featuring the late Gerry Mulligan. Brubeck was a pioneer in taking jazz to college campuses, was one of the artists who helped launch the Monterey and Newport Jazz Festivals, and has performed all over the world with his quartet and with major symphony orchestras and choruses. Since 1959, Brubeck has also been a pioneer in combining jazz improvisation with symphonic music, beginning with his brother Howard’s "Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra," premiered and recorded by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. He has also written ballets, string quartets, and film and television scores. While continuing to maintain a full schedule as a performer and composer, he now also serves as Chairman of the Brubeck Institute at University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

Press release by Michael O’Daniel