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May He Join the Heavenly Choirs:
Richard Proulx (1938-2010)
 
Mary G. Fox  
   

A choral day with Richard Proulx early in J. Michael McMahon's career was important in his formation as a professional liturgical musician. "I learned so much from him," said the director of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. "He was a very fine musician, but he understood that the size of the group should not affect the music."

Proulx, a major figure in liturgical renewal, a composer of liturgical music, choral director, and organist/music director for the Archdiocese of Chicago from 1980 to 1994, died February 18 at Illinois Masonic Center in Chicago. He was 72. A service will be held April 10 at the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, 4945 S. Dorchester, Chicago.

For nearly 40 years, Proulx's influence has been felt throughout the country. He mentored musicians through workshops and encouraged assemblies to sing through his accessible compositions. "He was a giant in the field of church music and choral music," said Elaine Rendler, professor in the School of Music at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. "We are grateful for his life with us and for his compositions, which will live after him."

David Anderson, worship director for GIA Publications and director of music and organist at Ascension Church in Oak Park, Illinois, remembers learning to play Proulx's Community Mass as an organ student while in fifth grade. "Richard Proulx has had a profound influence on my life as a pastoral musician and as a conductor of parish choirs. He wrote for everyone—from the smallest parish choir to large professional choruses. His many compositions for choir and assembly have greatly enhanced and formed God's people through the power of sung prayer for decades. He set the standard!"

The music Proulx crafted was accessible to the congregation, because it was so recognizable. "One of the things that he really tried to do in his compositions," Michael Silhavy said, "was to hearken back to familiar chant melodies to make it seem like we had been singing the music all along, which we had." His primary song was assembly song, said Silhavy a member of the Parish Services team of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Silhavy has been gathering Proulx's work to be housed in a collection at the Alcuin Library at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Accompanying the collection will be an annotated catalog, stating who commissioned a work and the occasion for which it was written.

Alan Hommerding, senior liturgy publications editor at World Library Publications, recalled how Proulx had ministered to the Church during the reforms after the Second Vatican Council. The composer understood, Hommerding said, that one of the ways that the assembly could achieve the full, conscious, and active participation that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called for was through singing. "He crafted incredibly well-suited music to the singing capabilities of the congregation," said Hommerding, calling Proulx a role model. "I always looked to him as our best example during the years of renewal and reform as someone who was best able to honor the Church's heritage by taking the music of that heritage, and using it and adapting it to serve the reform."

GIA senior editor Kelly Dobbs Mickus called Proulx's music "beautiful and elegant." She noted, "I can't think of anyone who surpasses his craft or his output. I think he's really GIA's greatest composer."

The director of music/organist at Holy Name Cathedral H. Ricardo Ramirez, DMA, recalled not only Proulx's gifts as a composer and choral director but his generosity in mentoring others. "Oftentimes, I have met with him and sought his counsel for the music program at the cathedral," Ramirez said. "He's been a wonderful resource, even after retiring, to myself and many others throughout the archdiocese. That's something that we're deeply grieving. He was so generous. He was willing to share his wisdom with so many Roman Catholic musicians."

Ramirez commented that, while at Holy Name, Proulx established a "high level of spirituality and integrity for the music of Roman Catholic liturgies." His leadership impacted not only the professionalism of liturgical musicians but the musical instruments installed at other cathedrals. Ramirez explained that Proulx's selection of Flentrop organs displayed a vision of instruments worthy of a cathedral. "Many cathedrals would have installed a different type of organ, except for Richard's vision," Ramirez said. Ramirez said, too, that a number of cathedral's former associate organists under Proulx are musicians or directors at cathedrals, notably Sal Soria, organist at Our Lady of the Angeles Cathedral in Los Angeles and Donald Fellowes, director of music for St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

Rev. Jan Michael Joncas, associate professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, was honored that Proulx served as conductor for his collection of liturgical compositions, As the Deer, published by GIA Pulbications, Inc. "Richard Proulx was a hero of mine, being at once a musician of the first rank and a true servant of the Church," Joncas said. "He devoted himself to the discipline of building front-rank vocal ensembles (various incarnations over the years, including the Grammy-winning Cathedral Singers, in the process shaping two generations in proper vocal technique and love for choral repertoire. . . . While deeply steeped in the musical classics and holding the highest musical standards, he delighted in the beauty of some less-sophisticated religious music-making, such as shape-note hymnody. I think he saw himself as a musical craftsman, supplying music for the Church's worship, sounds that expressed liturgical texts and spiritual poetry with an attention to ritual context and the needs of untrained congregational singers."

The awards and honors bestowed on Proulx were many. Among them were: honorary doctorates from the University of St. Thomas and the General Theological Seminary in New York City, the Gold Medal of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the McManus Award from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, the Pax Christi award from St. John's University, and Composer of the Year from the American Guild of Organists.

As Joncas said, "May this good man now join the heavenly choirs praising God for all eternity."

Mary G. Fox
is Coordinating Editor of Pastoral Liturgy. Pastoral Liturgy is published by Liturgy Training Publications.
 
         
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