Thanks to Richard Proulx

Thanks to Richard Proulx February 23, 2010

Guest post by Allison  
I only learned about Richard Proulx within the past few months, as I delved more into church music through my participation in my parish choir. I wrote last Monday a guest post on how grateful I am that he wrote an arrangement for the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes. At the time, I contemplated devoting an entire blog entry to Mr. Proulx himself. But I’m not a  musicologist, and even my amateur status as a chorister is a new one. Then I read that Mr. Proulx died on Thursday, at the age of 72.

Accounts of his life tell that Richard Proulx was the leading champion of traditional Catholic church music post–Vatican II. Folks who worked with him describe him as a kind and generous man, with exacting standards and a great sense of humor.

He was director of music and organist at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, for more than a decade and later worked independently as composer, clinician, and conductor of the Cathedral Singers. His bio states he “served as a consultant for  hymnals of many Protestant denominations, including United Methodist, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Episcopal. He  was a founding member of The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians.”

Mr. Proulx’s Saint Paul, Minn. childhood  was blessed with fine musical training. He described that training several years ago in an interview with Selah Publishing Co.’s Music in Worship magazine. He sounds like such a humble man:

“I was fortunate to be part of a very progressive elementary school music system where we had music twice a day: Gregorian solfège in the morning and modern solfège in the afternoon. By the sixth or seventh grade I was playing for some school services. I was simply appointed because I was available and seemed to be able to play many of the right notes. The school was very kind, and already by the seventh grade or so had sent me to a composition teacher in addition to piano lessons. So the composition began early, although those were certainly primitive efforts. No child prodigy claims here!”

Perhaps “Mass for the City,” which Mr. Proulx wrote for his adopted hometown of Chicago, is his best known and most sung arrangement. Here is the choir of Saint Peter’s Catholic Church in Columbia, SC, singing the Eucharistic Acclamations from that Mass. Sound familiar?

“May angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your coming
and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
May a choir of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.”

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

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  • Webster Bull

    How fortunate Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago was to have an organist like this. We have an immensely talented organist and choir director in our parish, the retired music director at Brown University. Dedicated, knowledgeable about music, a wizard organist, and a choir director who can play both bad cop (during rehearsals) and good cop (during the real thing: he always nods after we finish singing and mouths, "Good"). Great priest, talented choir director, active laity=great parish. That's what we have in Beverly, Mass.

  • Beautiful tribute. I think I'll catch a noon mass today with stations. Inspiring.

  • DF

    Allison, what a beautiful piece on Richard Proulx. The sheer volume of music composed or edited for the Roman Church cause him to be a significant musical influence on the Church in America during the post-Vatican Council years. I play some of his organ music, and I really, really appreciate his wonderful 4-part harmonizations of Catholic hymns. Of course, there's lots more — the Mass Settings that are so commonly sung; a liturgical drama for Eastertide, The Pilgrim.Not many people know that about 10 years ago he needed heart surgery but was uninsured. (Can you imagine? Someone as successful as Proulx not having health insurance from his employer?) His musician friends immediately came to his aid and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay his medical bills. A community of sister religious took him in and nursed him back to health.This gesture underscores the very high esteem of Proulx's life of service to the Church.

  • Allison Salerno

    @DF: Thanks for your perspective on his music and what a fascinating story about how folks rallied round him during an illness. That is quite a testimony to Mr. Proulx.

  • Allison Salerno

    There is a Richard Proulx facebook group and tonight I received this message from it, from the organist at Trinity Church, Wall Street. Richard Proulx (1937 – 2010)Richard Proulx, renowned composer and conductor, died Thursday, 18 February 2010 at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. Born in Saint Paul, MN on 3 April, 1937, Proulx was Organist and Director of Music from 1980 – 1994 at the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Chicago. During his tenure at Holy Name, he did much to strengthen the Cathedral's outreach to the city it served by establishing an extensive and innovative music program. The concert series, “Music for a Great Space,” involved the Cathedral choirs with many of the finest instrumentalists in the Chicago area. He led the Cathedral choirs on tours through the Midwest in 1982 and 1991, and in Europe in 1988. Proulx was also responsible for the planning and installation of two new mechanical-action organs for the Cathedral – Casavant II/19 (Quebec, 1981) and Flentrop IV/71 (Holland, 1989). Before coming to Chicago, Proulx served for 10 years (1970 – 1980) at Saint Thomas Church, Medina/Seattle, WA, where he directed three choirs and chamber orchestra, established a tradition of liturgical handbell ringing, and was organist at Temple de Hirsch Sinai. Previous positions included Saint Charles Parish, Tacoma, WA; Saint Stephen's Church, Seattle, WA; and 15 years (1953 – 1968) at Church of The Holy Childhood in Saint Paul, MN. Richard Proulx was a widely published composer of more than 300 works, including congregational music in every form, sacred and secular choral works, song cycles, two operas, and instrumental and organ music. He served as a consultant for such denominational church hymnals as The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal Church), New Yale Hymnal, the Methodist Hymnal, Worship II & III, (Roman Catholic Church), and has contributions in the Mennonite Hymnal and the Presbyterian Hymnal. Proulx was a member of The Standing Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church and was a founding member of The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians. He conducted choral festivals and workshops across the country as well as in Canada, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand.Proulx began his musical training with piano studies at age six and benefited from the unique musical training then fostered in Saint Patrick’s Parochial School in Saint Paul, MN, where twice daily music classes and choral singing were emphasized. He attended MacPhail College and the University of Minnesota with further studies undertaken at The American Boychoir School at Princeton, NJ, Saint John's Abbey at Collegeville, MN, and the Royal School of Church Music in England. He was appointed composer-in-residence for 1994 – 1995 at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, UT, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. Currently working as a free-lance composer and conductor, he had also been an editorial consultant for numerous music publishers. In 1994, he received an honorary doctorate from General Theological Seminary in New York City, and a second honorary doctorate in 2009 from the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, MN. In 1989, Proulx was presented the Gold Medal of the Archdiocese of Chicago by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

  • Allison Salerno

    Founded in 1991 primarily as an independent recording ensemble, The Cathedral Singers produced over twenty-five compact disc recordings under the direction Richard Proulx. Selections from the Cathedral Singers' recording, “Sublime Chant,” were featured in an episode of the NBC television drama "ER," and the entire Chant recording is included in a New Earth Video, "Mount Shasta: Meeting of Heaven and Earth." The Cathedral Singers appeared with the Metropolis Symphony Orchestra, and presented concerts in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Saint Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Saint Paul, Indianapolis, and Chicago. In the field of commercial music, he composed the 1971 theme song for Union Pacific Railroad, as well as an orchestral score for a documentary film, "The Golden Door." Proulx’s organ setting of Veni Creator is heard in the 1997 movie, "The Devil's Own."Richard Proulx was the son of the late Raymond Proulx. He is survived by his mother, Helen Proulx, sisters Jeanette Payette and Barbara Callahan, and brothers, Gerald and James Proulx. Richard was preceded in death by his youngest brother Jeffrey. A rare combination of talents as composer, conductor, music editor, and organist, together with wide experience across denominational lines, gave Richard Proulx a unique perspective of both the opportunities and the challenges found in liturgical music-making in our time; he remained committed to the enriching and balancing role of the arts in people of all age.A Service to Celebrate the Life of Richard Proulx will be held on Saturday, 10 April 2010 at 10:30a at the Church of Saint Paul and the Redeemer, 4945 S Dorchester Ave., Chicago, IL. Private interment will be held at Saint Thomas Church in Medina, WA. Memorials may be sent to one of the following charities: Habitat for Humanity, 2201 S Halstead St., Ste 1251, Chicago, IL 60608; Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W Ann Lurie Place, Chicago, IL 60632; Lambda Legal, 120 Wall Street, Ste 1500, New York, NY 10005; Doctors Without Borders, PO Box 5022, Hagerstown, MD 21741.——————–

  • cathyf

    My very favorite Proulx composition is his version of Amazing Grace. It is the quintessential American hymn, and he arranged it as jazz, the quintessential American musical form. I have searched youTube for it, but can't find any recordings. (Pretty common for things which are still under copyright.)The piece is written for flute and 4-part voice, but I think it sounds even better with either oboe or clarinet. It starts out with the woodwind playing the melody "straight". Then the tenors and basses sing the first verse in unison a cappella. Then the second verse has the sopranos on melody and altos, tenors and basses have a tightly harmonized counter-melody. At the end of the second verse the horn comes back in, and continues playing until the end of the song. The 3rd verse is a 2-part canon with the sopranos and altos leading and the tenors and basses following, and then the 4th verse is the same harmonization as the second. By the 4th verse the horn is playing completely wild jazz synchopated from the voices, and then as the voices finish the horn leaves the planet!It is just a fabulous piece. Incredibly sophisticated musically, yet really quite easy for a good choir to pull off. The horn player has to be really good, though. (When we lived in Pittsburgh the principal oboist from the Pittsburgh Symphony was a parishoner…)

  • Allison Salerno

    @cathyfWow. That sounds fabulous. I have read that Proulx has a lot of unpublished music. I wonder what more gems we have yet to discover.Where did you worship in Pittsburgh? My family went on a weekend trip there a few years ago and went to the cathedral. A beautiful edifice…

  • cathyf

    We lived 2 blocks from Sacred Heart in Shadyside, which is the next parish east of the cathedral (which is in Oakland.) The church is a magnificent humongous pile of norman/gothic architecture build in the 30's. Trivia — GIA, the music publisher (Proulx's publisher, so not completely off topic!) was started in Sacred Heart's basement in 1942. We were only there 2 years — my husband had a post-doc…

  • Allison Salerno

    I had joined the facebook appreciation group for composer Richard Proulx. Today I received this message.Many of you have asked for a way to send cards or notes to Richard Proulx's family. They are still collecting mail at Richard's apartment. You are welcome to send mail to that address which is:3300 North Lake Shore Drive Apartment 11-DChicago, IL 60657