The Catholic Commentators

Every time Darryl Ducote hears one of his songs played during Mass, he is moved by emotion. 

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The Dameans perform at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans for the episcopal consecration of Bishop Stanley J. Ott in 1976. Pictured are, from left, Darryl Ducote, Mike Balhoff, Paul Ceasar and Gary Ault. File photo/Archives Department

 

“Brings me to tears,” said Ducote, from his office at the Diocese of Baton Rouge, where he serves as director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life. 

“I’ve never had the experience of giving birth but it’s similar,” he laughed. “You created something and it takes on a life of its own because different people will express it in a different way, so it continues to grow, it continues to change, without you ever having any influence over it.” 

Ducote is an original member of the Catholic liturgical song group The Dameans. This month, the Dameans, comprised of Ducote, Paul Ceasar, Gary Ault, Gary Daigle and Mike Balhoff, celebrate their 50th anniversary as musicians, songwriters and friends. The group was responsible for composing scores of songs that can still be found in the Glory & Praise hymnal book. Among the most popular titles are “Look Beyond” and “All That We Have.”

The one song that Ducote said he hears most often is “Remember Your Love,” which he described as a “setting for one the penitential Psalms asking for God’s mercy.” 

The musical journey that resulted in 17 albums during a 30-year span and life-long friendships among the group’s members began simply by divine intervention. In 1961, at the age of 16, Ducote entered St. Joseph Seminary in Covington to begin his education toward becoming a priest. During the next few years, political, economic, social, scientific, technological and cultural changes would sweep the globe. In response, Pope John XXII called the Second Vatican Council, resulting in, among other things, changing the language said in Masses to that of the vernacular and a “fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations” by the faithful. That was in 1965.

Ducote, who had been trained in Latin to serve at Mass, said it took a year for the transition to take place, but as the changes were being rolled out, there was no music appropriate to incorporate into the new English liturgy. 

“There were centuries of Latin music that was no longer suited to congregational singing,” he said. “It was written for choirs and soloists. So, there was a big void in liturgical music.”

So, the seminarian students, called Notre Dameans, formed groups and, rotating weeks, wrote songs for Sunday Mass, setting the text of the antiphons to music. Ducote’s group originally included Balhoff, Ault and two other seminarians. By January 1968, the group had reformed with Ducote, Balhoff, Ault, Ceasar and Dave Baker and began writing hymns. 

“We were creating hymns in English that were easily singable so that people could have full conscious and active participation in the Mass,” said Ducote. 

Once they began writing hymns, the group began to get noticed by those outside of Notre Dame Seminary. They were invited to visit surrounding dioceses to give concerts, workshops for liturgical musicians and to play for Sunday Mass, with Ducote, Ceasar and Ault on guitar, Balhoff on bass and Baker on tambourine.

Ducote said the folk song era of the time inspired their work. 

“What we were trying to do was to provide a vehicle for people to participate (in the Mass). So, they needed music that was singable and something they could relate to, and the folk era really provided that,” he said. 

The group shortened the name given to them as students and became known as The Dameans. They sent some of their musical compositions to a publisher in Los Angeles and by 1969, their first album, “Tell the World,” was released. 

Renee Richard, assistant archivist at the Diocese of Baton Rouge and a member of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Baton Rouge, grew up with the music of The Dameans. Richard said her mother bought the group’s first album in 1969. 

“I was in seventh grade when I first played (guitar) at Mass at Our Lady of Mercy,” Richard recalled. “That was the first music I learned to play because they were basic chords and good melodies.” 

Ceasar said the spirit of the time, in the wake of Vatican II, helped foster what was going on with the group.

“We worked so well together,” said Ceasar, who is now the executive director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center. “We were friends and we were supportive of each other. We worked through any difficulties that arose that might have torn other groups apart. We were able to be honest with one another, to accept honest criticism and to grow from that. 

“People tell me how much our music meant to them. If they were going through spiritual crisis, they said our music gave them the strength to get them through.” 

Until 1970, The Dameans spent every weekend on the road for their music ministry. After they were ordained priests, the travel was cut down to once a month. Their travels took them to 48 states, including Hawaii and Alaska.

“Alaska – that was incredible!” laughed Ducote. “Culture shock for them and for us! It was a lot of fun! From Alaska, we went to Hawaii! All of this was great fun but it got tiresome.” 

On one trip to Hawaii, a community of Filipino nuns ministering to a small village in the mountains invited The Dameans to Sunday Mass. 

“They played guitars and sang our music at the little village church,” Ducote said. “So that was wonderful!” 

In 1973, The Dameans were sent to Germany for a month on behalf of the military apostolate. Ducote said the stint, which included a tour of the military bases, involved hours of travel in the back of army trucks with accommodations he called “abysmal.”

“It was absolutely grueling and really took a toll on all of us,” he said. 

The following year, Dave Baker bowed out of the group, citing the travel was too difficult from his Wisconsin home. The Dameans continued to write and record music and give concerts, releasing several more albums. Keyboardist Gary Daigle of Gonzales joined the south Louisiana based musicians in 1978. Their final album was released in 1995 and their last performance was at the 2012 Gulf Coast Conference in Mobile, Alabama. 

Besides “Remember Your Love,” which was a composite by Ducote, Blahoff and Daigle, Ducote said “Look Beyond” is also widely used. The Communion hymn, written by Ducote, is based on the Gospel of John, chapter 6, the bread of life discourse. 

“I took Scripture and put it to music and wrote a refrain,” he said. “It makes those scriptural passages come to life.” 

Ducote said he still listens to the music of The Dameans, especially the song “Without Clouds,” which he wrote. 

“It’s so universal. It talks about the consistency of change and how we have to adapt to change on a regular basis,” he said.

Ducote said he thinks the biggest contribution The Dameans made was in “facilitating what the Second Vatican called for in the liturgical form, namely, full conscious and active participation of the laity in the liturgy.”

“People renewed their faith through our music,” he said. “The music was a sign of hope for many people.”

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Darryl Ducote, director of The Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, looks over albums from his years with The Dameans. Many of the songs Ducote and others in the group wrote are still found in the Glory & Praise hymnals. Photo by Bonny Van/The Catholic Commentator