More than 35 professional musicians who serve cathedrals in the United States and Canada gathered in Arkansas for the first time to exchange ideas and grow in their ministry.
The 39th annual Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians was held Jan. 3-6 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock. The four-day event allowed cathedral musicians to dialogue, reflect and participate in professional development of the Church’s liturgical ministry.
Beau Baldwin, organist and director of music at the Cathedral of St. Andrew and host of this year’s event, said he was excited to bring the conference as it was the first time held in Arkansas and the first in the South in many years.
The conference marked the 30th anniversary of the installation of the cathedral's 66-rank Nichols and Simpson organ, which dates to 1932.
“It was very good to get people to come here and see the city, the cathedral and our music program,” Baldwin said. “We put in the bid to have it in Little Rock before the pandemic hit. The conference moves every year, and we usually go to far away places. It hasn’t been in the South since the mid-90s, when it was in Atlanta.”
Father Joseph de Orbegozo, administrator of the Cathedral, said the conference is significant because it benefits music ministers and the Church at large.
“There's a great joy in that because we can celebrate the beauty of the music of the Church and its ability to draw others to Christ,” Father de Orbegozo said. “If you have a good music director, they are evangelizing, promoting the beauty of the faith and helping to form members of the Church.”
The conference originated after Peter LaManna, Gerald Muller and Richard Proulx collaborated while searching for a new music director for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., in 1983. The first event involved 17 cathedral musicians who met at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul in Philadelphia in November 1984.
This year’s conference was highlighted by an opening evening vesper service featuring the Cathedral of St. Andrew choir and dinner; business meetings and discussions; a keynote address by Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, a monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.; an organ recital by Colin MacKnight, director of music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, and tours and organ performances at Subiaco Abbey and St. Mary Church in Altus.
David Summers, director of music and organist at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge, La., said he attended the CRCCM to network with other cathedral musicians and gather ideas to bring back home.
“I really enjoy finding out about what other cathedrals are doing; maybe confirming my decisions to plan certain kinds of music; discussing emerging trends, like reintroducing Renaissance-era music and chant; and hearing about new compositions and how other directors are leading their choirs,” Summers said. “Being able to call someone I met at the conference and saying, ‘Hey, do you have an idea for this’ or ‘Our bishop is asking us to have this kind of Mass’ and being able to ask for assistance, that's really cool.”
Ernest R. Neal, director of music and choir director at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, Okla., said this was his first CRCCM to attend.
“I’ve been a member of the organization for many years, but the conferences have always been far away,” Neal said. “This year it was so close — driving distance — so, I decided to just come on over.”
In addition to meeting other music directors and gaining ideas, he said he enjoyed being able to listen to the way other people do things and worship without the responsibility of providing music.
“It helps you kind of step out of your own box,” he said. “If you hear something different, it gives you the impetus to try different things — different styles, music and whatnot.”
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