It was after a 5:30 Liturgy at a nearby church in March that I found out that the Old St. Joe’s hiring committee had decided to select me to be your new Music Director. Dan Carney, the head of the committee, came to me after the Mass, gave me the good news, and me and my family’s lives changed.
At the time, Lauren and our daughters Mia, Sofia, and Olivia, were living in two bedrooms in a hotel, having been displaced due to a house fire, small enough that there was no serious damage and no one was hurt, but large enough that we were forced to vacate and become nomads for a while. We were out for five months, actually.
In fact, the year 2015 began as one of our worst in recent memory – struggles with banks to accept our offer on a short sale home, entanglements with utility companies as we hurried to make repairs on the home that we didn’t even own, a house fire in our present home, and the constant wheeling and dealing with adjustors, cleaners, hotels, and contractors that followed – but, we have no complaints (anymore), and I am not writing to tell you any of this anyway!
By mid 2015, we have made progress on repairing our first home, and are now the proud owners of that beautiful new home in Williamstown, NJ. Along the way I was invited to become the new director of the Chorale at Widener University, and I was invited to join your family here at Old St. Joe’s. Things took a real turn for the better, and we thank God!
It was faith indeed that pulled us through the trying times. And it is my faith that assures me that being here at St. Joe’s is right.
I was born, baptized, raised, and confirmed Catholic in South Philadelphia, at Epiphany of Our Lord Parish. I was the young altar boy defying the principal’s order to look forward and not turn around, as I would not stop turning to gaze back to the choir loft at the pipe organ facade and watch the choir as they sang. The church at Epiphany Parish is beautiful, with its marble and wood, towering Gothic ceilings, magnificent organ, and gorgeous acoustics. What musically inclined youth would not fall in love? I was hooked.
Fast forward, and a clear path to Old St. Joe’s, led by God, is formed. Education at The University of the Arts, eight years as the organist at Epiphany, one as its Music Director, ten years with Lutherans, serious organ study with Joseph Jackson, grad school at Temple, eight years with Presbyterians. As for denominations, I traveled far and wide; now, I have returned home. And I bring home with me wonderful experiences, experiences that, I pray, will bring music at Old St. Joe’s to even higher levels of quality praise and worship.
I have worked extensively with handbells, and I hear a handbell choir here at Old St. Joe’s. Children love handbells! They are a wonderful way to get children involved in music at church.
And speaking of the children, I see them and their families involved in various artistic pursuits here: drama, visual arts, dance, and of course singing and the playing of instruments. One of our Ars Sacra events can be focused on them. And speaking of Ars Sacra –
Sacred Music (and Arts) in Sacred Space is a concept that is near and dear to me, so we can look forward to some innovative and original programs. More than a concert series, Ars Sacra will again bring the community into this holy place to appreciate varied artistic expressions of worship and praise, grief and gratitude.
Two other worship styles I hope to cultivate are Taizé worship and Jazz in worship. I have participated and am quite fond of Taizé worship, with its mystique and solemn reverence. Maybe, with some help, we can bring it back to Old St. Joe’s. And I am a decent Jazz player, but more importantly, I have many great Jazz connections in the city! A Jazz Vespers service on a First Friday could bring in a nice crowd.
And finally, a few words about our greatest musical resources, the ones you hear every weekend: our choirs, our piano, and our organ. Estonia pianos are among my favorite, and I love playing ours. The organ is a fine, historic instrument, well suited for Romantic (especially French!) repertoire, of which you will hear a great deal. Not that it will not play Bach too… And of course our Schola and Liturgical Choir are fine instruments of praise, and both are poised to do great things here. Although both need more singers! (Call me…)
Good times ahead. Let the peoples praise Him!
Yours, in Him,
© 2015 Pasquale Montenegro