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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Anniversary. My half-life as a music director

Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi? (Ps. 116:3, the responsorial psalm for Holy Thursday)

Holy Thursday will be a kind of an anniversary for me. Events that happened 30 years ago on Holy Thursday started me off in my career as a music director.

I worked for about ten years starting in late 1974 for a commercial travel agency in Phoenix. I had started there just as a filing clerk, trying to get their huge collection of brochures organized and updated. (Anyone who knows me at all will find this more than mildly humorous, as it has been probably since I left that company since I filed anything, anywhere.) Over the years, I sort of worked my way up as the agency expanded, from being in charge of hotel reservations and learning those machines, to learning SABRE and the airline reservations system, then going to international tariff school in London, Miami, and San Francisco with PanAm to learn international ticketing, to finally being a manager of the corporate operations of the agency. The agency was successful, and my salary grew in proportion. Things were good, at least financially speaking.

On weekends, I continued to be a musician at two and sometimes three local parishes. I was the choir director at the cathedral in Phoenix (Ss. Simon and Jude) for the main choir mass on Sunday morning, and also did a service at 9:00 a.m. at St. Augustine Catholic Church on what was then the far west side of the city, on 71st Avenue below Indian School Road. It was the best of both worlds for me; the St. Augustine parish mass was with a smallish group of about 12-15 friends with whom I had been making music for years, and at the Cathedral I got to do a mix of the more traditional music, while gradually bringing more contemporary and original pieces into their repertoire as well. St. Augustine was a multi-purpose building with a growing community; Ss. Simon and Jude was an established church with a decent organ and some resonance, and they let me put a piano in. 

I had, over the previous year or two, approached a couple of pastors about the possibility of full time work at one or the other of these churches. Both seemed reluctant to put out the kind of salary that would have been required, so I decided to leave things as they were, and go on with the 9-5 and be a weekend warrior, making an additional small stipend for doing those two services.

Christ the Servant shrine,
west wall, St. Anne, Barrington
On Holy Thursday, 1983, I was leaving work at the travel agency to get to Ss. Simon and Jude for the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. I had begun to get my things together, when one of the vice-presidents asked me to come into his office. After I had sat down, he nervously and sweatily told me that the shape of management at the agency was changing, and that they were making a new start. My services would no longer be required. He handed me a check equal to two months severance pay, and told me to clean out my desk.

Needless to say, I was shocked. What else happened that weekend, I don't remember. I'm sure that services went on as usual, and that we did the music in the way we had prepared it. I'm sure that my family and friends told me that things would be all right. Two months salary seemed like it would help, but it seemed like a very short time until there would be nothing, and I had no idea about where to turn for work. My wife and I had two children, ages 3 and 1, and one due that October.

Daniel Consiglio in about 1988 or so
Less than two weeks after Easter, I got a phone call from Daniel (now Fr. Cyprian) Consiglio. Daniel was the young music director at St. Jerome Church in north Phoenix, a celebrated and vibrant community that had a Sunday evening youth mass that was widely noticed and admired. The associate pastor of St. Jerome was (Father) Dale Fushek, later to become the founder of Life Teen, and longtime pastor of St. Timothy's Church in Mesa. Daniel told me that he had decided to leave music ministry and pursue his "other" musical career, and that Fr. Dale was also leaving to finish working on an MA in liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. Knowing the parish would need someone to keep things going and help them grow, they had talked it over and thought they'd ask me if I'd be interested in a full-time job in music ministry.

It was like a gift from heaven. After an interview with the pastor, I was hired as the music and liturgy director at St. Jerome. I stayed there in that position until I resigned and took the job here at St. Anne's in Barrington, Illinois, in February of 1994. St. Jerome was a great gift to me, and I met many people in my years there whom I still count as my friends. Many of the songs I've written that are used around the country were first written for and used in that community, including "I Myself Am the Bread of Life," "Canticle of the Turning," and "Jerusalem, My Destiny." My son Joel and daughter Claire went through an RCIA as children, and were initiated at the Easter Vigil there.


So, I think of Holy Thursday as a kind of anniversary for me. This feast is rich in its symbols of covenant, liberation, and service, and commingled with all those things, I see it as an anniversary of my own call to serve the community and the church through the exercise of my charism in music and liturgy preparation. This, then, will be my thirtieth anniversary.

Rats. I should have gotten a cake.

To all of you who will be celebrating the Triduum next week, beginning with the Solemn Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, I wish a joyful and holy three days. I hope that whatever happens to me isn't as dramatic as the events of 1983: but after all is said and done, even that didn't turn out so badly. Thank God. It is a great calling that we have received in our baptism, and a wonderful gift of untold value and mysterious depth that is ours in the Eucharist of Jesus. Let us celebrate it with joy, and bring our gratitude and wonder as gift for all members of our communities, that we may serve the Lord with gladness all our days.