Requiescat in pace

The world of Christian music lost one of its great teachers this past Monday, July 1.

Bert Polman was chair of the music department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a senior fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

I attended a summer workshop on hymnology led by Dr. Polman several years ago, which brought together musicians in higher education for an intensive week of study. We were given many tools for developing and hymnology curricula. But much more importantly, we were given a fresh perspective. Hymns come from Psalms. (Dr. Polman said the Genevan Psalter was his life’s blood.) Psalms sing of lamentation as well as praise. True hymns sing of God.

A great teacher meets students where they are and sets their sights further down the road in fruitful directions. While we learned as much as we could in a week, thousands of lucky students learned over the course of years, with humor and zeal.

Please remember Dr. Polman in your prayers.

6 Replies to “Requiescat in pace”

  1. John, I don't believe this interview article can be attributed to Dr. Polman, but thank you for the link.

    It does remind me of something Dr. Polman said. He had very strong words to say about "Gather Us In." He said that the hymn contained nothing that could not be sung by those who believed much differently than Catholics. Since I was the only Catholic in the room, he directed this criticism towards me rather pointedly. He said there is nothing in this hymn that could not be comfortably sung by a non-Christian. He said that the currently most popular hymn at Roman Catholic Mass in the United States could easily be sung by an unbeliever. He went on and on.

  2. Not sure about this.

    Jesus said: 'I am the bread of life'.
    He advised us to pray 'give us this day our daily bread'.

    This is contained in 'Gather us in' in the line: 'Give us to eat the bread that is you'.

    Could this really be sung by unbelielievers?

    'Gather us in' is mainly quotes from scripture,

  3. Please be careful what you say. The man you are speaking about was my beloved father. I don't appreciate your comments about him going on and on or anything else he said during his teaching sessions. Your negativity only adds salt to the wound of my dad's passing too soon.
    Carol (Polman) Vizzini

  4. Dear Mrs. Vizzini,

    It may not be obvious to a new reader here, but knowing Kathy as I do, I am sure that her comment above was not a criticism of your father. Just the opposite, really: we Catholics involved in church music often appreciate it when a non-Catholic expert expresses the same concern about our flawed modern church songs which many of us have felt.

    If that problem moved him to speak at length about the matter, how much more should we Catholics work to select hymns that express the Christian faith.

    With gratitude for Dr. Polman's work and sincere condolences at your loss,

    Richard Chonak
    (webmaster, Church Music Association of America)

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