In Your Midst


Summer 2002

In This Issue:
The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), the largest church music organization in America, has discovered what the parishioners of St. James have known for years: that Dr. James Savage, Cathedral Director of Music, is a national treasure.

Savage has been unanimously chosen by NPM’s Board of Directors to receive their 2002 Pastoral Musician of the Year award. He joins a distinguished list of recipients that includes composer Richard Proulx, composer Alexander Peloquin, and the writer/musician Father Lucien Deiss. The award is given to further the art of musical liturgy, according to Dr. J. Michael McMahon, NPM’s president, and Savage’s creative work in pastoral music is recognized throughout the 180 American dioceses.

Savage studied musical liturgy as a Fulbright scholar in Stuttgart, Germany, researching performance practice of the 1763 Te Deum of Niccolò Jommelli. Upon his return to the United States, he earned his doctorate at the University of Washington, where he won respect as a conductor and a musical scholar. Savage has been a Distinguished Visiting Artist at the U.W. In 1980 he came to St. James Cathedral, taking on a struggling music program and a skeleton choir of only 17 voices. In the ensuing 22 years, he has built a music program that includes a Cathedral choir of more than 60 (with a tenor and bass section that is the envy of choirs everywhere), a women’s Schola, the Jubilate! ensemble for young women and a fine Schola Cantorum (which continues a tradition begun in the 1920s). He established two children’s choirs, St. Cecilia and St. Gregory, which brought him an invitation to become a founding member of the North American Schola Cantorum Network. In addition to this wealth of musical resources, the Cathedral now hosts a number of resident ensembles that perform concerts and enrich liturgies throughout the year.

Dr. James Savage inspires the choir on a windy Palm Sunday morning.
Photo by Craig Harrold.

Savage declares that none of this would have been possible had the Cathedral not been blessed with two pastors (Father William Gallagher and Father Michael G. Ryan) and three archbishops (Archbishops Raymond G. Hunthausen, Thomas J.Murphy, and Alex J. Brunett) who inspired, encouraged, and supported the dream of the music program. Savage quotes author Edith Hamilton, who wrote of “white-hot moments” when things miraculously come together.

One of the rewards for the devotion of these leaders, and for all the musicians of the Cathedral, is what Savage calls his “best choir,” the choir that sits in the pews rather than the choir stalls. This “choir” is made up of the glorious congregational singers at the Sunday Masses. At the heart of pastoral music, he believes, is participation by the congregation, and the participation at St. James is magnificent.

The music program at St. James has a non-liturgical function as well. Father Ryan, in a paper presented recently to Seattle civic leaders, addressed the role of the cathedral in the city, saying that “cathedrals are places where people have a unique opportunity to meet the beautiful — whether in architecture, art, or music — because cathedrals can make the beautiful available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay for it.” He went on to say that “our critically-acclaimed music program presents in concert all year long — quite outside the liturgical services and celebrations — a rich menu of many of the great masterpieces of sacred music.” To Savage’s credit is a long list of groundbreaking events, beginning with the presentation of the Ordo Virtutum of Hildegard of Bingen, early in his career at St. James, and including, most recently, the North American premiere of the Requiem by the Japanese composer Shigeaki Saegusa. These events, as well as his wildly popular Great Music for Great Cathedrals and New Year’s Eve concerts, invite people from around the city to experience the cathedral. In Father Ryan’s words, “this is a very important way for the Cathedral to claim its traditional turf in a world far removed from its medieval roots. It is a way that a Cathedral, by finding its voice, can speak to those who might think it has nothing much to say.” He concludes, “if God is beauty itself (and that is our belief), then every human expression of beauty puts a person in contact with the Divine, whether or not the person knows it.”

Music at St. James has put a great number of people in contact with the Divine. James Savage is himself a convert, and over his two decades of service, many who came to sing or play under his direction have joined the church as well. In his earliest days at St. James, the choir was about 25 percent Catholic. Now the percentage is over 90, and many of the choir members are converts. Add the number of family members and friends who have also come into the Church, and it is clear that God has used St. James’s “white-hot moment” to call many to the faith. For them, and for all the worshippers at the cathedral, Dr. James Savage is most certainly the pastoral musician of the year, every year.

Louise Marley is the Cathedral messo-soprano soloist, a parishioner, and author of science-fiction novels.

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