With COVID continuing to restrict activities in many parts of the country, it was heartening to see 40 cathedral musicians gather to exchange ideas and knowledge about music and liturgy specific to their venues, and find out how to address the present situation. The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians met in Little Rock, Arkansas, from January 3 through January 6, 2022. Our host was Beau Baldwin of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The week was filled with good music and liturgy, presentations, discussions, congeniality, good food, and good old Southern hospitality.

Monday, January 3:

The conference began with vespers at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral, with music provided by the choir of St. Andrew’s Cathedral under the direction of Beau Baldwin, with Colin MacKnight assisting on the organ.

Following a cocktail hour, the conference was treated to a delicious dinner provided by the cathedral clergy and parishioners. During dinner, the CRCCM statement of purpose was read, and members were given an opportunity to introduce themselves.

Tuesday, January 4:

Fr. Joseph Luis de Orbegozo led morning prayer in the cathedral, with Beau Baldwin and Rosemarie Ochoa at the organ, followed by a tour of the cathedral led by Fr. Joseph and a cathedral docent, covering the history of the building, as well as a detailed description of the architectural and artistic features, especially the stenciling of this beautiful Victorian Gothic Revival church.

During the business meeting, the following points were covered:

  1. Chair Brian Luckner introduced the steering committee.
  2. Marc Cerisier delivered the treasurer’s report. Of particular interest is the plan for an endowment fund, comprising most of the conference’s funds, which are presently invested in 55% mutual funds and 45% bonds. This is the first year that CRCCM has again an official non-profit status. Phil Bordeleau explained the conference’s planned giving program.
  3. In the absence of membership chair Brian Gurley, Brian Luckner delivered the membership report: the present number of 99 members is 9 less than last year. This is attributed to the relatively large turn-over in cathedral musicians due in large part to the pandemic. The system of regional representatives needs attention.
  4. Brian Luckner explained that the conference’s archives, which had been at Collegeville, are now in Little Rock. Marc Cerisier has scanned some documents and will continue scanning more in the time to come, and many of these documents will be available on the website.
  5. Of particular interest and importance is the repertoire project (Brian Luckner and Marc Cerisier). Accessible on the website, it lists choral repertoire with are searchable on multiple levels: by composer, title, scoring, liturgical application, etc. At present there are 500 entries with 250 manuscripts. Members were encouraged to start adding their choral repertoire, but they need to login to the website to do so. It should be noted that this list contains not only cathedral specific repertoire and will thus be of great value to all church musicians.
  6. Phil Bordeleau reported that the nomination process for the steering committee has begun. We need 6 nominations. Two steering committee members have finished their second term and must be replaced, and two more are finishing their first term and must be renominated or replaced. Both have said that they are interested in another term.
  7. Future conferences are: 2023 Orlando, FL; 2024 Europe (UK was suggested, and Spain came up as another possibility; the destination needs to be discussed further.); 2025 Richmond, VA.

Fr. Anthony Ruff’s keynote address, entitled “The Catholic Music Director: An Examination of Conscience,” centered on 5 areas of discussion: valuing aesthetic quality, promoting musical competence, taking pride in our work, integrating multicultural and multi linguistic music, and implementing the liturgical reform. In each point, he laid out the good points and the pitfalls for church musicians, providing food for thought for the attendees.

The composers reading session was relatively short this year, covering only two composers: James Grzadzinski and Thomas Fielding. 

Steven Shook, Director for the Center for Leadership Development at the University of Central Arkansas, facilitated the next session, a roundtable discussion of “COVID: Past, Present, and Future.” Small groups discussed the challenges of their communities when the pandemic first began, the challenges and opportunities which exist at present, and what the future might bring. In the first category, the following areas were identified: having to learn new technical skills for live stream and remote choir practices and meetings; guilt for collecting a full-time salary while only producing a small portion of the work; the dread of facing a future of starting up again, possibly from scratch, and the energy this will take; the loss of control; loss of church income; and the anger of some parishioners who watch “insiders” receive communion on the live stream while they could not. The “present” category brought to light the following challenges and opportunities: many of older colleagues have decided to retire rather than face starting up again; loss of income for churches; the opportunity for a fresh start, possibly with renewed interest in multi-cultural events; a renewed appreciation of the Eucharist after it had been denied for so long; and the opportunity to do repertoire which you normally could not do. Most members looked to the future with renewed vigor and at least some newly learned technical skills.

A fitting finish to the day was an organ recital at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, presented by Colin MacKnight, the recently appointed Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock. The program encompassed Advent and Christmas works by Dupré, Bach, Leighton, Reger, Mendelssohn, and Karg-Elert. The stellar program earned the artist two standing ovations. Dr. MacKnight was excellently assisted by Beau Baldwin.

Wednesday, January 5

The conference traveled to Subiaco Abbey, which was founded in 1878 by Benedictine monks from Einsiedeln, Switzerland. Fr. Jerome Kodell led a tour of the abbey church and grounds. Of particular interest was the compendium of architectural styles around the cloister, showing the influences of different periods of building and rebuilding after a disastrous fire in 1927.

Fr. Joseph Chan gave a talk on Musicianship and Spirituality During the Pandemic.  Coming from the medical field (20 years as internist) with a musical background, he presented the conference with ways to strengthen spirituality and prevent burnout. He defined the difference between spirituality and religion: Religion is concerned with the intellectual and ritualistic element, but without spirituality, dogmatic knowledge is useless. Spirituality is living out your faith. Burnout is not just exhaustion, but it happens when you actually hate what you love. A deepened spirituality can prevent burnout. Church musicians must remember that they are not only musicians but also ministers, strong in faith and spirituality. Being a church musician is a vocation, not just an end in itself. On the practical level, it is important to develop strong communication skills with your clergy. Our work, especially at the cathedral level, must be meticulous. We must practice good self care by taking care of your health, getting enough sleep, and using stretching or other exercises or swimming. Procrastination, alcohol, smoking, and too much coffee often contribute to an unhealthy work environment and a diminished spirituality. For a good spiritual life, it is also important to participate in the liturgy while you work, and also to attend liturgies outside of your work. Fr. Chan made the interesting statement that musicians are naturally introverts, internalizing the music they perform, but their public work is extroverted. The work of a church musician must be rooted in the divine. Since only God is perfect, church musicians, while striving for excellence, must be satisfied with imperfect results. 

After Fr. Chan’s presentation, the conference returned to the Abbey church for an organ prelude by Graham Schultz and a Mass. The choral music was provided by an octet of singers, and the choir, organ, and the liturgical chant of Fr. Sean soared in the perfect acoustics of the building.

Next on the agenda was St. Mary’s Church in Altus, founded in 1879 to minister to the local German Catholic population. The church was renovated in 1999 to bring out some of the original artistic detail. With its wall paintings, some of which were done by Fr. Placidus Oechsle, who was the pastor in the early 20th century, and immigrant painter Fridolin Fuchs, stenciling, and stained glass, it is a truly stunning example of period American church architecture. The German inscriptions in the stations of the cross and the stained glass windows point to the original history of this congregation. The organ is a 15 stop mechanical action instrument, built by J.G. Pfeffer and Sons for a church in Saint Louis and moved to the church in 1925.

The excursion finished with wine tasting and dinner at Wiederkehr Winery and Restaurant, where we enjoyed the locally produced wines and a good Swiss dinner.

Thursday, January 6

After morning prayer, the day began with a short business meeting. The slate of nominees for the steering committee election was finalized, and the venue for the 2024 European conference was voted to be England. Adam Brakel outlined some of the highlights of next year’s conference in Orlando: St. James Cathedral Choir; a session on chant scholarship; a session on Spanish and bi-lingual repertoire; a possible excursion to Saint Augustine, and the Schoenstein organ at the basilica.

Daniel Gauger took some of the members to St. Edward’s Church where he talked about the history of this German American church, pointing out some of the artwork. The high altar and the side altars, made of dark wood with gold leaf, were of particular interest, as were the German made stained glass windows, in particular a wonderful rendition of St. Cecilia playing the organ. The members were then invited to try the historic Kimball organ in the gallery.

The day ended with a sumptuous banquet at the Capital Hotel, a fitting end to an enriching week.

This writer found particular joy in the warm hospitality extended to us by our host, Beau Baldwin, and the entire cathedral clergy and staff, who were directly involved in every aspect of this conference. Everything went smoothly, the liturgies were meticulously executed and spiritually uplifting, and the music was excellent. The presentations were informative and well presented. The colloquium sessions every evening were an informal venue of exchanging ideas and to get to know each other.

— Dr. Christoph Tietze, Music Director and Organist, St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco, CA


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