The link to my piece on David Hobbs is at right. The only thing I have to add is that I did interview David Spitko about the program as a whole, and none of it got into the article. After a couple of false starts about Haydn and Mozart and the problems that, historically, have faced composers of religious music, I decided Mr. Hobbs was the only real story here — a young, local composer with a brand new work going up against a pair of heavyweights.
Then again, the problems that, historically, have faced composers of religious music are interesting in themselves. The church wants the music to do no more or less than enforce a feeling of reverence, and a setting of the words that is too elaborate, or too dramatic, or even too beautiful, gets in the way. The conflict goes back to Palestrina and continues to this day. (For a full discussion, I refer you to the chapter "Church Music," in Charles Rosen's Classical Style.)
"It’s very typical for an organist or choir director to have to struggle with the congregation," David Spitko told me in the interview I didn't use.
I remember in 1999, when my mother died, I wanted the soprano we hired to sing Charles Ives's setting of the spiritual "In the Mornin'" at her funeral Mass. I thought it was appropriate, since it was all about Jesus, in addition to being lovely, but the pastor would not allow it. To this day, I don't know why. Maybe it was too black, or too Protestant. It's hard to figure out, though I'm sure there was a theological explanation that satisfied the pastor.
I am not religious at all, and except for the occasional organ recital, wedding, or funeral (and at my age, the funerals are more frequent than the weddings), I haven't set foot in a church for more than thirty years. So, for me, the music always matters more than the message.