an extremely busy weekly schedule with your multiple
responsibilities as Music Director at
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
and Music Director of the
Chorale. When and where did you study music and what
were some of the most memorable courses that you took?
musical studies began quite late – with my initial piano
lessons taking place in college.
studied composition at St.
John’s University in Collegeville, MN, and there grew to
love the Benedictine Liturgy of the Hours. A fortuitous
article about composer, organist, conductor
Ferris in the Chicago Sun-Times caught my attention back
in 1983, and I reached out to Mr. Ferris asking that he take
me on as a private student. It was Ferris, more than any
single person, who modeled for me an adult male working as a
professional musician in the Church and having a dual life
as a composer and conductor. In addition I did graduate work
University and at the
Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra in Rome,
but it was Ferris who has been the greatest influence.
are also a prolific composer with more than 200 instrumental
and choral compositions. On the average. how many hours each
month do you devote to composing?
average – none. Between my work at Our Lady of Mount
Carmel Church and the direction of our five liturgical
choirs and cantors and instrumentalists, and my position
as Music Director of the William Ferris Chorale, my
commitment to the marvelous
American Federation Pueri Cantores, my association
with the publishing house
Publications recording a dozen or so choral CDs each
year, and as a husband and a father (I have two sons) -
there is little or no time left over for creative work.
When something needs to be composed for church, I do it
as efficiently as possible, but the luxury of regular
time for composition simply does not exist
A Prayer of Saint Patrick was featured at Pope
Francis' Mass at Madison Square Garden on his 2015 visit to
the United States
When and by whom were you notified of this great honor?
was commissioned for the installation of a new organ in
Brighton, MI back in 2004. After sending the piece off to
fulfill the commission it sat dormant on my shelf for nearly
a decade. About two years ago I had dusted the thing off and
had our Morning Choir sing it, and at about the same time I
was a guest on a radio program hosted by
Dr. Jennifer Pascual, the music director at St.
in New York City.She heard the Mt. Carmel choir’s
performance of the piece and asked for a copy of the score.
She liked it and shortly thereafter conducted a performance
with her church choir, then used it again for the funeral of
Cardinal Edward Egan, and just recently for a third time
during the Papal Evening Prayer hosted at St. Patrick’s
Cathedral during Pope Francis’ visit to New York City. The
piece was recently picked up for publication so perhaps now
it can reach a wider audience.
to the NYC liturgy, I was honored to have two additional
pieces of mine performed at the Washington D.C. liturgies.
One, used as the recessional of the Mass,
setting of GROSSER GOTT or Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,
which was originally composed for the 125th
anniversary of St. Michael’s Church in Old Town here in
Chicago. That piece acknowledged the German founders of the
parish church and so the first verse was set in German. This
piece was also used at a papal liturgy in 2008 when Pope
Benedict XVI visited Washington DC.
honor, however, was to have been commissioned to composer
Fanfares and Alleluias for the 2015 Papal Mass in DC.
extended fanfare and Gospel Acclamation was true “outdoor”
music and was scored for 13 brass payers, several
percussionists, organ and choir. The commission was
initiated about a year in advance of the date of the Mass,
and all the particulars as to the length of the procession
and the actual amount of music needed were not yet set in
stone. I wrote about three times more music for that moment
than was actually used, but it still was a great delight to
have been asked to compose for such a noble occasion.
One of my
favorites of your compositions is the glorious
which you composed for the
Willows Academy Chamber Choir. For what other organizations have you composed
and what were the titles of these works?
majority of my compositions are in response to needs that are quite local – here
at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
Irish Heritage Singers of Chicago this past spring I set two poems of the great
Irish writer William Butler Yeats.
recent departure from the realm of the sacred was a set of seven
pieces for tenor and baritone (both solo and duet) entitled Riddles and
Silly Rhymes, composed for two marvelous friends and vocal artists in the
Twin Cities. How often in one’s creative life can one set the phrase – “Shop Ikea in Judea, Dorothea” Another
recent commission was for the 100th anniversary of
Holy Redeemer Church in College Park, Maryland and their terrifically talented music director,
Maria Balducci, entitled “Raise Your Voices, Lift Your Hearts”. The piece is
scored for two trumpets, a large handbell choir, organ and chorus and is a
rather noisy setting of Psalm 19.
Could you provide an overview of the various
choirs that you direct at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and how the
music for each choir is chosen
a choir for everyone who wishes to sing – no matter what the
age. Two adult choirs, the Morning Choir (which sings a
broadly classical repertoire) and the Contemporary Choir
(which sings, as its name implies) a piano based repertoire.
Our Juniors (the training choir for the Trebles) are in 1-3
grades, our marvelous Treble Choir is for chorister in
grades 4-8 and our new High School Schola is for the Treble
choir graduates and all other parish youth who love to sing.
Music for each choir is carefully chosen with attention to
the liturgical season, the scripture of the day, the ability
of the choir with the limitations of the number of rehearsal
I have been attending performance of The
William Ferris Chorale for nearly
forty years and each concert has been a memorable treasure.
Could you provide an overview of you association with and
current directorship of The William Ferris Chorale?
Early on in
my lessons with Bill Ferris he entrusted me with the
opportunity to do some conducting with the WFC, back in the
mid-1980s. What a gift those experiences were to me, and
ones that I will never forget. After Ferris’ untimely death
of a heart attack while conducting the Verdi Requiem in May
of 2000, John Vorrasi, (the WFC’s co-founder) made the
decision to continue the Choral and his and Ferris’ shared
vision for the choral arts. For the next 5 years a variety
of guest conductors were invited to lead the Chorale in
rehearsals and concerts. Those conductors included the world
renowned David Willcocks and Peter Schickele (aka P. D. Q.
Bach). I was invited to conduct one concert on their series
each year. Eleven years ago John Vorrasi asked that I take
over the musical direction of the ensemble and that began
our permanent association those many years back.
describe the process by which compositions are chosen for
might be easier to talk about this coming season in
particular. Knowing that it had been some time since we
collaborated with a harpist, and also know that finding a
harpist who could commit to five concerts in the month of
December – the single month of the year that harpists do the
majority of their concert work – I began the process three
years back of reaching out to the two major local harp
teachers (one who plays with the CSO and the other who plays
with the Lyric Opera) and asked if they could recommend a
young harpist who would be good for a collaboration of this
magnitude. The name of Keryn Wouden surfaced and after
conversations, negotiations and an audition, we had our
harpist. The December programs are built around a marvelous
work for harp and choir by the American composer, Frank
Ferko, which is a re-setting of familiar Christmas texts to
which new melodies were created and crafted.
entitled A Festival of Carols will surely delight our
audiences with its thrilling and technical harp work and
fast rhythms. For our March concerts we looked to share the
“stage” and partner again with the marvelous High School
girls ensemble from the western suburbs who are the Spirito!
Singers. Their visionary director, Molly Lindberg, has grown
this organization dramatically in the past 8-9 years, and
our last collaboration, some 6 years back singing the Faure
Requiem was a thrill for both the professionals of the
Ferris Chorale and the young ladies of the Spirito! Singers.
The experience singing side-by-side with a professional
choral group provides a lasting and invaluable experience
for the younger voices, whether or not they go on to
professional vocal careers of their own or not. We will sing
a concert of the scared music of Francis Poulenc and Arvo
Part. Our final concert is perhaps as true to the mission of
the WFC as it get. We will welcome Washington DC based
composer, Dr. Leo Nestor, for a concert devoted entirely to
his sacred choral works. Though Dr. Nestor’s name is not
widely known out of the church music circles, his
compositions are so beautifully and subtly crafted that
singers and audiences will delight in the music making.
is the official student choral organization
in the Catholic Church, and is based in Rome Italy. Some 65
members of the parish (choristers and parents will be
traveling to Rome Italy after Christmas this year as part of
a Pueri Cantores pilgrimage to sing at a Papal Liturgy on
New Year’s Day 2016. It has been my pleasure to be connected
for well over a decade. The
association with the AFPC is on two fronts - I conduct
between 2-6 regional choral festivals for them around the
country each year, and assist a team of conductors in
choosing the repertoire that will be sung at the various
festivals. Pueri Cantores in the US has also been
collaborating with the NCEA
to come up with repertoire guidelines for
school liturgies – an important step in moving our Catholic
schools toward a more appropriated and substantial
repertoire or hymns, psalms and acclamations. The other side
of the Pueri coin is that our Treble Choir attends our
regional festivals and spends the entire year preparing the
repertoire for the festival, which, of course, is sung in
our parish liturgies. I am fond of saying that AFPC is a
gentle ruse – the organization uses sacred music to
catechize these young choristers and helps them develop a
love for the Church and her rituals and the beauty of chant
Thank you for taking the time from your
exceptionally busy schedule for this interview and giving
our readers a greater insight into your talents and
commitment to how
George Rachiotis described music
the greatest creation of man,
which touches the soul and also helps man to sympathetically
manifest unspoken desire and humanity in him. "