My six-year-old son put me in my place before our interview. My daughter, who is eight, said, “Daddy is lucky because he is famous because he is being interviewed.” My son responded: “No, he’s not famous. Never, ever! Only God is famous.” This, coming from a boy who loves getting into mischief, especially if it gets a laugh from his siblings and disapproval from his parents. But here he was dead serious and spot on!
• PODCAST • Broadcast on 2.28.2016:
PLEASE READ MY MIND
Don’t believe everything you hear on the radio. As my choirs well know, it is a requirement that they must read my mind during rehearsal; not everything that comes out of my mouth is reliable. As such, there are two corrections here: 1) “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” is from Psalm 27, not Psalm 122 as stated. 2) Our Lady of the Atonement R. C. Church is in San Antonio, Texas, not Houston. I knew that. I’ve always known that. But I said Houston. Please read my mind.
T’S NEVER just about the music. Music is always about something greater. With sacred music it is about prayer, worship, and putting God at the center. Furthermore, singing in a choir brings about benefits that go well beyond that of making beautiful music. Words are fully inadequate to describe the power of music.
I had the opportunity to compose a work for the Elementary Honor Choir for the American Choral Directors Association Eastern Division. It was recently premiered at Boston’s historic Jordan Hall. Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Director of The American Boychoir would be conducting. Understanding music education as he does, Malvar-Ruiz has often stated that the mission of the American Boychoir is not music. It is education. With this philosophy in mind, he asked me to compose something intriguing.
THE SCORE IS AVAILABLE HERE: • Dona Nobis Pacem | SSA, Piano, Cello • RJC Cecilia Music
While not a liturgical work, we agreed to a universal message Dona nobis pacem. “Grant us peace.” He wanted Latin to teach pure vowels. He wanted easily singable lyric phrases suitable for children’s voices. (He also understands that Gregorian Chant is great tool for teaching children.) Finally, he asked for quotes from St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I jumped at this idea, knowing this would be about much more than music.
HIS HONOR CHOIR OF ONE-HUNDRED TWENTY-TWO CHILDREN (aged nine to twelve) had less than seventy-two hours to learn and memorize a program that included works of Bach, Malvar-Keylock, and others in a variety of styles and languages. Malvar-Ruiz asked me and composer Melissa Malvar-Keylock to discuss our compositions and answer questions from the children. And what brilliant questions they were!
Some asked about why I chose certain harmonies. One asked why the entire piece was not in Latin. Several questions were about the choice of the specific quotes. This opened up a great deal of historic discussion from St. Francis’ famous prayer to the direct connection between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s use of nonviolent techniques to overcome oppression.
Many were so curious about the composition and creative process. One asked for advice I could offer about becoming a composer. My quick advice to this bright ten or eleven-year old was to not only develop the technical skills, but to develop the heart, mind, and soul. Who we are as a person gives birth to our music. What I wish I had added was this: Develop your own unique voice. Accept technical criticism, never let anyone dismiss or criticize your unique musical voice, because this is you. I really wish I said that. I hope she reads this.
HEN, AS IF one conclusion must lead to another, the final question was fascinating, especially from such from a young child: “What expectations do you have from us?” This is an incredibly mature and insightful thought. It was as if I had planted this question because it led to a question that I had for all the children.
I told them I had a question for them. I said I suspected they were already doing this, but I want them to consider my request. So then asked them, “What happens to the text at measure 132?” They explained the text changed from “Grant us peace” to “Peace be with you.” (The words Jesus spoke after His resurrection. The words he spoke when they were afraid and hiding, after His resurrection.)
While I did not mention Jesus specifically in a secular and mixed setting, I asked them if they could do what St. Francis prayed for: “Can you be an instrument of peace?” I was clear I didn’t mean just when they sing this piece. I told them I didn’t just mean for the concert. But can you be an instrument of peace when you return home to your friends, school, family, and those who care about you? Can you be an instrument of peace…for the rest of your lives?
I asked this of children, because they can carry this out much better than adults can—at least speaking for myself.
I put the words “Peace be with you” into their mouths because I know that coming from children, it is genuine. It is divine love. This is what children singing can do. Children have much to teach us, and I have much to learn from them.
The morning of the concert, Malvar-Ruiz repeated my request to be messengers of peace. They truly responded with their music. I trust they will respond further with their lives. As they do, so will the world change and be saved.
IN ADDITION, here are a few of my choral/liturgical works for Lent and Easter. You can listen to recordings of each or these:
I had the opportunity to speak with the program’s host, Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
We discussed the antiphons/propers of the Mass as well as the composition process of this new collection of propers. Why is it important to sing the propers? What scriptures do we sing during Advent? This is the kind of thing I find exciting.
• PODCAST • Listen here to the program broadcast on 12.13.2015:
• All are chant based. • Can be sung with cantor or unison schola • Ample opportunity for optional SATB
HERE YOU CAN LISTEN to recordings of seven of the thirteen communion propers directed by Paul French. French and his singers beautifully captured the joy, movement, and energy of these chant based works.
THANK A CHURCH MUSICIAN TODAY! Thank your choir! Church musicians put in long hours away from family, missing weekends and evenings. They don’t get paid much money even when at the highest levels of their profession and art. But making music for God is in their blood. They know no other way to live!
“Playing the organ, Cecilia chanted to the Lord, saying: Let my heart be made spotless, so that I may not be confounded.” – Vespers Antiphon for the Feast of St. Cecilia, November 22
($19.00) Digital PDF copy comes with reprint license limited to use for one performer. You do not have permission to disseminate the score. Upon purchase, you will receive an email from which you can download the score.
Recording by Richard J. Clark on the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ, St. Cecilia Church, Boston, MA with St. Cecilia Men’s Schola:
FOR OUR FIRST CHILD, our daughter, I composed a hymn based on the story found in three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) about the disciples arguing over who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus then shows them a little child:
Matthew 18: 1-5: At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
It is made available for digital download in two different keys, one lower, which is more ideal for a congregation to sing. A higher key is also provided to allow the sopranos to soar.
($39.00) Digital PDF copy comes with reprint license limited to use for one choir. Upon purchase, you will receive an email from which you can download the score.You do not have permission to disseminate the score in any form.
HAVE LONG ADMIRED the writing of poet Adam Wood (b. 1982); his poetry, prose, and commentary are distinct, stemming in part from eclectic passions which include liturgy, theology, technology, economics and the Open Source. The results of such combination of interests are fascinating.
When Jennifer Lester, Director of The Seraphim Singers, asked me to compose another work for them on sacred poetry, I eagerly dug into Adam Wood’s work. His dedication to the spirit, art, and intellect (often infused with sharp wit) constitute a distinctly unique body of work from which one will elicit much inspiration and insight.
The result of this collaboration is On Emptiness, Wisdom, and Fortune (2014) which combines two of Wood’s poems On Fortune and On Emptiness. You can read Adam Wood’s essays and poems here.
IF YOU ARE IN THE BOSTON AREA be sure not to miss this premiere as part the Seraphim Singer’s “For Heaven Is a Different Thing.” Choral Settings of Sacred Poetry. There will be two performances:
$20 general admission and $15 senior/student.
• Tickets are available at the door or purchase online here
• Download the concert program here
• Download the concert poster here
HE SERAPHIM SINGERS ARE ENORMOUS ADVOCATES of new music with several new commissions each year. Jennifer Lester’s programming is astonishingly vast, from Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony to Twenty-first Century works. Yet, her programming flows with astounding unity and beauty. The Boston Music Intelligencer writes:
“Ingenious programming by Jennifer Lester…”
“Anyone who cares about these genres owes it to him/herself to hear this gifted ensemble whenever possible.”
“Technically, the ensemble was in fine form, performing incredibly challenging choral repertoire with a high degree of finesse.”
ORLD LIBRARY Publications, the music and liturgy division of J. S. Paluch Company, Inc. has recently released my collection of Communion Antiphons for Advent. WLP will follow up shortly with my settings of communion propers for Lent.
The antiphons are set from the English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, which during Advent are congruent with the Graduale Romanum. Likewise, the verses set are those prescribed by Graduale Romanum.
Scores are available in hard copies or digital format:
• All are chant based. • Can be sung with cantor or unison schola • Ample opportunity for optional SATB • Includes an additional setting for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
BE SURE TO LISTEN to the recordings directed by Paul French, Director of the William Ferris Chorale and Music Director of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Chicago. French and his singers beautifully captured the joy, movement, and energy of these chant based works. Glorious Things Are Spoken for the Immaculate Conception was recorded at St. Cecilia Church in Boston with Jaime Korkos, mezzo-soprano and Marc DeMille, baritone.
NFUSE CHANT WITH PASSION! Most of these settings are marked con moto. Chant or chant-based works must not be lethargic, plodding and as a result boring. They can be tranquil at times, but yearn for movement.
Taken directly form the scriptures of Advent, we have been singing these texts together as a Church for about thirteen hundred years. This is an extraordinary sign of unity and communion with our ancestors!
And the tradition lives and breathes within us today. It informs us of who we are. It connects us to the very source of life in the Eucharist. Finally, our traditions propel us toward an intimate relationship with God.
In the end, I hope these are useful, prayerful, reverent, and with a bit of passion.
F YOU ARE LOOKING FOR some last minute selections of sacred music for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, look no further:
Download here several FREE Responsorial psalms from the Chabanel Psalm Project — settings by Jeff Ostrowski, Royce Nickel, Arlene, Oost-Zimmer, Aristotle Esguerra, Richard Rice, and Sam Schmitt, and yours truly.