Richard J. Clark – Sacred Musician and Composer

I’m not sure how I became FaceBook friends with Richard J. Clark. Somehow through the MusicSacra forums and our mutual (FaceBook, at least) friendships with Jeffrey Tucker and Jerry Galipeau, one of us “friended” the other one.” I wish this had happened before I moved away from Boston- for the three years I lived there I never once knew that I should go visit St. Cecilia’s. Ah well.

At any rate, Richard makes a habit of posting his compositions to FaceBook, and I have developed a habit of taking the time to listen. They have struck me over and over as extremely beautiful and moving- full of faith, familiar without being sentimental, serious without being distant.

He writes sacred music for liturgy, and also sacred music for the concert hall. I’m drawn to both, and I think both are needed in this time (as in all times). I particularly love his vocal solo pieces and his choral work (I’m a singer, you know), but I even like his organ compositions (and my general antipathy to the organ is, I think, well known).

But to say “I like it,” is a bit beside the point. His music is incredibly well-crafted and suited at all times to the venue, the performers, and (most importantly) the text. He is inspired (as you will read) by the great classical composers, by traditional American music, by the great body of Gregorian Chant, and by texts ranging from Sacred Scripture to Romantic Poetry. He approaches his work, both as a composer and a church musician, in a spirit of service.

With a growing appreciation for his work, I contacted RJC a few weeks ago and asked if I could interview him for this blog. I was thrilled to find out that he was a regular reader! He enthusiastically agreed. Since neither one of us is particularly excited about speaking on video (we don’t mind, just not our preference), we decided I could write some questions for him to answer in writing as his schedule permitted. The result was wonderful, and (I think) much deeper in content than a spoken interview would have been.

If you have time, you should skip to the full interview here. It’s a little long, but well worth the investment. Below are a few highlights and pull quotes, for those of you who don’t have time to read all of it, or are still trying to decide.

If you’re really short on time, scroll down until my headlines tell you that you have to read this part. Really, you need to read that part if you read nothing else.

Quick Bio
New York native, born in Greenwich Village and raised in Seaford, Long Island.
Studied at Berklee and Boston Conservatory.
Studied with Dello Joio and James David Christie
Music Director at St. Cecilia’s in Boston, near Berklee, for 22 years.
Compositional Style
I am fascinated with nuanced dissonance, and at times bending harmony very nearly to a breaking point, but always pulling back to achieve the intended purpose. Dancing on the edge, but to still engage musically and spiritually is a fascinating challenge.
Biggest musical influences
JS Bach
Thelonius Monk
English Romantic Poets: Byron, Shelley, Keats
Gregorian Chant, especially the Mass Propers
American Jazz
General approach to composing
I don’t have a singular approach but the music is always driven by the text.
The hard work and process of composing is itself a prayer, and each piece/prayer a different experience.

You really need to read this part if you don’t read anything else from this interview…

RJC on the new translation of the Roman Missal
The new translation of the Roman Missal has given us an opportunity to be evermore mindful of the preeminence of the Word. Music serves the text, not the other way around. Chant does this exceedingly well. This is an ideal, not always possible in every circumstance.
RJC on how to effect change in the liturgy
Change and reform will only take root when implemented carefully and with sensitivity. The seed sown on the rocky ground of mandates and sweeping change will not bear fruit. Problems that need addressing must be worked through and not around. Only through thoughtful, but persistent education can the ideals of the Sacrosantum Concilium truly take root and gain traction. This is the work of a lifetime.
RJC on the Reform of the Reform and young people
I am greatly energized and inspired by the great new work done by so many young people to achieve the ideals of the Sacrosantum Concilium. My choir has seen a new infusion of young college students hungry for our Church’s traditions. Chant belongs to the people. These are our ancient birthrights. This “reform of the reform” or whatever name it is given, is the great servant work of the church musician. It is now infused with new life in the new generation.
RJC on Gregorian Chant
Prayer through chant is the food we eat and the air we breathe. Chant doesn’t truly need (although it deserves) the classification of “pride of place.” This is because it is a natural reality with or without that moniker. Chant is intrinsically Roman Catholic music. Gregorian chant unites us and is the most universal way of expressing shared truths— those things that we share as members of the universal Church and as believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Go read the whole interview…

Really, you should read the whole thing.

And check out Richard J. Clark’s music.

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