Five Things Directors and Choirs Must Remember This Week

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christ Watershed’s, “Views from the Choir Loft” — published March 27, 2015.

ELCOME TO Holy Week. For many, preparations have been well underway and are still ongoing. But once the onslaught of liturgies begins, it’s a bit like the morning of a final exam: One can’t study or prepare anymore. Just be in the best mental and physical state possible. For us, that also includes spiritual.

So, why do we work so hard to prepare? Beyond the technical preparations, musical and liturgical, there are five essential things music directors should remind themselves, their choirs and instrumentalists:


There are those who walk through the doors of our churches who carry burdens unknown to us. Sorrow, struggle, and suffering permeates our fragile existence, but so does joy. There is great opportunity for comfort, compassion and love. In prayerful, loving song, you may forever change the lives of someone you do not know in a way you will never know.

Furthermore, for Elect and Candidates of the Church, the Easter Vigil is a night of life-changing importance. Your prayerful support, now, and during the period of mystagogy is critical.


While individuals may be experiencing different things in their personal lives, we are united in the Body of Christ. We are not only part of our local parish, but part of the Universal Church. This unity and universality is, in part, why our worship is ritualized. We are connected not only with our neighbors beside us, but with our brothers and sisters around the world. We are connected not only in the present day, but with the old Covenant with Abraham to the new Covenant mediated by Christ, so that we “may receive the promise of an eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15) in the future.

In part this unity is why our sacred music ideally conveys a sense of timelessness and universality. Christ yesterday and today… All time belongs to Him…

Likewise, in this unity, everyone in your choir is important—not just those with more beautiful voices. We’re all singing and praying together.


This is the Martha side of things. There is an overwhelming amount to do, but be mindful that all the tedious work and attention to detail is in service to the liturgy. It is in service to God and a great service to your sisters and brothers in the community.

But when the time comes, don’t worry about mistakes. Glitches will arise. Move on in prayer and don’t look back.


This is the Mary side of things. Being constantly busy is its own kind of addictive drug designed to distract us from pain and even sometimes from joy! (Being emotional is hard work.) At the end of your pre-liturgy warmup or rehearsal, be sure to leave the choir several minutes for quiet reflection and prayer. If desired, part of that time can also be used to look over a score of the first piece or two. Sing the incipit in your head. Then close the book.

Remember to allow room for the Spirit, for both musical and prayerful inspiration. Place yourself in the center of the music and revel in every moment of prayer that comes forth. In achieving this end, the value of stillness and silence cannot be underestimated.


Expressing gratitude should become a mindful habit. Choirs can never be thanked enough. Of all the ministries of your church or parish, those in the choir usually volunteer the greatest number of hours all year round. So, thank your choir now, and always.

Consider how lucky we are to have people in our lives not only to make music with, but to pray with. To do so at the same time is an extraordinary privilege. Don’t forget it, and never take it for granted.

So, get on your knees and thank God for the gift of music, through which we may sing His praises, comfort the distressed, and experience the boundless joy of God’s love.

And while you’re at it, thank your choir. Again.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

“Sounds from the Spires” with Jennifer Pascual • SiriusXM Radio

RECENTLY joined Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and host of Sounds from the Spires, at the SiriusXM Studio in Midtown Manhattan. Her weekly program can be heard on SIRIUSXM 129 Radio, The Catholic Channel.

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:

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.


Communion Antiphons for Lent | SATB, Organ, Assembly • World Library Publications • Recordings Directed by Paul French

Variations on Misereris Omnium | Introit for Ash Wednesday • St Cecilia Schola • Variations played on the Smith & Gilbert Organ at St. Cecilia Church, Boston

By the Rivers of Babylon | Allesandra Cionco, soprano; Michael Dahlberg, cello; R. Clark, piano

Magna Opera Domini | Commissioned for the ordination of Bishop Steven Lopes. • Recording Directed by Edmund Murray

122 Messengers of Peace • Dona Nobis Pacem

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.

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:

Communion Antiphons for Lent | SATB, Organ, Assembly • World Library Publications

Christe qui lux es et dies | Based on Compline Hymn for Lent, SATB • RJC Cecilia Music

Lumen Christi | Paschal Candle Procession | Deacon/Priest, Assembly, SATB • CanticaNOVA Publications

O Sacrum Convivium | TTB or SSA • includes optional text for tempore quadragesimæ • RJC Cecilia Music

I Am Risen, Resurrexi | Introit for Easter Sunday, SATB, organ • RJC Cecilia Music

Podcast • Communion Antiphons for Advent on “Sounds from the Spires”

THE COLLECTION of Communion Antiphons for Advent was recently featured on “Sounds from the Spires” on SIRIUS XM 129 Radio, The Catholic Channel.

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:

You can listen to the music on this program here:

Communion Antiphons for Lent

AM PLEASED to announce the release of my Communion Antiphons for Lent with World Library Publications.

These thirteen antiphons are set from the English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. All the verses set are those prescribed by Graduale Romanum.

Scores are available in hard copies or digital format:

Order • View sample pages:
Octavo • “Communion Antiphons for Lent” (for SATB Choir; Cantor; Assembly)

“Click & Print” • PDF Download:
PDF • “Communion Antiphons for Lent” (for SATB Choir; Cantor; Assembly)

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.


Hard copies and downloadable digital scores of the Communion Antiphons for Advent, published with World Library Publications.

You can listen to recordings directed by Paul French here.

Soli Deo gloria

Thank a Church Musician Today! | St. Cecilia Day Variations

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!

St. Cecilia“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

 VIEW SAMPLE SCORE: St. Cecilia Day Variations

    • ($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:


    Hard copies and downloadable digital scores of the Communion Antiphons for Advent, published with World Library Publications.

    You can listen to recordings directed by Paul French here.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

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.

Here is a live recording (2007—lower key) performed by Youth Pro Musica and the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, with Peter Krasinski, organ.

The Seraphim Singers • World Première of work by Adam Wood and Richard J. Clark

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:

Sunday, October 25, 2015, 3:00pm
First Church (Congregational) 11 Garden St., Cambridge, MA

Friday, October 30, 2015, 8:00pm
St. Cecilia Parish, 18 Belvidere St., Boston, MA

$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.”

Hope to see you there!

Communion Antiphons for Advent • World Library Publicatons

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:

Order • View sample pages:
Octavo • “Communion Antiphons for Advent” (for SATB Choir; Cantor; Assembly)

“Click & Print” • PDF Download:
PDF • “Communion Antiphons for Advent” (for SATB Choir; Cantor; Assembly)

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.

Soli Deo gloria

Music for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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.

Download here several FREE Gospel Acclamations.

Download a FREE communion proper: PDF • Communion Antiphon | Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary | Mass of the Day (Congregation part on Pg. 3) This setting is based on the Magnificat Tone 2. As the prescribed verses are the Magnificat itself, the verses alone can also be used for Vespers.

INALLY, A CHORAL SETTING of the Ave Maria, available from RJC Cecilia Music) for both SSAT and TTBB, performed here by the American Boychoir, conducted by Fernando Mavar-Ruiz.

• Photo courtesy of Len Levasseur | The Assumption Window at St. Cecilia Church, Boston