David Haas enriches BSM community

Chloe Quinn

Most students may know David Haas’s name from the back cover of the hymnals at Masses, but many are unaware of Mr. Haas’s prestige in the musical world. Some may know of Mr. Haas as an artist in residence with a powerful singing voice, or even have had him for a religion class or two, but many students are unaware of Mr. Haas’s work beyond the walls of school.

David Haas was born into a musical family; both his parents were music teachers, and his mother was his own choir director for four years. For Mr. Haas’s family two things were especially essential to family life: music and church, and as a child growing up these had a profound impact on his future.

Even before he went to college, Mr. Haas had an extensive background in music; he was classically trained as a pianist and played trumpet, violin, and guitar. “I had to practice an hour [of piano] before I had breakfast each morning,” said Mr. Haas.

He studied music throughout school, focusing on musical theater and opera, and eventually decided to enter the seminary to become ordained as a priest.

After three years in the seminary, Mr. Haas chose not to become ordained and earned a degree in music and theology from St. Thomas University instead. “I was finding out more and more that God wasn’t calling me to be a priest, that I had other gifts and other things that God wanted me to do with my life…it was during that time that I started to seriously compose liturgical music,” Mr. Haas said.

After earning his degree, Mr. Haas worked as a parish director for many years writing music intended for liturgies. As his music gained popularity, Mr. Haas started receiving invitations to concerts and workshops centering around people’s interest in music’s role in faith.

For 20 years Mr. Haas traveled on the road full time, giving workshops, speeches, and seminars. “I felt that I was just being led that way…it’s a vocation, a calling, everyone has one,” said Mr. Haas.

Mr. Haas first brought his musical talent to the BSM community 11 years ago when the school’s president at the time, Jim Hamburge, asked Mr. Haas if he’d be interested in putting on a benefit concert to support the work of the music department.

Kate Cuddy, a former director of vocal music here at BSM and a good friend of Mr. Haas’s, inspired him to get involved with BSM. “I went to a concert of hers and I was just dazzled by the energy she had with the students,” said Mr. Haas.

Mr. Haas brings original works of his own that the choir has the opportunity to sing and perform before anyone else does. Mr. Haas wrote “One More Song” for the class of 2000, which continues to be used for the closing liturgy every year. Besides the songs used for BSM’s Masses, Mr. Haas has written songs such as “We Are Called” that are used in parishes throughout the country. Nancy Stockhaus, the director of vocal music said, “He has contributed especially when we do liturgical music that he has written; it is very helpful to have the composer of that piece of music there to interpret what is going on musically.”

Mr. Haas has written almost 500 songs in the contemporary liturgical style. “Liturgical music is [intended] to help people pray and to help the liturgy do its work…to help nurture people’s lives in Christ. Music is a powerful language…its purpose is to help enliven our participation in the Christian life,” said Mr. Haas.

In 1991, Mr. Haas was nominated for a Grammy for his song “I Shall See God,” and despite just missing the cut for the final five, he is still world-renowned for his knowledge of liturgical music. “He’s had a very prolific career in liturgical music. I think that’s inspiring to kids…I think a lot of kids are impressed by his credentials…because when they look in the back of the hymnal they see his name,” Ms. Stockhaus said.

In addition to his work as a composer, Mr. Haas founded and is actively involved in a summer music program for high-school students. “I love the energy and passion that young people have for life and for exploring new things,” said Mr. Haas. Held at the College of St. Catherine’s, Music Ministry Alive! brings together vocalists and instrumentalists alike who share an interest in liturgical music.

Mr. Haas has just released a CD and a prayer book accompaniment focusing on the different aspects of the life of Jesus; he is also currently finishing up a CD of music for morning and evening prayer. “The music I write isn’t for me, it’s for other people to sing along,” said Mr. Haas.

Despite his busy schedule, traveling, and various composition projects, Mr. Haas still finds time to share his love of liturgical music and knowledge of theology with BSM. “It’s nice to have a place that’s constant,” he said. “What I like about being [at BSM] is that I feel like I blend with a community of teachers…I’ve become good friends with teachers and people who I wouldn’t have met in my usual circles.”